Their, There, and They're - Usage on the Internet

For this edition of Grammar 101, we consider a suggestion from Shawn Knight, the same guy who won my E3 swag contest last month. This also happens to be one of the most common errors that people make with a set of homonyms homophones. Do you know the difference between there, their, and they’re? Based on the chart above, many teens don’t.

“There” Refers to a Place

Use the word “there” the same way that you would use “here” in a sentence; both words typically refer to a physical location, though it can be used in a figurative sense as well. Using “there” at the beginning of a sentence, like the example below, is a very typical way to use the word figuratively. If you can replace “there” with “here” in the sentence, chances are that “there” is the right spelling.

There are four dogs living in that home.

For whatever reason, I find that a lot of people online tend to use the “their” spelling in sentences like that. That is incorrect. I guess we can thank automatic spell check tools for the ubiquitous errors.

“Their” Indicates Possession

Just like his and her, “their” is a possessive. You can refer to his towel or our car, so you use the same construction when referring to their house or their website.

I’m writing new articles for their website.

Note that “their” is spelled with the E before the I and not the other way around.

“They’re” Contracts “They Are”

The only time that you can use the term “they’re” is when you really mean to say “they are.” This is a contraction, much like don’t, it’s, and would’ve. If the sentence makes sense when you expand into “they are,” then you can use “they’re” as the correct spelling.

They’re really from Australia.

Since all three words sound exactly the same when you say them out loud, I suppose it’s understandable that people would mix up the spelling when it comes to writing them down. Now that you know the difference, however, you have no excuse. You’re not going over “their” to see “there” new baby. You’re going over “there” to see “their” new baby.

Do you have a suggestion for a future Grammar 101 post? Post your suggestion through the comment form below or use Twitter to drop me a line.

UPDATE: Note that the use of your/you’re follows the same kind of rules as described above. “Your” is a possessive like “their” and “you’re” is a contraction like “they’re.”