Their, There, and They're

Commonly Confused Words

Although their, there, and they're are pronounced alike, the three words have different meanings.

Their is the possessive form of they. For example, "Their hands are in their pockets."

There is an expletive used to start a sentence and also an adverb meaning "at that place." For example, "There are two boys hiding over there."

They're is a contraction of they are. For example, "Alligators are dangerous, but they're also lazy."

See:

Also see the usage notes below.

Examples:

  • "The class consisted of fourteen students. Coleman had taken attendance at the beginning of the term so as to learn their names."
    (Philip Roth, The Human Stain, 2000)
  • "Near the gateway there are some lanterns, not lit because it isn't night. Above us, I know, there are floodlights, attached to the telephone poles, for use in emergencies, and there are men with machine guns in the pillboxes on either side of the road. I don't see the floodlights and the pillboxes, because of the wings around my face. I just know they are there."
    (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, 1985)
  • "Weeds don't know they're weeds."
    (John Updike, Rabbit at Rest, 1990)
  • "She thinks about crows a lot of the time. They're everywhere. . . . I think they're beautiful. Oh, yes. Very beautiful. Their sleekness. Their shades. It's so so black in there you can see purple in there."
    (Philip Roth, The Human Stain, 2000)

    Usage Notes:

    "Many people are so spooked by apostrophes that a word like 'they're' seems to them as if it might mean almost anything. In fact, it's always a contraction of 'they are.' If you've written 'they're,' ask yourself whether you can substitute 'they are.' If not, you've made a mistake. 'Their' is a possessive pronoun like 'her' or 'our': 'They eat their hot dogs with sauerkraut.' Everything else is 'there.' .

    . . 'Thier' is a common misspelling, but you can avoid it by remembering that 'they' and 'their' begin with the same three letters. Another hint: 'there' has 'here' buried inside it to remind you it refers to place, while 'their' has 'heir' buried in it to remind you that it has to do with possession."
    (Paul Brians, Common Errors in English Usage. William, James & Co., 2003)

    Practice:

    (a) _____ are geese in the garden.

    (b) _____ nibbling the roses.

    (c) _____ honking can be heard for miles.

    (d) "The women in the room are whispering, almost talking, so great is _____ excitement."
    (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, 1985)

    (e) "He is stocky and sandy and wears glasses so thick they make his eyes look like _____ trying to escape from two little fishbowls, jumping from side to side."
    (John Updike, Rabbit at Rest, 1990)

    (f) "We worked a lot in Honolulu. . . . _____ was a point in the 1970s when I wanted to buy a house _____."
    (Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, 2005)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Their, There, and They're

    (a) There are geese in the garden.

    (b) They're nibbling the roses.

    (c) Their honking can be heard for miles.

    (d) "The women in the room are whispering, almost talking, so great is their excitement."
    (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale, 1985)

    (e) "He is stocky and sandy and wears glasses so thick they make his eyes look like they're trying to escape from two little fishbowls, jumping from side to side."
    (John Updike, Rabbit at Rest, 1990)

    (f) "We worked a lot in Honolulu.

    . . . There was a point in the 1970s when I wanted to buy a house there."
    (Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, 2005)

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs