One of the most commonly misused or confused sets of homophones is they’re, there and their.
They’re is a contraction – the combination of two words – meaning they are. (Example: They’re going to go home early.)
Their is the possessive – shows ownership – form of the word them. (Their reports are always so beautifully written.)
There indicates location, an event or happening. (There was a hurricane.)
Does it Matter?
You’ve probably read a report and – without looking hard -- found a silly typo or grammatical error. Sometimes finding one typo sends us on a quest to find more typos.
In other words, your audience has become distracted – even possibly quit listening – to your message, and has started hunting for typos, which is the last thing you want to happen.
For some people, such typos and errors can subconsciously symbolize:
Certainly, nothing any of us would ever want people to think of us.
Their, There and They’re: A Simple Test
Apostrophes either show possession or contraction.
So, whenever you see the word they’re, simply substitute the word with “they are.” If the sentence still makes sense, you’re (or: you are) using the right form.
As in the scenario above, replacing the they’re with they are in the sentence, “They’re going home early” still makes sense when changed to “They are going home early.”
When you see there, ask yourself if you’re referring to a place or event. If, for example, you had written, “there going home early.” Are you referring to a place? Something that happened? No. So, in this instance, the word there is being misused and has been confused with they’re.
A Strategy for Catching Writing Errors
One of the things you “have” is your professional image, aka your credibility. People are evaluating us all the time based on a myriad of things: how we speak, how we dress, how we act – and yes, how we write. Right or wrong, these elements are used to evaluate whether we’re credible, whether we’re a subject matter expert, and whether we’re professional.
So how can you catch these simple writing errors and protect your professional image? Here are a few strategies:
Bottom Line: While there is no foolproof way to catch every possible writing error, all writers have their tricks for finding the grammar mistakes they’re struggling with. Pick from our strategies, and adopt the one that works for you!
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