As with anything in the English language, there are certain words that seem impossible for me to get right. I do have my moments, but really, there, their and they’re seem to be my writing kryptonite.
It must be a mental block or something. Time and time again, I can go back over a manuscript and find issues with the usage of these three words. It’s not just me, either. I can read various texts and especially on social media where these three words are always misused. So, why are there, their and they’re so commonly used incorrectly?
Let’s do a deep dive into what exactly these words are, starting with there.
According to Grammar-Time, the word there is a commonly used word that can be difficult to classify because of the various roles it can play in a sentence. There can be used as an adverb, pronoun, noun, or adjective, and sometimes as an interjection.
Well, that explains it. It’s because the word there has so many various uses. When it’s used as an adverb, it is used to modify a verb in a sentence. “They went there only to find out that it was postponed.” The word there is considered an adverb because it describes the verb went.
That sounds simple enough, but then here’s where it gets even more complicated. That’s when it’s used as a pronoun. First, let’s define what a pronoun is. According to Scribendi.com, “there are seven types of pronouns that both English and English as second language writers must recognize: the personal pronoun, the demonstrative pronoun, the interrogative pronoun, the relative pronoun, the indefinite pronoun, the reflexive pronoun, and the intensive pronoun.
Let’s use the relative pronoun so we don’t’ get too bogged down. When using there as a pronoun, the word there can be used to introduce the subject of the sentence. An example is “There’s a spider in the bathtub.” When used as a noun, the example is, “get away from there.” It can also be used as an adverb as in, “Wait there until I get back.” Used as an adverb, “stop right there!” and as an interjection, “There, that didn’t hurt so much, did it?” Well, yes, it actually did hurt. I think my brain is sprained now.
Let’s move on to the word their, which is considered a possessive pronoun. What exactly does that mean? It means that it shows possession. It’s something that is owned. An example is, “The car is theirs.” More examples of possessive pronouns are provided by yourdictionary.com, which include “my, mine, our, ours, its, his, her, hers, their, theirs, your, and yours. These are all words that demonstrate ownership. If the book belongs to me, then it is mine. If the book belongs to her, then it is hers.”
Clear as mud, right? Let’s make things even more difficult by using their as an adjective. When the word their is used in this way, as defined by dictionary.com, “a form of the possessive case of plural they used as an attributive adjective, before a noun: their home; their rights as citizens; their departure for Rome.”
Okay, that one is easy enough. But then there’s the word they’re. Which should be fairly easy to understand. It’s actually called a contraction, which is a combination of two words; they and are. This combines the pronoun, they and verb, are making they’re.
Some examples are, they’re going to the ballpark. They’re buying a new house. They’re going camping this summer. These sounds pretty easy, but why is it, that this gets confused with the other there and their? At least this is what happens to me.
According to dictionary.com, “the trio of their, there, and they’re can flummox writers of all levels. It’s confusing; they are homophones, meaning they have the same pronunciation (sound) but differ in meaning and derivation (origin). Even though they sound the same, they aren’t spelled the same.”
Well, now I understand what my difficulty is. That’s because I have Dyslexia and while these words sound the same, they are spelled differently. It’s no wonder I flunked Freshman English three years in high school.
Thank you for joining me this week. Next time, I’ll dive into another set of words that, I not only have trouble with but see time and time again being used incorrectly. Those are to, too, and two.
Until next time, this is author Brian K. Larson, sparking imaginations, one book at a time.