'Neither here nor their...'

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One of the most alarmingly persistent grammatical errors in the English language is the incorrect use of the words there, their and they’re.

We’ve all asked that age-old question: ‘Is it there, their or they’re?’
So why is it that this mistake is so commonly made and how can we learn to master these pesky spellings and help resolve this issue for good?

There, their and there are a certain type of homophone known as heterographs. This means they sound the same but both their spellings and their meanings are different. Since their meanings are different, when one is used in the incorrect context, the sentence actually fails to make sense.

Here is a common example of incorrect use. See how the sentence doesn’t function:

‘I bought One Direction’s new album; there my favourite group’

The correct spelling would be they’re but, because they sound the same, the words are often confused.

Here is the sentence again, this time with correct grammar:

‘I bought One Direction’s new album; they’re my favourite group’

Now let’s look at the meaning of each word individually.

The word ‘there’ is used when referring to a place
e.g. “I had lunch there yesterday.”

A good way of remembering this is to recite this sentence: “If it’s not here it’s there.”

The word ‘their’ is used when referring to the possessions of others
e.g. “I spoke to the class about their exam results”.

Spelling is sometimes an issue on this word too, possibly due to it breaking the classroom rule:
“‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C’”. This is an exception to that rule and should ALWAYS be spelt ‘their’.

Notice how this word wouldn’t make sense if put into the context of place:

“I love American music but I have never been their.”

Notice how this feels wrong to read!
And remember: “If it’s not here (home) it’s there (America)”

There is short-hand for ‘they are’ so if you can replace it for the words ‘they are’, you are using it properly. Think of it as the opposite to we are or we’re and you’re. The apostrophe (‘) is simply replacing the letter ‘a’.

They’re can be used in both in reference to people or objects, for example:

‘I love roses, they’re beautiful’ or ‘Mark and Sally were coming but they’re already late!’

So next time you’re struggling to decide which word to use, think:

1. Is it here or there?

2. Does it belong to a group of people? If so, it’s theirs.

3. Can you replace it with ‘they are’? If so use ‘they’re’

These words are covered in Unit 12 page 8 of the Spellzone course


26 Feb 2013
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