Oh the complicated web we weave when we use their, they’re and there. You know what I mean. Just like several of the other confusing word pairs we’ve covered in recent blog posts (every day vs everyday; bought vs brought; lose vs loose) mastery of their, there, and they’re is one of the most vexing things for people not only on Twitter and Facebook, but in text messages, emails, and anywhere else these words appear in writing. We might see something on Facebook like, “Their is no good reason there hanging out they’re at two in the morning!”
For some reason, “their” seems to be the one that gets abused the most. It’s as though we forget about its possessive use, so it shows up randomly.
To differentiate, one thing you can do is think about possession. If you’re using the plural pronoun “they” and showing possession, as in things belonging to other people or things, you’ll want to use “their”: “Janet and Kim are looking for their sons. Do you know where they are?”
When you need the contraction for “they are,” you use “they’re”: “I thought the boys were in the yard playing hockey. Don’t tell me they’re not outside now.” My trick is that each time I use this word, I read the sentence out loud and say “they are” even when the word “they’re” is used to make sure it makes sense.
Think of “there” in terms of location: “We just came in from outside, and we didn’t see the boys out there.” Even if a sentence begins with “there,” as in the case with “there are,” the things that the “there” represents are still located somewhere, even if the location isn’t certain, or even imaginary: “There are three boys who will be in trouble if they aren’t out there, in the yard where they said they’d be.”
It can be tricky, yes, and there are plenty of people who get their use of these words wrong, and will refuse to be told otherwise because they’re certain they’re right. If you want to avoid these common pitfalls, just remember which one is possessive (their), which one is a contraction (they’re), and which one is a location (there).
And when all else fails, blame autocorrect!