They’re, there, dear – don’t get your theirs in a knot

Such is the sheer lunacy of the English language that the words “there” and “they” plus many of their relatives are very similar in spelling and almost identical in pronunciation. Their meanings are even more complex and, frankly, silly – that’s probably why they cause so much confusion and misuse. Let’s start from the beginning, using common sense rather than grammatical jargon wherever possible…

There … a place, e.g. over there. It can mean a destination, and a statement of placement or establishment (e.g. “there is”) whether literally (e.g. “there is a spider in that corner”) or in a slightly more abstract sense (“there is no doubt that the dodo is dead.”)

Their … belonging to them, as in:

(1st person singular) my …

(2nd person singular) your …

(3rd person singular) his / her …

(1st person plural) our …

(2nd person plural) your …

(3rd person plural) their

They’re … contraction of they are. So, “they’re going out tomorrow night…” “they’re lovely people…” they’re unlikely to want to change those rules…” “they’re going to Italy for their vacation…” etc.

There are … not to be contracted into a “there’re,” but some people do it. “There’re a dozen reasons why you shouldn’t buy shoes a size too small…” In writing terms it’s plainly wrong, so – by all means say it in speech, but don’t try to write it. Just put “there are…”

There is … and there’s … more confusion. “There’s” is a contraction of “there is,” but often is used wrongly where the correct version is “there are.” Clue: if “there is” only one thing, that’s correct; but if “there are” two or more things, to be correct you need to use that plural version. Just for fun, can you see which of the following are correct?**

  1. There’s no way I’m going out tonight
  2. There’s a bad crash on the highway just a few miles ahead
  3. There’s too many people waiting; I’ll come back later
  4. There’s a whole herd of horses in the next field
  5. There’s lasagna, spaghetti Bolognese and pizza on the menu
  6. There’s flies all over that piece of rotten meat

And then there’s theirs…often you’ll see people have written “their’s” in the understandable assumption that it’s a possessive term. However in the same way that “its” (no apostrophe) is possessive in that it means something belonging to “it,” so with “theirs” it’s about something belonging to them. When you see how those words relate within the full list of possessive pronouns, it begins to make a bit (but not much) more sense:

(1st person singular) mine …

(2nd person singular) yours …

(3rd person singular) his / hers / its …

(1st person plural) ours …

(2nd person plural) yours …

(3rd person plural) theirs.

And now, for my challenge: write a sentence with all of the above included….

There’s a good chance they’re not going there to buy their new car; after all theirs is only six months old.

On a one to ten scale, I’d give myself a 2. What do you think? Can you come up with a better sentence that includes:







** numbers 3 and 6 are wrong…!

How not to get anything else wrong in your writing:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English




  1. Agreed, this is the biggest thought crime I commit regularly. I got to the point of offering a free Scripto marker for one reader for them to correct my mistakes locally on their monitor. Odd thing, she never sent me her address, lol.

  2. This is a subject close to my heart! It drives me mad when seemingly intelligent people can’t get their “there’s” right: you can’t even blame it on “generation” because it seems to exist across all age groups! Do I ask too much? No, I think they’re pretty simple rules!