The trio of their, there, and they’re can flummox writers at all levels. The confusion stemming from these words is that they are homophones, meaning they have the same pronunciation but differ in meaning and derivation. Even though they sound the same, writing them down correctly is a different story! Let’s explore the differences between the three.
Their is the possessive case of the pronoun they, as in “They left their cell phones at home.” Their is generally plural, but is increasingly accepted in place of the singular his or her after indefinite singular antecedent, such as someone: “Someone left their book on the table.”
There is an adverb that means “in or at that place,” as in “She is there now.” In this sense, there is essentially the opposite of here. There is also used as a pronoun introducing a sentence or clause, as in “There is still hope.”
They’re is a contraction of the words they and are, as in “They’re mastering the differences between three homophones!”
If you find yourself coming up blank when trying to determine which one to use, take a hint from the spelling of each:
- Their has the word heir in it, which can remind you that the term indicates possession.
- There has the word here in it. There is your choice for talking about places, whether figurative or literal.
- They’re has an apostrophe, which tells you that it’s the product of two words: they are. If you can substitute they are into your sentence and retain the meaning, then they’re is the correct homophone to use!