they’re vs. there vs. their

What is the difference between they’re, there, and their?

The contraction they’re (they are) is very commonly confused with the words there (an adverb indicating location or direction) and their (a possessive determiner).
The main issue is that all three have the same pronunciation—/ðɛər/. If we are using the plural personal pronoun they and the verb are, then we have to use the contraction they’re; if we are indicating direction or location, we use the adverb/pronoun there; and if we’re saying that something belongs to a group of people, we use the possessive determiner their.
For example:
  • “I think they’re (they are) going to be here soon.”
  • “We parked the car over there (direction/location) on the hill.”
  • “I don’t believe in giving students standardized tests, because their (possession) scores don’t necessarily reflect their ability to learn.”

Spelling Tricks and Tips

Here’s a way of remembering the three different spellings:
  • They’re has an apostrophe in the middle because it comes from the words they and are.
  • There contains the word here, another adverb/pronoun of direction and location.
  • Their contains the word heir, which is a person who possesses something they have inherited.
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