Saturday, August 18, 2012

SPAG Woes - there / their / they're

Time for more SPAG Woes! This time it's the dreaded "which there / their / they're do I use?" Just like most grammar issues, it's a matter of learning a handful of really simple rules, which I'll outline (with examples) below. Then all you need to do is get a grammar-Nazi friend to correct you every time you cock it up, and a combination of repetition, annoyance, frustration and bitterness (these last three directed at your friend) will help it to stick.

When do I use "there"?

When directions or places are involved:

  • "It's over there!"
  • "Get out of there!"
  • "There isn't any more soap!" (This one isn't quite so obvious with the 'place' thing)
  • "How do we get there?"
  • "What are you doing there?"
  • "There's that escaped chinchilla that was on the news."

When do I use "their"?

When possession or ownership is involved:
  • "That's their overripe watermelon."
  • "Is this their address?"
  • "This one is theirs, not ours."

When do I use "they're"?

I'm saving the easiest one for last: use "they're" only when "they are" would fit too*:
  • "They're coming!" ("They are coming!")
  • "You'll have to ask them when they're here." ("You'll have to ask them when they are here")
  • "They're big, sweaty, ignorant and have hairy hands." (They are big, sweaty, ignorant and have hairy hands.)

* There's that apostrophe [this thing --> ' ] again, standing in for missing letters.