Commonly Confused Words: ‘Their’, ‘They’re’ and ‘There’

We recently started a series, ‘Commonly Confused Words’. This series aims to explain the difference between a few of the most misused or misunderstood words in academic writing.

In addition to providing definitions and examples, we will share tricks for remembering the difference between these words. You can follow this link to find our previous article, ‘Commonly Confused Words: “Practice” and “Practice”’.

For my definitions, I use the Macquarie Dictionary: the authority on Australian English spelling.


The Macquarie Dictionary defines ‘their’ as an adjective that indicates possession. It is a plural possessive pronoun, but is also often used in the singular instead of ‘his’ or ‘her’ to avoid these gender-specific pronouns when writing generally. For example, ‘Someone left their coat in the auditorium’.

To check that you’ve used ‘their’ correctly, you should be able to substitute ‘their’ for another possessive term such as ‘his’, ‘her’ or ‘our’.


‘They’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are’. You can check that you’ve used ‘they’re’ correctly by substituting it for ‘they are’. In the example, ‘They’re waiting for the train’, you could substitute ‘they’re’ for ‘they are’ and the sentence retains its meaning.

In the following example, ‘they’re’ is used incorrectly. We know this because when ‘they’re’ is substituted with ‘they are’ the sentence doesn’t make sense: ‘We are waiting over they’re’.


Finally, ‘there’ is an adverb, adjective, pronoun or interjection, depending on its context.

When it’s used as an adverb, ‘there’ means ‘in or at that place’ and directs our attention to a location or a particular matter. For example, ‘Let’s go over there’ or ‘If you look there you will find the answer’.

Similarly, ‘there’ could also be used as a pronoun for ‘that place’. For example, ‘You’re going to Port Douglas tomorrow. We will meet you there’.

We don’t often use ‘there’ as an adjective because it’s too colloquial in written contexts. The Macquarie Dictionary gives the example of ‘that there man’. This is an example of syntax (word order) that isn’t common in usage these days. Instead we would reverse the word order and state ‘that man there’.

‘There’ can also be used as a colloquial interjection: ‘There! You see, I was right all along’. The Macquarie Dictionary also gives the example, ‘There, there, don’t cry’, as another example of ‘there’ used as an interjection.

To ensure you’ve used it correctly, ask yourself if you are trying to direct your reader’s attention to a place or a particular matter (this is the most common use of ‘there’). Additionally, if the sentence doesn’t work with the possessive ‘their’ or the contraction ‘they’re’, it’s likely you mean ‘there’.

There! We hope you feel more confident about your usage of ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’. They’re easy to get the hang of once you understand their purpose in a sentence. If you’d like to learn about more commonly confused words, please follow this link to our next article, ‘Commonly Confused Words: “Alternate” and “Alternative”’.

We’ve love to hear from you. Please make your suggestions for our ‘Commonly Confused Words’ series in the comments section below.

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