The English language is chock-full of commonly confused words that trip up native speakers and new learners alike. Many of them tend to be homophones, or words that sounds the same, but are spelled different and have different meanings, such as “there” and “their.”
Luckily, once you take the time to learn them, the rules for “there” and “their” - two of the most infamous homophones - are rather simple to remember. So, let’s review the difference between these two words so you never make another slip up again!
Paying attention to the definitions and parts of speech of these two words, as well as common ways they are used, will help to prevent errors when using them in your writing.
Rule #1: “There” works as a noun
The word “there” has many uses but more than any other function, “there” works as a noun, meaning “that place:”
We jogged from way over 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 foot in there!”
Rule #2: “There” also works as an adverb
Alas, “there” can also work 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!”
Rule #3: “There” works as a pronoun, too.
Finally, “there” may also be used as a pronoun 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.
Rule #4: “Their” works as a possessive adjective
“Their” primarily works as a possessive adjective, to describe something that belongs to “them.” A noun typically follows “their.”
Take a look at these examples below. Notice that a noun follows every “their:”
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.
Rule #5: “Their” shows possession, “there” does not
“There” may work a noun, adverb, pronoun, or adjective, but it never shows possession. Only “their” may show possession.
“There” and “their” are homophones. Let’s break down the word homophone to help you understand its meaning. “Homo” means “same,” and “phone” means “sound.” So, words that are homophones will have the same sound. Homophones like “there” and “their” sound the same but, as we have shown, have different spellings and meanings.
There are many homophones in the English language. In this case, there’s even another word that sounds similar to “there” and “their” but has a different meaning - “they’re.” The word “they’re” is actually a contraction of the two words “they are,” and again shouldn’t be confused with “there” or “their.”
Look out for those confusing homophones, and when writing, make sure you slow down enough to pay close attention to how you’re spelling words in their context. Remember, spell-checkers may not pick up on misused words like “there” and “their,” because, even if they are used in the wrong context, they are technically spelled correctly.
Writing deliberately and closely proofreading your work will help you avoid mistakes when using homophones. If you now feel like you’ve mastered the rules of “there” and “their,” we invite you to see how well you fare with some “there,” “their,” and “they’re” practice!