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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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They're, Their, and There

This week's tip comes to you courtesy of Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University. You can view his website called Common Errors in English at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/index.html.

Here is what Professor Brians has to say about the often confused words they're, their, and there:

Many people are so spooked by apostrophes that a word like "they're" seems to them as if it might mean almost anything. In fact, it's always a contraction of "they are." If you've written "they're," ask yourself whether you can substitute "they are." If not, you've made a mistake. "Their" is a possessive pronoun like "her" or "our." "They eat their hotdogs with sauerkraut." Everything else is "there." "There goes the ball, out of the park! See it? Right there! There aren't very many home runs like that." "Thier" is a common misspelling, but you can avoid it by remembering that "they" and "their" begin with the same three letters. Another hint: "there" has "here" buried inside it to remind you it refers to place, while "their" has "heir" buried in it to remind you that it has to do with possession.¹

I just love that last tip -- there and their have clues buried inside them! What a great memory trick!

If you enjoy the straightforward, witty grammar advice of Professor Brians, you can also purchase his book, Common Errors in English Usage, or the daily boxed calendar from his website.

Well, there you have it! After this week's tip, these three tricky words have lost their mystique. They're really not worth all the trouble they cause!

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1. Common Errors in English, n.d.,
    accessed on September 22, 2006. Published with permission.