Science of Writing: Frenemies- There, They’re and Their

by Sydney Fordyce

Go to Facebook. Yes, go to Facebook right now. Post this sentence as your status:

“OMG! Their so annoying!!”

Now grab your popcorn, and watch the war that ensues.

There are multiple things wrong with that sentence—”so” is used incorrectly; it’s an I’m-hungry-for-attention post—but the mistake that will cause the biggest uproar is the misuse of “their.”

“There,” “their,” and “they’re” are three very territorial words. Think of them as world powers. If an enemy infringes on their turf, they’re going to get a little heated. In order to keep these world powers from nuking each other, you should learn how to use them correctly.



“There” is based off of location. It focuses on the “where.”

Ex: I left my gummy bears over there.

Where are the gummy bears? There.

Helpful tip: “There” and “where” are spelled similarly, so they go together.

(Don’t tell the other two world powers I said this, but “there” is usually my go-to form. If it doesn’t fit the qualifications of the other two forms, use “there.”)


“Their” is the possessive form. It shows possession by a group rather than an individual.

Ex: The children would not eat their broccoli.

This world power is very particular about his possessions. Do not accidentally give ownership to “there” or “they’re.” It will infuriate “their.”


“They’re” is the contraction for “they are.”

Ex: They are watching seventeen monkeys play the piano.

They’re watching seventeen monkeys play the piano.

“They’re” is like a monarchy. King They and Queen Are work together to rule the land. They and Are are madly in love, so they cannot be separated. Put them together. Their love deserves to reign.


Now you know how to correctly keep these world powers at bay.

Ex: There, there. They’re coming to get their ladder, so they can get your cat down from there.

But I always wonder, why have three words  that sound exactly the same, but have entirely different meanings? Because it’s the English language, that’s why. It can be a hassle, but it is a necessary evil in order for English to make sense. 

But hey, we’ve found ways to have fun with it!

Sydney Fordyce is a junior Professional Writing major.

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