Their, there, or they’re?

their, there, they’re (/ðɛː/)

‘Their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’ are commonly misspelled and used incorrectly in writing, even by native English speakers. It’s easy to do this because they’re homophones - words that are pronounced the same, but are spelt differently and have different meanings.

The word ‘homophone’ comes from Greek homóphõnos
homo same – phõné sound

However, although these three words sound the same they have very different meanings, so it’s important to use them correctly. For example:

theirTheir car is blue.
thereIt's parked over there.
they'reThey're going to buy a new car soon.

THEIR

‘their’ is a determiner meaning belonging to or associated with people, animals, or things previously mentioned, or easily identified.

It’s nearly always followed by a noun. For example:

  • their children
  • their car
  • their house

Example sentences using ‘their’:

  • Do you have any ideas about the best ways to help my children with their homework?
  • The couple and their accomplice were eventually caught red-handed.
  • Have you seen their new house?
  • This is their car, and this is ours.

We also use it as a gender-neutral alternative to ‘his’ or ‘her’. For example:

  • Someone left their coat in the bar last night.
  • Who finished their dinner first?
  • Anyone who cares about their writing should proofread and edit it carefully.

Some people dislike the use of ‘their’ in this way as they feel it’s ungrammatical and therefore unacceptable, but it has now become widely used and accepted as a natural part of language use.

THERE

there – in, at, or to, that place

  • I had a great time in Malta. I’d like to go there again.

there – used to introduce the subject of a sentence

  • There’s someone at the door.
  • There were too many people on the bus to work this morning.

get there – arrive somewhere

  • It took us more than five hours to drive home in the snow. I thought we’d never get there.

THEY'RE

‘They’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are’ - the ‘a’ from ‘are’ is replaced by an apostrophe.

‘They’ is a pronoun used to refer to a group of people, animals or things that have already been mentioned, or are easily identified.

Example sentences using ‘they’re’

  • I saw Marie and David last week. Did you know they’re getting married?
  • They’re getting here around six o’clock
  • If they said they didn’t know what they were doing, they’re lying.
  • My parents said they’re going to Nice for their holiday.

Example sentences that have their, there, and they’re in the same sentence

  • Their parents live in Canada and they’re flying to Quebec to be there with them for their fortieth wedding anniversary.
  • When they get there, they’re staying in a hotel with their extended family.
  • They’re staying there for ten days and then travelling to visit their friends in Montreal.
  • They’re hoping to have time to visit all their favourite places while they’re there.

How do I know if I’m using their, there, and they’re correctly?

Mistakes made by confusing ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ in your writing are not usually picked up by proofreading software because although you may have used it inappropriately in a sentence, if word you've used is spelt correctly the software doesn't recognise it as an error.

So, how do you know if you’re using them correctly?

In most cases, the following tips should help you decide if you’re using the right word in the right place:

THEIR: Try replacing ‘their’ with ‘our’ in your sentence. Does it still make sense? If it does, then you’re using it correctly. For example:

  • Their parents live in Canada.
    Our parents live in Canada.
  • Have you seen their new baby?
    Have you seen our new baby?

THERE: Try replacing ‘there’ with ‘here’. Does your sentence still make sense? If it does, then it’s correct.

THEY’RE: For ‘they’re’, does your sentence still make sense if you replace ‘they’re’ with ‘they are’? If it does, then it’s correct.

A final word from their, there, and they're …

Remember, they’re easy to mix up because their sound is the same, but their meanings are different. Proofreading software won’t help you identify when you’re using them incorrectly but, for most cases, there are questions you can ask yourself to test whether you have the right word.