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Spelling: there, their and they’re

Spelling ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ can cause major confusion. Learn strategies here to tell them apart and get it right every time.

1. Spelling ‘there’

‘There’ is an adverb used to indicate the position of something. You might say, for example:

Look over there!

We love Norwich so much that we have been there many times.

In there, you will find the finest shopping experience in Ireland.

‘There’ is also very often used at the beginning of a clause to indicate the existence of something. For example:

There are two cathedrals in Norwich.

Excellent! There‘s a train arriving at half ten.

There are two official languages in Ireland: Irish and English.

Moreover, ‘there’ is used to indicate the existence of something more conceptual. For example:

There‘s no point continuing as Norwich have definitely won.

There‘s a great sense of joy in this room.

Finally, there will be no end to our efforts to bring high-speed rail to East Anglia.

2. Spelling ‘their’

‘Their’ is a possessive determiner and shows that something belongs to people or things previously mentioned. For example:

They followed their children into the sea.

They packed up their belongings and hit the road to freedom.

The flowers had long ago lost their petals.

‘Their’ can also be used when referring to someone whose sex is not clear. However, some argue against using ‘their’ to indicate a single person like this so it’s up to you if you prefer to do this or not. For example:

He heard someone start their car.

She saw someone in the distance riding their bike furiously up the hill.

The driver in front slammed on their brakes suddenly.

3. Spelling ‘they’re’

‘They’re’ is a contraction for ‘they are’ and should be used whenever you would use ‘they are’. For example:

They’re going to the beach.

If they’re going to be late, we may as well start without them.

While they’re celebrating the winning goal, the crowd roars with delight.

Of course, as it is a contraction, it needs an apostrophe so don’t forget it.

Note: some argue that you should avoid contractions in formal writing. However, there is no need for you to worry about that argument. Try to judge for yourself if a contraction is useful to you.

Indeed, for dialogue in stories to sound realistic you will certainly need to use contractions.

4. Using ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ in a sentence

It is very common for ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ to appear in the same sentence. Practise sentences like the following examples to check you have understood the differences between these words.

They’re going to be so happy when they realise all their efforts have been rewarded and there are many who will share their happiness.

There will time to discuss their suggestions whilst they’re packing up their equipment.

Their uncertainty dwindles as they realise that there is no reason to be afraid and that they’re now able to push ahead with confidence.

5. In conclusion

These words are very common and mis-spelling them is penalised harshly by examiners. According to mark schemes (AQA Paper 1 June 2017 p23), “accurate basic spelling” is expected even at the lowest grade levels and ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ count as basic.

So you need to spell them accurately. Practise spelling them, even in your everyday writing, and see your marks improve. Keep up the good work and good luck!

Published by Edward Mooney

I am a highly qualified and experienced English tutor based in the UK. I founded this site in 2019 to help students of GCSE English learn how to reach their full potential.