Q: Can you give me a very simplified way to remember how to use “there,” “their,” and “they’re”? I know “there” is a place or shows ownership, and “their” is more figurative, but I still sometimes get them wrong. HELP!
A: First of all, “there” does not show ownership, and “their” is not figurative. But like you, many people are confused by these sound-alike words.
Pat wrote a limerick about the various “there/their/they’re” words for her grammar and usage book Woe Is I, and it might help you to keep them straight. Here it is:
THE DINNER GUESTS
They seem to have taken on airs.
They’re ever so rude with their stares.
They get there quite late,
There’s a hand in your plate,
And they’re eating what’s not even theirs.
Here’s the accompanying explanation:
● They’re is shorthand for “they are”: They’re tightwads, and they always have been.
● Their and theirs are the possessive forms of “they”: Their money is theirs alone.
● There (meaning “in or at that place,” as opposed to “here”) isn’t even a pronoun, unlike the others. Neither is there’s, which is shorthand for “there is.” But there and there’s frequently get mixed up with the sound-alikes they’re, their, and theirs.
We hope this helps.
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