There, their and they’re – which one should you use?

by Liz Walter

thereIf you are a learner of English and you are confused about the words there, their and they’re, let me reassure you: many, many people with English as their first language share your problem! You only have to take a look at the ‘comments’ sections on the website of, for example, a popular newspaper, to see plentiful examples of errors with these words. This post is a brief guide to using them correctly.

We use there to talk about things existing or happening:

There is a book on the table.

There was cheering when the news was announced.

We also use it to talk about places, especially to say where something is:

The ticket office is over there.

‘Where are my glasses?’ ‘There!’

‘Do you like Paris?’ ‘I’ve never been there.’

There is the most common of the three words, so it’s not surprising that the most frequent error is for people to use there when they should use their or they’re. Here are some simple rules to help you avoid making the same mistake.

Their is a possessive adjective. You use it to talk about something that belongs to a group of people or things:

Hannah and Jan put on their coats.

Please put the pens back in their boxes.

What are there names?

Finally, they’re is a short form of they are:

They’re all going to London.

‘Where are the cups?’ ‘They’re in the cupboard.’

I don’t like these trousers because there too big.

There are some other similar words that often cause confusion, such as who’s and whose or you’re and your. Luckily, in these cases there are only two similar words to choose between!

The most important thing to remember is that an apostrophe (‘) means that part of a word is missing. So -in the same way that they’re means they arewho’s means who is or who has, and you’re means you are:

Who’s coming to the party?

Who’s taken my pen?

You’re not allowed to smoke in here.

You’re all being silly!

Let me know when your coming to London.

Whose and your are like their. They are used for talking about who something belongs to:

Whose shoes are these?

She has a boyfriend whose name is Rick.

Can I borrow your pen?

How often do you and your brother go swimming?

I hope this helps to make the difference between these confusing words a bit clearer!

18 thoughts on “There, their and they’re – which one should you use?

  1. Zafar Ali Khan

    A lot of vocabulary are there on Cambridge english dictionary , thier vast treasure of vocabulary are for whom? They are for us to learn and practice.

  2. Pingback: Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1) – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

  3. Vesna

    Hello there!:-)
    I am just exploring an expression Theres’ a + noun … ( e.g. JAT flight at 10:45 am.).I stumbled upon it in an English workbook and got puzzled as to what type of form THERES’ (with an apostrophe after “s”) could be.
    That’s, basically, what’s bringing me here – I’d be thankful if you could provide me with an explanation.
    So far, I haven’t been able to find it in any dictionary form nor grammar, so I figured – who better to turn to than you (for an explanation)….Thank you in advance, I hope you’ll be of assistance.

    Yours sincerely, Mrs. Vesna Maksimovic, Serbia

    1. Liz Walter

      Theres’ is incorrect. I can’t think of any context in which it would be correct. Your sentence should be: There’s a JAT flight at 10:45 am.

  4. Nancy

    Hi, Liz.. when I’m studying how to use ‘it’ There were some questions
    1- I’ve left my coat at home. (The weather is very warm)
    2- I bought a shirt in the market. (The shirt was very cheap.) the answers were:
    1-it was very warm
    2- it was very cheap. but my answers were: ‘it was very warm weather ‘ ‘it was a very cheap shirt’. could you please explain what is the difference? and were my answers completely wrong or not or both answers are correct?
    thank you.

    1. Liz Walter

      Usually we try to avoid repeating a noun phrase in the next sentence. So ‘It was a very cheap shirt’ is also not wrong, but when you’ve already said ‘I bought a shirt in the market’, it’s better not to repeat ‘shirt’. With the weather example, what you wrote also wasn’t wrong, but we more often simply say ‘it’ when we talk about weather: It’s raining/ It’s hot today, etc. Hope that helps!

  5. Pingback: Accept or except? Affect or effect? Spelling words that sound similar. – About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

  6. Hello, please I have problem with this particular word: ”couple”. How can I use it in sentence? I know it’s plural in form, but what about “couples” Look at this examples:
    1) The couple are coming back today
    2) The couple is coming back today

    1. Liz Walter

      Both are correct in British English. In American English, only the second on is permissible. It’s the same for other words such as ‘family’ or ‘team’, where the word is singular, but denotes more than one person. These are ‘group’ nouns.

      1. Anatoly Apostolov

        Dear Liz,

        I have a slightly different question on “couple”. What is the meaning of “a couple of hours/days”? Does it mean several hours/days or exactly two hours/days?

        Thanks,
        Anatoly

  7. Wow, thanks in million times for your quick response to my request. But, why the country’s language differences (sorry to ask this somehow funny question, but it’s just that I am wondering, “why the differences?”), because this has really caused a lot of trouble for me in my writing career as to making decision on which country’s language to stick to in my writing passion.

    Thanks
    Apata

  8. Liz Walter

    Anatoly: Good question! It’s not an exact number, but it means ‘about two’ – it’s less than ‘several’.

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