There, Their, and They’re


Teacher there their theyre

A sign I noticed in a hotel gym recently read “…all members welcome to come and show off there skills or learn some new one’s.” I suppose a review of apostrophe use should be forthcoming as well.

I don’t know any clever tricks for remembering the difference between there, their and they’re. If you know any, please share them in a comment. All I can do is explain simply their definitions.

1. They’re is a contraction. It’s a shortened version of they are. No exceptions. If you mean they are, you should use the version of they’re that contains the apostrophe.

They’re arriving by canoe shortly before lunch.

2. Their is a possessive pronoun. When you want to show that something belongs to them, you need this version. Always. One reason this causes confusion is that we are used to an apostrophe signaling possession in nouns. If the spatula belongs to Frank, it is Frank’s spatula. But personal pronouns have their own possessive forms and never need an apostrophe (e.g., his, her, our, its, their).

The kindergartners practiced tying their shoelaces.

3. There is, well, the other one. There has several uses and is more difficult to explain. That’s why I left it for last. My suggestion is to learn the meaning of the other two and only use there when they aren’t needed. For those who must know, however, there is usually an adverb indicating location:

I put your toothbrush there on the shelf.

There can also be a pronoun use of there. At least it’s defined as a pronoun, although I have a hard time understanding in what way it substitutes for a noun. This quite common use is always coupled with a form of the verb be:

There is a penguin on your suitcase.

Dictionaries define another use of there as a noun–usually when the word is used as the object of a preposition:

You can take it from there.

But I strongly recommend that you ignore the various uses of there. Just learn how to use they’re and their. They are both simple and singular. When the situation calls for neither the contraction, they’re, nor the possessive, their, use the default, there.

And there you have it.

Challenge: Use “they’re,” “their,” and “there” in the same sentence. Extra credit if you can use them consecutively!


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. JJ

    Two children were fighting over what to play. One wanted to play Monopoly, and the other wanted to play catch. Eventually, the mother stepped in, and told them to play by themselves. As soon as she separated them, she found them playing by themselves quite happily. She said, “There, they’re their own playmates.”

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-05-2012

      Winner! Outstanding job, JJ!

    • Amy

      Always looking for great dictation excercises for my boys. Am printing this one out!


  2. Aaron

    “They’re over there with their chickens.”

    How’s that?

  3. Kathy

    Hey there….Nothing impressive here, but since “there” usually refers to location, I have tried to make it easier by teaching that it has the word here inside it. “Their” has the letter i in the middle — I can own something. Nothing fancy, but it has worked for those two words because they’re the most confused of the three. 🙂

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-05-2012

      I like that a lot Kathy. Thanks. Never thought of the “here/there” connection. I will definitely use that.

  4. Paul Schwarz
    Paul Schwarz09-05-2012

    “See those comments over there? They’re their favorite things to read.”

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko09-05-2012

      Well, you got them in consecutively, but not in the same sentence, Paul. I give you an A-minus. 🙂

  5. Brian Wasko
    Brian Wasko04-16-2011


  6. Merri

    A supposedly true story I heard (somewhere)…
    Sign at a fried chicken restaurant – “There here! Spicy wings – get them now.”
    A week later – “Their here! Spicy wings – get them now.”
    After another week – “New! Spicy wings – get them now.”

    I’m guessing they simply ‘gave up’ getting it right.

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