Why do their, there, and they’re sound the same?
The trio of their, there, and they’re can flummox writers of all levels. It’s confusing; they are
, meaning they have the same pronunciation (sound) but differ in meaning and derivation (origin). Even though they sound the same, they aren’t spelled the same . . . cue the noticeable errors! Let’s explore the correct usages of the three.
How do you use their, there, and they’re?
is the possessive case of the pronoun they, as in “They left their cell phones at home.” Their is generally plural, but it is increasingly accepted in place of the singular his or her after an with words such as someone: “Someone left their book on the table.”
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.”
is a contraction of the words they and are, as in “They’re mastering the differences between three homophones!”
WATCH: Attention, Word Offenders: Avoid These Words
Take a hint from the spelling!
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 act as a reminder that the term indicates possession.
- There has the word here in it. There is the choice when talking about places, whether figurative or literal.
- They’re has an apostrophe, which means 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.