When writing in English, you may stumble over commonly confused words; for example, you may need to learn the rules for there and their. There and their are homophones that are often used incorrectly, by non-English and native-English speakers alike.
Difference in Usage in Meaning
To master the differences between there and their, keep in mind some few simple rules for their and their:
- There is a noun, an adverb, a pronoun, or an adjective, but it does not show possession. Only the word their (not there) shows possession.
- Their is almost always followed by a noun. That is not true of the word “there,” which often stands alone as noun or pronoun.
Using There and Their
Paying careful attention to the definitions and parts of speech of these words, as well as common ways they are used, will help to prevent errors when using them in your writing. Here are some of the rules for when to use their and when to use there.
The word there has a variety of uses. To avoid misusing it, become familiar with these definitions, parts of speech, and sample sentences using there.
There as a noun, meaning “that place:”
- We jogged from there to the end of the block, then we sprinted the rest of the way home.
- The child took one look at the haunted house, and shrieked, “I am never stepping one foot in there!”
There as an adjective, emphasizing which person. This usage is used in speech more than in writing, and is typically to be avoided when constructing proper sentences:
- Those there apples are fresh for picking!
- My mother noted that there was a deer in the pond, and wondered if it was in danger of drowning in the icy water.
There as an adverb, meaning the opposite of here:
- Do you hear that dog barking over there?
- May I please sit there?
- The officer shouted, “Stop right there!”
There as a pronoun used to introduce a noun or a phrase:
- Is there a desk I can use to do my homework?
- There are too many people on this elevator.
The word their is a plural possessive adjective, which describe something that belongs to “them.” A noun typically follows the word their, which, other than serving as an adjective, has no other known usages in the English language.
Consider these sample sentences:
- We walked their dog for them while they were on vacation.
- Their cars were parked on the street while they were having their driveway repaved.
- I offered to babysit their toddler so they could get out on a date.
- Is that their only choice?
Why Are There and Their So Similar
There and their are homophones. Looking at the word homophone closely can help you understand what it means. “Homo” means “same,” and “phone” means “sound.” Words that are homophones will have the same sounds. Words like there and their sound the same, but as we have shown, have different spellings and different meanings.
There are many homophones in the English language, and in this case, there is even another word, “they’re” that sounds like there and their, but has a different meaning. The word “they’re” is a contraction for the words “they are,” and again should not be confused with “there” and “their.”
When writing in English, make sure you slow down enough to pay close attention to how you are spelling terms in their context, and to look for things like the rules for using there and their. Traditional spell-checkers, on word processing programs, may not always pick up on misused terms like there and their, because they are technically spelled correctly, even if they are used inappropriately in a given sentence.
Writing deliberately, and closely proofreading your work will help you avoid mistakes when using homophones. What’s more, remember the definitions and rules of there and their and practicing their use will help you prevent making mistakes with these sound alike terms.