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'They're', 'Their', 'There' is a Difference

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 27

Correct grammar is the foundation for a well written paper or article. “There”, “their”, and “they're” are commonly misused words because they are homophones. A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word but is different in meaning. In this case, speaking any of these three words in conversation is alright, but on paper you have to know which one to use to make a correct statement or question.

Why is this important? Whether you are writing an academic paper, persuasive essay, or professional article, it is essential to write in proper grammar. The main reason is because you will lose ground with your reader if you don't. Improper grammar sticks our like a sore thumb and drowns out any great content you may have. I've had some professors stop reading a paper, handing it back to student and saying to fix all the grammar otherwise he would have failed halfway through. Yes, there are such things as Grammar Nazis, but the uses of these words are very simple to distinguish! Let's begin with the simplest one:


They're, Their, There is a Difference

Rule For They're

They're” is simply a contraction for “they” and “are”. Here are some other examples of other contractions:

  • “I'm” = “I” and “am”
  • “You're” = “you” and “are”
  • “Don't” = “do” and “not”

Since “they're” is the same as saying “they are”, trying replacing “they are” whenever you are unsure of which word to use and see if the sentence still makes sense. If you can use “they are”, then you can use “they're”. Here are some correct and incorrect examples:

  • They're (They are) going to the store later. Right
  • Do you know why they're (they are) eating that? Right
  • They're (They are) no fun. Right
  • Hey, that's they're (they are) bicycle! 
    • Wrong (correct word is “their” to show possession)
  • I want to go they're (they are).
    • Wrong (correct word is “there” to mention a place)
  • They're (they are) are ten zebras. 
    • Wrong (correct word is “there” used with “to be” as an indicator)

Rule For There

There” is used to indicate a place or location. Also, it is used with the verb “to be” (am, are, is, was were) to indicate another person, place, or thing. This can get a little tricky with the previous rule. “They are” and “there are” are two different sets of words, don't confuse the two. Remember that “they're” is a contraction of “they” and “are”, not “there” and “are”. Here are some correct and incorrect examples:

  • There he is! 
    • Right (mentions a place)
  • There are many options to choose from.
    • Right (used with “to be” as an indicator)
  • Was there a thunderstorm yesterday?
    • Right (used with “to be” as an indicator)
  • There always talking about me. 
    • Wrong (correct word is “they're” from the words “they are”)
  • What is there problem? 
    • Wrong (correct word is “their” to show possession)
  • There up to something fishy. 
    • Wrong (correct word is “they're” from the words “they are”)

Rule For Their

Their” is to show possession of something to the subject “them”. The rule is that if you are unsure of which word to use but there is a noun (abstract or concrete) in front of it, then it is most likely “their”. Here are some correct and incorrect examples:

  • Their house is a block from mine. 
    • Right (shows possession of “house”)
  • I don't know how, but you could feel their sadness. 
    • Right (shows possession of “sadness”)
  • What was the point of their speech exactly? 
    • Right (shows possession of “speech”)
  • Where was I when you went their
    • Wrong (correct word is “there” to mention a place)
  • Did you know their was a sales going on? 
    • Wrong (correct word is “there” used with “to be” as an indicator)
  • Their out of time. 
    • Wrong (correct word is “they're” from the words “they are”)


So here are the rules in a quick and easy format that should help you out:

  • They're” is a contraction of “they” and “are”. If you can use “they are” and the sentence still makes sense, then you can use “they're”.
  • There” indicates a place or is used with the verb “to be” (am, is, are, was, were) to indicate something.
  • Their” is used to show possession of something (abstract or concrete).

Remember these general rules and you should be “they're”, “there”, and “their” ready!  But, if you still need some practice, here is a free site that generates unique, random worksheets where you can test out your new knowledge until you got it down.  Good luck and happy writing!



Jul 24, 2011 12:25am
My 5th grade teacher made the whole class stay after school everyday for about two weeks to take a test on the "there, their, and they're" usages. We had to do so until about 90% of the class got above a certain score. I'm super thankful she helped us all learn this lesson early in life, because to this day, it remains one of the most (if not the most) common grammatical error I see in all kinds of writing. Thanks for the interesting reminder!
Jul 24, 2011 6:49pm
I agree, it's the most common mistake I see as well. I wish more teachers today were like yours! Glad you enjoyed the article =)
Jul 24, 2011 4:21am
Nice article and very clear explanations. Very useful to us who don't have english as their first language.
Jul 24, 2011 6:50pm
Thank you for the comment, I'm glad it could be useful to you!
Jul 24, 2011 1:39pm
I love it. Other grammatical mistakes come to mind as well. A pet irritation of mine is adults saying "You did good" to children. Of course that "good" should be "well." Nicely done.
Jul 24, 2011 6:51pm
I agree, I hear that a lot as well. Maybe a topic for another article in the future? Thanks for the comment!
Jul 25, 2011 6:31am
Your absolutely right. You're article was really helpful.
Jul 25, 2011 6:31am
And yes, my previous comment was a joke.
Jul 25, 2011 2:49pm
Hahaha, love it! Thanks for the comment!
Aug 8, 2011 5:02am
Glad to hear that nichohman! 'Your' and 'You're' mistakes are my pet hates!:)
Jul 25, 2011 3:51pm
Very nice article, clever title also. It always amazes me when people use the incorrect version for the wrong sentence. It seems obvious to me which one to use, yet people keep getting it wrong, whether through laziness or not, I'm not sure.
Taking a second or two to think about it is perfectly ok.
Jul 28, 2011 2:48pm
I agree completely, such a quick fix if people just took a second to think about it. Thanks for the comment!
Jul 28, 2011 12:52pm
Very useful article, and very helpful to me personally...Thank you! excellently written and very well explained :)
Jul 28, 2011 2:49pm
Thank you so much for the kind words, I'm glad it could help out!
Jul 30, 2011 3:27am
Haha, Thank you!!! :)
Aug 1, 2011 4:11pm
No problem, thank YOU for the comment!
Jul 30, 2011 5:15am
Great article with a good advice. If in doubt use the word they're. Yeah.
Aug 1, 2011 4:11pm
Thanks! Glad you like it!
Aug 1, 2011 1:30pm
Thanks so much for this. I hate walking past shop signs with mistakes!
Aug 1, 2011 4:14pm
Oh wow, I would be too, I can't believe a shop sign would have a mistake like that out in the open! Thanks for the comment!
Aug 7, 2011 2:13am
This is an EXCELLENT article.... and you hit on one of my biggest pet peeves for real... nice job. I think your and you're is what takes second to this here... :)
Aug 8, 2011 4:24pm
Hehe, glad you enjoyed it, it's definitely in my top 3 pet peeves also! Thanks for your kind words and comment! :)
Aug 10, 2011 1:01pm
Nice work! Thanks. Very useful.
Aug 10, 2011 3:28pm
Thanks very much, glad you liked it!
Aug 24, 2011 8:02pm
I haven't started writing here yet but I appreciate the guidance. I'll be sure to refer back when I'm unsure.
Sep 14, 2011 8:29pm
It is great to see how many comments you have. That means more and more people are interested in proper grammar. English is my second language but still I found several errors in native speakers/writers. Thanks for sharing!
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