Threw, Through, and Thru: How to Choose the Right Word

Threw and through have several meanings; thru is an informal spelling of through

ball thrown through window
The boy threw the ball through a window. Steve Bronstein/Getty Images

The words threw, through, and thru are homophones: They sound alike, but threw and through have different meanings, are different parts of speech, and were derived from different words. Thru means the same as through but is an abbreviation used appropriately only in certain informal contexts.

How to Use 'Threw'

Threw is the past tense of the verb throw, which usually means to cause something to move through the air, either by hand or with a device such as a catapult, but it has many other meanings. It can also mean to dislodge (The horse threw its rider.), to move suddenly or forcefully (The angry guest threw his clothes into a suitcase.), to cast dice, to make pottery, or to lose deliberately (The losing team threw the game.).

Throw, the present tense of threw, came from throwen, a Middle English word meaning to twist, wring, or hurl, which in turn came from thrawan, an Old English word meaning to throw or twist.

How to Use 'Through'

Through can function as an adjective, adverb, or preposition, each with a variety of meanings. It often suggests a passage: from start to finish or from point A to point B. Through as an adjective can also mean finished, over, or completed, or it can mean free passage or nonstop. As a preposition, it means by, using, or as a result of.

Through came thurgh or thrugh, a Middle English word that itself came from thurh, an Old English word. Both mean through or beyond.

How to Use 'Thru'

Thru is still considered an "informal" spelling, though it predates through by more than 100 years. In its early days, English was an entirely phonetic written language, and thru was one of many spellings of the word. But beginning in the early 16th century, standardization of spelling triggered by the printing press threw many variants, including thru, into disuse. At the same time, written English was influenced by Old Norse and French spellings, resulting in words such as through.

Thru is listed as a preposition, adverb, or adjective, but, despite its pedigree, it's still considered more appropriate in informal writing such as a text message, a tweet, or a road sign (such as "No thru street") than in a formal essay, professional writing, or a report.

Examples

These sample sentences illustrate the varied meanings of threw, through, and thru:

  • Buddy threw the baseball all the way from the outfield to home plate. Here threw means hurled.
  • Charles walked through the museum, looking for the schools of art that he had studied in school. In this example, through indicates a passage from one point to another.
  • Marjorie is a senior and, at the end of the week, will be through with school. Here through means finished.
  • Paul took a through train to avoid all the intermediate stops. In this usage through means nonstop.
  • Betsy learned about the job through an ad she saw on Craigslist. Here it means as a result of.
  • The sign at the fast-food restaurant pointed out the location of the "Drive-Thru Window." This example illustrates an informal use of thru as having the same meaning as through.

Idiomatic Uses of 'Threw'

Uses of threw can be expanded to include several other meanings by way of idioms, or expressions using a word such as threw that are recognized as having different meanings from the literal definition of the word. These include:

  • "Threw a monkey wrench into," meaning sabotaged. His decision to quit his job threw a monkey wrench into Sarah's vacation plans.
  • "Threw cold water on," meaning discouraged by criticizing. Every time Bill thought he had a great idea, his boss threw cold water on the proposal.
  • "Threw oneself at," meaning tried hard to win attention or affection. He threw himself at Angie, but she made it clear that she wasn't interested in him.
  • "Threw oneself into," meaning tried vigorously. Sam wanted to get ahead in his job, so he threw himself into his work.

Idiomatic Uses of 'Through'

Through also appears frequently and usefully in idioms:

  • "Through and through," meaning completely, thoroughly, or throughout. She was a Denver Broncos fan, through and through.
  • "Go through with," meaning to experience, examine carefully, perform, use up, or complete. Despite the setbacks, she pledged to go through with the project.
  • "Go through the roof," meaning to get very angry—When Janet came in late from a date, her mom went through the roof—or to rise to a higher level—Bobby began applying himself to his studies and his grades went through the roof.

Sources