They're over There, and Their Grammar, I swear!
Do YOU know the difference between they’re, their, and there, and whether these homophones are used correctly in written communication? It may seem like a silly question, but when I open a letter, a document, or even a newspaper, I often find the misuse of these three simple words, words that sound the same, but in fact have very different meanings! Let’s crack the code of these three notorious homophones, shall we?
The word ‘they’re’ is potentially the more troublesome of the three homophones, simply because of the apostrophe and the confusion around it’s purpose in forming a contraction, not to mention it’s proper placement. When a contraction is formed, a letter is dropped and the apostrophe is put in it’s place, forming one word out of two. For example, ‘have not’ becomes ‘haven’t’. Notice how the two words are combined into one, dropping the vowel in the second word, and the apostrophe is used to hold its place.
In the case of the word ‘they’re’ the original words are ‘they’ and ‘are’. By combining the two words into one, we must now drop the vowel in ‘are’, and replace it with an apostrophe, then combine the two words to form the word ‘they’re’.
Example 1: They’re (they are) looking forward to Friday when school lets out.
The second homophone, ‘their’ shows ownership.
Example 2: Their ball rolled down the street.
The third homophone, ‘there’, specifies a place.
Example 3: When the ball rolled to the bottom of the hill, the children raced each other there to retrieve it.
Now, let’s test our wits.
Which sentence uses the homophones, they’re, their, and there, correctly?
The sentence below is the only one that used the correct homophone:
They’re going to be disappointed if she says “no”, when they ask for ice cream.
Notice the correct usage of the homophones in each sentence of the sample problem, which form the story below:
Johnny and Suzy are going to the store with their mother. They’re going to be disappointed if she says “no”, when they ask for ice cream. Fortunately, she plans to surprise them when they get there because they cleaned their rooms. Next week their rooms will be extra clean too, I am sure!
I hope this explanation helps you to understand the correct use of these three homophones. Try creating your own simple story, applying the correct homophone as often as you can to reinforce their proper usage in each sentence. Remember, the key to mastery at the grammar stage of any skill is practice, practice, practice! Young children love repetition, rhythm and rhyme, and sing the same songs and chants repeatedly because they benefit from the reinforcement of memory through those activities. If you ask a doctor, an Olympic gymnast, or a renowned mathematician, they will tell you the same thing. Repetition over time is the key to mastery, no master what skill you are trying to learn.
Now, try another homophone! How about Two, to, and too, or pair, pare, and pear. Create your own little quiz and try to trip up your friends. You’ll be surprised how fun learning grammar can be if you make a little game out of it. Correct use of homophones is very important when you are trying to convey proper meaning and make a good impression in your writing, so if this is an area you feel you need to improve, it is certainly worth your time.
How many other sets of homophones can you think of? And, oh, those sneaky homonyms, they are for another lesson!