Monday, August 20, 2012

Writing 101: Their, There and They're

Some words are so common, we never think twice about using them -- and that's a big problem. Three of the most common words are mixed up and misplaced very often in writing. It's time for that to stop. There's a way to master using their, there and they're, and once you do your grammar will instantly improve. 


Their

Their is probably the most difficult word in this homonym set, and that's why it's the first one of the group that writers have to master. Right out of the gate, their is hard to spell. It's an ugly word, and defies all spelling logic. In a proper word world, the i would come before the e, the way it ought, and everyone would be happy.

Not possible. Their is actually a form of the word they (as if the group wasn't confusing enough), therefore it's got to be spelled with the e first -- according to expert grammarians. The word their is possessive, which means it's always used to denote ownership. It belongs in the same word family as his and hers and ours. Something belongs to their when it's not yours or mine, but someone else's.

By the rules of language, their is the possessive of they. If their didn't exist, we would end up writing stuff like this: I can't take Muffy and Fluffy out for they's afternoon walk because I misplaced they's leash. Because that's how the possessive form of they would look otherwise. But their does exist, so instead I would write that I can't take Muffy and Fluffy out for their afternoon walk because I misplaced their leash.

Their is used to show possession, and that's the only time it's used. The word isn't necessarily used to indicate more than one person, but most commonly this is the case. That's the other reason this word is so horribly confusing: because they're also exists. 

They're

They're has an apostrophe in it, so right away you know there are some letters missing. They're is actually they are, and those two words always have a specific meaning. They are going to the store. They are reading stuff online. They are looking for grammar mistakes. It means that more than one person or thing is doing something -- maybe just existing (They are.) if no new verb is added. They can be people, or animals, or plants (they are wilting in the drought) or whatever -- as long as it's more than one. When you accidentally use they're someplace where there or their ought to be, you're changing things around considerably.

They're isn't anyplace to go in this town.

I saw someone standing in the shadows over they're.  

You're also changing the meaning of your words if you neglect to put they're in the right place.

Their looking at me funny, and I'm uncomfortable

So I'm telling this joke, and there laughing about it

Always remember the apostrophe. They're is always they are no matter what, and it always involves more than one -- more than one word, more than one person or thing, more than one opportunity to make the wrong grammar decision.

There

There is problematic because it's used in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes, it refers to a physical place that you can reach out and touch: Sandy stood there in the hallway. I found it in the chair, just there. It can also refer to a point in time. She paused there to smile at her audience. You can also use it to draw attention to something: There it is! Or use it for agreement: I agree with you there

That's a lot of different ways to use a word. Technically speaking, there very simply means in that place. It sort of means the same thing as here, except when something's there it's not quite as close to you.

This word gets confusing because it's common to use the words there's and theirs. Start throwing the letter s around, and you're getting into all sorts of sticky grammar situations. There's an easy way to solve the problem. Their is possessive. Add an s and it's still possessive. When something is theirs, they own it. 

You only use the word there's when you're pointing something out. Because of the apostrophe, you know it actually represents there is -- and that's not possessive at all. There is a good reason to learn proper grammar! When you're using there's, you're pointing something out. When you're using theirs, you're showing that something belongs to them

There is no such word as theres. It doesn't exist, so if you've got an e and an s next to each other with no apostrophe, it's bad! The s only joins the party when it's dating r. You can't add s to they're, either, so it's an easy rule to remember to keep your grammar guest list straight.

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2 comments:

  1. Hehe love these! I beleive that this set of Homophone is actually the hardest to grasp whether your a writer or someone still in school. It's tricky but great way of explaining them! I love that you always use examples. It clears everything much more easily and it's quite more visible. Great post.

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  2. Thanks, Nic! I'm glad you liked the post.

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