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Language Arts

Their, There, They're

When is it appropriate to use "there" vs. "they're" vs. "their"? Is it ever proper to use "there're"? This article explains the differences between "there," "their," "they're" and "there're," and gives tips on distinguishing them.

There're bears right there, and they're hungry and we're going to be their lunch if we don't get away really FAST!!!! Groups of homophones one or more of which are rarely used usually do not present much of a problem, but homophones as common as these are all so familiar that substituting one for another is easy to overlook. We'll review the differences and make some suggestions for keeping them straight in this article.


There're is a non-standard contraction of there are. It is a bit awkward to pronounce, nevertheless, it is used in informal speech, like this:

If you keep eatin' up the French fries as fast as I can cook them, there're gonna be none left for your brother.

Unless one was writing dialogue, there is pretty much no reason to use the form there're in writing, so if you're content to confine its use to speech and to write there's for the contraction of there and is and write out there are, we can eliminate this word as a problem.


Their is the third person plural dependent possessive pronoun, and fits into this group of possessive pronouns:

First Person Singular: my

First Person Plural: our

Second Person Singular and Plural: your

Third Person Singular: his, her, its

Third Person Plural: their

Dependent means that it is a modifier and cannot stand alone. One can say:

I will bring my parka, and the Miller twins will bring their parkas.

But we can't say:

I will bring my parka, and the Miller twins will bring their.

For that construction, the independent third person plural possessive pronoun theirs is needed.

It can also be viewed in the context of the other third personal plural pronouns:

Personal Subjective: they

Personal Objective: them

Possessive Dependent: their

Possessive Independent: theirs

Reflexive: themselves

There comes from the Old Norse plural possessive pronoun theirra. It is pronounced /THEHR/.


There is half of the set of adverbs here and there. Here refers to the place in which one is, while there, in contrast, refers to another, previously established and more distant place. It is similar to the pair hither and thither, with hither meaning "to this place" or "coming here," and thither meaning "to that place" or "going there." Here is an example of its use:

I think I would like to paint that group of wildflowers over there in the dell.

There comes from the Middle English and Old English forms meaning there. It is pronounced /THEHR/.


They're is a contraction of the personal third personal plural subjective pronoun they and the plural present indicative verb are. The apostrophe replaces the letter a. All of the personal subjective pronouns are customarily contracted with the appropriate verb form, like this:


First Person Singular + am: I'm

First Person Plural + are: we're

Second Person Singular and Plural + are: you're

Third Person Singular + is: he's, she's, it's

Third Person Plural + are: they're

You can see from this chart that you're and they're create similar issues: in each case, the word resulting from the contraction looks similar to and sounds exactly the same as the possessive dependent form your in the first case and their in the second. 

An example of they're in context is:

I wish I weren't in here writing a paper while they're all out at the pool enjoying themselves!

Distinguishing Their, There, They're

Here are several mnemonics you can try to help distinguish the various /THEHR/'s.

1) Remember that there is the opposite of here-which is embedded in it. There is the only one of this group with here inside it, so you can connect it with location.

2) Remember that the problem with the pronoun contractions is that the apostrophe is often a cue to a possessive form: so it's most particularly, but also they're and you're are very, very often confused with the actual possessive dependent forms: its, their, and your. If you stay mindful of this, you can help catch yourself.

3) Use a grammar check in your word processor as well as a spell checker.

Written by Mary Elizabeth