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Difference Between: There vs. Their vs. They’re

There, their and they’re all sound the same. What’s the difference? There shows location (over there, I’m there for you) or introduces a subject (there are too many cars). Their indicates possession or connection (their house is huge). They’re is the short form of ‘they are’ (they’re always happy).

there their they're difference
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There or their or they’re?

These words each have their uses in English, but their meanings are different. They’re homophones – meaning they all sound the same. However, their spellings are not the same! There are times when even native speakers mix them up when writing. They’re confusing. Let’s look at their meanings and the differences between them. These words are tricky, but we’ll get there!

  • There = refers to location or introduces a subject
    The milk is over there on the table. (location)
    There are too many cars on the road. (intro)
  • Their = shows possession (belongs to or is connected with someone/something)
     Jim and Sarah are going to see their friends this weekend.
  • They’re = just means ‘they are’
    My parents are coming for dinner, but I’m not sure what time they’re arriving.

What does there mean?

There means: ‘to, at or in that place’.

When describing ‘location’, we can use there about physical and abstract locations.

  • Put the books over there. (physical location)
  • I’ll be there for you in sickness and in health. (abstract location)

There is also used to introduce the subject of a sentence. We often use it together with the words: be, seem, and appear.

  • There is no milk left in the fridge.
  • There seems/appears to be a problem with the TV.

Set expressions: over/out/under there, get there, there is/are, there you go/are, hi there, take it from there.

Examples with there in a sentence:

  • There are plenty of shops in town.
  • Please leave your dirty boots over there by the door.
  • I’ll be there just after lunch.
  • There’s someone on the phone for you.
  • The water is on, but there seems to be a problem with the tap!

Sometimes punctuation can make a big difference to our word choice. Look at this example with their and they’re:

  • Our kids like playing with Alfie and Mark – their best friends. (possession, connection)
  • Our kids like playing with Alfie and Mark. They’re best friends. (they are)

What does their mean?

Their means: ‘belonging to them’.

Their is a possessive adjective, like his or her. It shows ownership or a connection to something.

Examples with their in a sentence:

  • Have Steve and Jessica moved into their new house yet?
  • The kids need to tidy their toys away now.
  • Citizens should stand up for their rights.
  • Their car needs a new set of tyres urgently.
  • I don’t know when the students are getting their exam results.

Sometimes we can use their to talk about just one person or thing (singular). This may seem strange because usually their is the possessive adjective of ‘they’ (plural).

E.g. Someone forgot to turn off their phone at the cinema.
(unspecified person, we don’t know the gender so can’t use his/her)

What does they’re mean?

They’re means: ‘they are’.

They’re is just a contraction (short form) of they are.

Examples with they’re in a sentence:

  • Do you know when they’re going on holiday?
  • Dave and Judy are lovely, but sometimes they’re a bit boring!
  • Electric scooters are everywhere now, but they’re a danger on the road.
  • I’m not sure when they’re due to arrive.
  • They’re often late.

In some set expressions, we use ‘they are’ at the end of the sentence. However, we cannot use the contracted form they’re.

E.g. They don’t know how lucky they are! (not they’re)

Quiz: There or their or they’re?

Now try these exercises to test your understanding of the differences between there, their and they’re. Look back at the rules and examples above if you get confused!

  1. Mary has three kids, but I don’t know ________ names.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  2. Ask the students to come into the room when _________ ready.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  3. My parents are really proud of _________ new house.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  4. __________ are times when I get annoyed with my colleagues.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  5. I think the green armchair would look better over __________.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  6. My children like to play with ________ friends after school.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  7. My children like to play with Judy and Mark. ________ best friends.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  8. I know France well and enjoy going ________ every year.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  9. _________ was a car accident on the motorway so the traffic was terrible.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
  10. They say dogs often resemble ________ owners in some way.
    a. there
    b. their
    c. they’re
Answers:
  1. b)
  2. c)
  3. b)
  4. a)
  5. a)
  6. b)
  7. c)
  8. a)
  9. a)
  10. b)
Click here to download this post via our mobile website!
Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
Alex Jude —
ESL Specialist & CEO at Online Teachers UK.
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