Thursday, September 8

English teacher:
how to use there, their, and they're

It's Thursday again, and time for a little grammar lesson!

Several people have asked me to address the proper use of there, their, and they're. These are wonderful words--we use them all the time! And like so many other words, they are no problem for speakers, for they all sound pretty much the same when spoken. But how do you know which one to use in writing? Here's how:

Their is the possessive form of the pronouns they/them. That's it. The only time you should use this word is when to you want to say that something belongs to them.
  • Their new house is beautiful.
  • Have they shown you their Labrador puppy?
  • Their car is parked right outside the door.
**Here's a trick for remembering to use their to indicate possession. See that hidden in the word their is the word heir? You can remember that things belong to the heir. So use their when you need to show that something belongs to them.

They're is a contraction of the two words they and are. You should use this word if you could replace it with the words they are.
  • They're leaving for the beach today.
  • I'm so glad they're going to join us!

There is a very useful little word which indicates place.
  • Park your car right over there.
  • We'll pass right by there on our way.
**Here's a trick to help you remember when to use there. Hidden inside the word there is the word here, which indicates also indicates place. In fact, you can usually substitute the word here when you you're using there and still make pretty good sense. "Park your car right over here."

Now, there's a special problem with using the word there. In fact, the first sentence of this paragraph illustrates a particular use of the word there. It's called an expletive. No, it's not a curse word--it's an expression that can take the grammatical place of the noun that follows it. I'll bet you use these expressions all the time, just like I did in that first sentence: "there is a special problem." You could rearrange that sentence to say "A special problem is there." You probably wouldn't, but you could, and then you could easily see that the real subject is problem, a singular noun, and that it requires a singular verb. So when you're using there in this way, make sure that you choose a verb that agrees with the noun that follows the word there.

There is only one surgeon I'd want to do that operation.
There are lots of people here.
There are so many choices!

Now here's a little quiz for you.
  1. Would you mind to sit over (their/they're/there)?
  2. (Their/they're/there) kids are so well-behaved.
  3. (Their/they're/there) going to be surprised to see me.
  4. (Their/they're/there) is nothing I'd rather be doing.
If you answered there for #1, their for #2, they're for #3, and there for #4, you've got it!
Please leave me a comment with any questions you'd like me to answer or points of grammar you'd like for me to explain. . . or even pet peeves you'd like for me to expose! I want these little lessons to address issues that would be helpful to you. If you have a particular question you'd like for me to answer, feel free to email me (richellap (at) gmail (dot) com). I'd be happy to help if I can!


  1. thank you! there is so much stuff misspelled out there!!!

  2. And then there's that property. They're claiming it's theirs.

    Part 2: there's and theirs

    =) Good job!

  3. So when my boys start learning this stuff in school, I am totally opening up your blog and letting you teach them:)

  4. Thanks for the lesson. This one was very interesting.


  5. Well done! You do an excellent job explaining grammar. :) I like Kelley's example too!

  6. Love those little hints in their and there! Sometimes my brain can't remember which comes first in their, the "e" or the "i." I came up with THIS hint. There is spelled So if I want to spell the other one, I just replace the "re" with "ir." May not make sense to anybody but me, but at least I spell "their" right all the time now! :)

  7. You are just so cute! I wish you could have taught the comma lesson I bombed on Wednesday. :)


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