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They’re vs Their vs There‏‎

These three are often confused by learners of English:

  • they’re
  • their
  • there

These words are homophones‏‎ (that is, they sound the same) but with very different meanings.

This article looks at the differences between these three and then how to teach them to your class.

Differences

they’re

they’re = they are

They’re here now.

What color are they?
They’re blue.

their

their is a possessive adjective:‏‎

Where did they park their cars?

Simon lost his wallet. Paul lost his wallet as well.
Simon and Paul lost their wallets.

And with an -s on the end, their becomes a possessive pronoun:

theirs = their + noun

Who does this money belong to?
It’s their money. It’s theirs.

there

there can refer to a place:

Where is the dog?
It’s over there.

there can also be used to talk about the number of people or things in a group:

There are eleven players in a football team.

There is one biscuit left.

Differences & How to Teach Them

There is no simple way to teach the difference between these 3 terms; the truth is that your students simply need to learn how to write them. This means taking their time and thinking before they write.

However, there are a couple of tips which may help when they do stop and think.

  • Take away the apostrophe; after you’ve written they’re, say in your head the full phrase they are and see if it still works in the sentence‏‎.
  • Not sure if their is the right word to use? Try substituting our instead; if the sentence still works then it’s ok to use their.
  • Talking about places: think of here and there – just one letter difference.

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