They're, Their and There!

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GCSE English By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: English » GCSE English
Last updated: 11/09/2017
Tags: #english, #gcse

Strangely enough, for one of the most widely spoken languages around today, there remain some nuances of the English language which elude even the most nimble or confident of its linguists.  Even if it's possible to navigate around the semi-extinct conventional usages of "one" instead of "you", reflexive hurdles like "we had had enough of grammar" and such lexical red herrings as "borough" and "rough" not coming a phoneme near a rhyme, there are still such dialectical variations in pronunciation and expression to make a mockery of the standardised English Dictionary.  To pare or to pair? To fill in or fill out a form? To emigrate or to immigrate? Well I'll take the first ticket to a non-English speaking country, please.

It should be with no too great embarrassment, then, that I state the truth that the British public's spelling of the common functional words "their", "there" and "they're" is about as variable as our weather. For generations these homophones have been confused, each taking its cousin's place in a sentence awkwardly like an unwelcome guest. We are all familiar with the typical grocer's sign "There here today only", or suchlike. And sure, these vagabonds get the message across. However it must be admitted that the spellings of these three words do allow a helpful precision in our written communication.  And I wonder if the blame should not fully lie with the writers in these situations but also the language itself, which after thousands of years' evolution seems to have become at worst a chimera and at best 'quaint'.

For those hoping to shake off the shackles of dread when it comes to spelling these words, I hope that I can offer some brief but helpful advice. There are some British traditions that are worth keeping - like democracy and cream teas - but others that can be done away with; and perhaps bad spelling of our own language is one of them. So I hope the following memory aids will be helpful in remembering how to spell each variant of the word.

"There" is the counterpart to "here", meaning location, and is spelled the same as "here" but with the "t" added (i.e. "my dog is over there").

"They're" is the contraction of "they are" with the apostrophe taking the place of the gap and the "a" (i.e. "they're running late").

"Their" is the other one (denoting possession, i.e. "their sandwiches").

I hope these ways of remembering are useful and help to navigate the turbulent waters of our language.

Joanna Sanderson GCSE English Tutor (Manchester)

About The Author

I am a tutor based in Droylsden. I tutor from my own home but may consider travelling to the tutee's home depending on its location.

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