In this blog, we will be dealing with the trio of expressions, the incorrect usage of which gives grammar “enthusiasts” countless sleepless nights and eternal heartache. These are, of course, the infamous they’re, their and there; the confusion is largely due to the fact that the three words have virtually the same pronunciation (they are the so-called homophones), but they do not have the same meaning, however.

THEY’RE

The expression they’re is merely a contracted form of the phrase they are. It may be helpful for you to avoid the confusion if you think of other contracted forms that behave in the same way, such as we’re (we are) or you’re (you are) and to bear in mind that apostrophes frequently indicate the presence or contraction of two elements (compare: haven’t = have not; won’t = will not, etc.).

They’re (= they are) not home at the moment.

I believe they’re (= they are) really nice people.

NOTE: Avoid contracted forms in formal pieces of writing.

THEIR

Their is a possessive pronoun used for the third person plural (= they). As such, its meaning can be best described as “belonging to them”. Possession indicated by their is also meant in a broader, more abstract sense, including, for instance, the things “relating to them”.

They can do whatever they want, it’s their house.

Mary and John finally realized that their effort was in vain.

THERE

One of the most common meanings of there is “the opposite of here” – thus denoting a location. The expression even contains the word here in it, which might be useful when trying to distinguish it from the other two. In this sense, there is used as an adverb:

She asked me to go (where?) there and bring her the thing she needed.

Stay (where?) there and don’t move.

The expression can also denote location in a more abstract sense:

Your parents will always be there for you.

Another frequent usage of there is as a pronoun, with a function of introducing a word or a clause:

There is something peculiar going on in that place.

There are 20 pieces of chocolate in the box.

REMEMBER: They’re contains an apostrophe, indicating it is a contacted form of a phrase consisting of two words (= they are). There is the most common one – it contains the word “here” in it, which can help you recognise it is (usually) about location. The one that remains is their, denoting possession.