Commonly Confused Words: There/They’re/Their

Welcome to ‘Better English’. As promised (way back in January) I’ll be posting tips and tricks for writing better English. Some of the posts will be general advice, and others (like this one) will be about commonly confused words or phrases.

This time, we’re looking at an old favourite: there, their, and they’re.

There belongs with here and where. It’s describing a place, a moment, or an abstract (like ‘it’).


  • Where is it? It’s over there.
  • Where have you been? Oh, here and there.
  • There are three apples here. There are two oranges over there.

They’re is just short for they are. Like I’m, you’re, we’re, etc.


  • We’re going, but they’re not.
  • They’re glad you’re staying.
  • Are they leaving? No, they’re staying here.

Their means ‘belonging to them’, like my, your, our, etc.


  • Their car is bigger than mine.
  • My car is cleaner than theirs.
  • Is that your car? No, it’s theirs.

There, I hope that clears up a few things. Don’t overthink the examples, they’re just a bit of fun.

If you have suggestions for a future ‘Better English’ post, please leave a comment. And if you want more detailed, personal help with your writing, you can always request a quote.

Y Bova?

Penguin throwing wing up in a shrug I mean, language is always eovlving, write? The way we Comunic8 is changing, and been *correct” only matters to stuffy grammar nerds and English teachers, no wot I meen? Jus say wat you gotta say and iGnore the h8rs, who R like sad and boring loosers NEwai.

If you are fluent in English, you could probably make sense of that opening paragraph. But was it easy? Did you have to work on it to get the meaning?

When we communicate with each other, we share a lot more than words. In speech we have tone of voice, speed, and volume to help out with our meaning; in writing we have spelling, punctuation, and layout. And then there’s word-choice, grammar, and all sorts of other things that we use to suit our communication style to the occasion.

Of course, we don’t have to write perfectly all the time – just like we don’t have to speak perfectly all the time. Letters and emails to friends and family will normally be pretty casual, and no-one’s going to care about the occasional spelling mistake or punctuation error (unless it changes the meaning of the sentence, but more on that another time). It’s a bad idea to get so hung up on The Rules that you can’t so much as write a shopping list for yourself without reaching for the dictionary. In everyday life, so long as the meaning is clear, it’s all good. But there are times when good writing is essential.

Go back and look at that first paragraph again. Now imagine it was part of a letter to a magazine, asking them to publish an article I’d written for them. How far do you think the editor would get before throwing the whole thing in the bin? What if I wrote like that on a job application? Or in a letter to my bank, asking for a loan?

When we talk face-to-face, we make judgements about each other. Leaving aside prejudices about age, race, accent, etc, there are several things we take in at a glance, such as body language, facial expression, style of clothing, and cleanliness. If the occasion calls for a smart appearance, you are unlikely to be impressed by someone who shows up looking scruffy, slouched, scowling, and smelly. It’s the same with writing.

If someone uses bad writing in a formal situation, they are telling you one of three things:

(a) they don’t think that this is a formal situation,
(b) they don’t know how to write well,
(c) they can’t be bothered to check their work, and they expect you to fix their mistakes for them,
or (d) all of the above.

And all this before you’ve read most of the message! First impressions in writing can make or break the reader’s willingness to listen.

In future posts, I’ll be covering various aspects of writing better English – especially commonly confused words and phrases. If you have an idea for a ‘Better English’ topic, please leave a comment.

If you want help with a particular piece of writing, then why not request a quote?