Their, there, they’re… Don’t be cry

scary castle in a stormWelcome, dear readers, to my first grammar-related post of 2014! I decided to start the year with three homophones that consistently confuse English users—both old and new. (By the way, if you don’t get the 30 Rock reference in the title, click here to be enlightened—or further confused!)

Okay, so an adjective, an adverb, and a contraction walk into a bar and the bartender says, “Oh my god, they’re everywhere!”

I know. It’s a bad joke. But the point is to explain that these three homophones represent three different parts of speech, which is why it’s important to use the right one in the right place. So let’s look at them.

Their
This their is a possessive adjective (and a determiner), and is used to refer to something that belongs to the person or thing previously indicated.

  • The angry villagers wanted their children back.

It can also be used to refer to someone whose gender is unspecified or unknown.

  • Vlad heard a minion scratching in their coffin.

There
This there is an adverb that indicates whether something is in, at, or moving to a place or position.

  • “I’m not going in there,” the villager said. “That room is full of vampires!”

It can also be used as an exclamation, either to focus attention on something or to comfort someone.

  • There, there, it will all be over soon.

They’re
And this they’re is a contraction of the words they are, which are a pronoun and a verb. They is the plural form of he, she, and it. It’s generally used to refer to someone or something previously indicated. Are is the present form of the verb be. So if you use this form of they’re, you should be talking about more than one person doing something. For example:

  • The villagers! They’re inside the castle!

And there you have it! Let me know if there are any other homophones you’d like me to write about.

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Image credit: fotola70 / Photoxpress.com

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