They're vs. Their vs. There vs. Thar

These words can be tough to tell apart. It gets a lot easier, though, if you can remember what each word does in a sentence.

They’re: replaces "they are"

They’re a really good group of friends.

They’re always inviting me out to expensive restaurants.

Their: possessive form of "they"

Their faces revealed no fear.

Their departure for Antigua went smoothly.

If you’re ever confused, try substituting “they’re” for “their”: They are faces revealed no fear. (This makes no sense.) They are departure for Antigua went smoothly. (Neither does this!)

Theirs: possessive pronoun; replaces "their + noun"

The Yankees think the championship is already theirs.

Is that lasagna yours or theirs?

Resist the temptation to add an apostrophe before the ‘s'! It’s incorrect.

There: a location, in or at that place

I’m over here, and you’re over there.

There can also be used as a pronoun to introduce a sentence.

There is a good chance I’ll apply early to Duke.

Contractions are fine, too:

There's also a chance I'll apply to Penn State.

Test Yourself!

Read the passage below and consider which of the bolded words are correct. In the spaces below, mark “C” for “correct” and “I” for “incorrect." Then check your answers using our key.

1. Theirs a man named Willie McCudd. Old Willie stops by my parents’ house sometimes, but 2. they’re never happy to see him: he’s always stealing 3. their stuff. If 4. their not willing to call the police, though, 5. they’re’s not a lot they can do about it.

1. _____  

2. _____  

3. _____  

4. _____  

5. _____

Answer Key

1.     I: “Theirs” is used as a pronoun to replace a noun. In this case, though, no word is being replaced. We want “There is” instead: "There is a man named Willie McCudd." ("There's" would also work.)

2.     C: They are never happy to see him.

3.     C: "Their" is the possessive form of "they."

4.     I: “Their” is possessive. Their what? In this case, nobody is possessing anything. However, they're unwilling to call the police.

5.     I: “They’re’s” is never correct. If we undo the contractions, we get

a) “They are is" or

b) "they're" as a possessive.

Neither of these options makes sense. We want “There’s not a lot they can do about it.”

Bonus Round

Thar: for gold prospectors and pirates only

There’s gold in them thar hills!

Arrrrgh, I spy the beach! Thar's the place we make our fortunes.