English Grammar Tips: Homonyms
“Teacher, I get confused. How do I know when to use their, there or they’re in English?”
Have you ever been asked this frequent question? It’s but one of many English language teachers worldwide hear from perplexed learners. It’s a fair enough question as these three forms are what we call homonyms. That is, they are words which sound the same but have distinctly different meanings. Fortunately, the differences and applications can be easily clarified. Let’s look at them now.
The Possessive Pronoun “Their”
This first one, “their”, is a possessive pronoun. We use it to show belonging or ownership of a group. It is in the same category with other possessive pronouns which include “our”, “your” also in the plural and “my”, “his”, “her” and “its” in the singular. Two examples of usage are:
“Where is their class room?“
“This is their class room“. Or rather, the class room belongs to them.
The Contraction “They’re”
The second form we’ll consider is the contraction “they’re“. This is a contraction, or shortened form of “they are“. Often in spoken English, a contraction of verbs and pronouns is used when speaking in formally. Two examples of this form include:
“They’re in English class right now.”
This the same as: They are in English class right now.”
Please note: Contractions with the verb “to be” are not commonly used in questions.
The Preposition “There”
The third homonym form we’ll consider here is the preposition “there“, which indicates relative position. When indicating a near or close position, we use “here”. When indicating a more distant position we often use “there“. Let’s look at some usage examples to help clarify this preposition.
My keys are here, but my car is there. The sentence indicates that keys are close or nearby, but the car is a distance away.
Also, “there” when used with the verb to be, can indicate possibility or existence.
“There is a way to teach English to deaf learners”.
“There are 26 letters in the English alphabet.”
More English Grammar Practice with Their, They’re and There
How about trying a few examples now? See if you can correctly apply the right homonym to fit each question or sentence which follows.
Hello, is anyone ____________?
They wasted ____________ time going to that meeting.
Next time, ____________ going to call first before leaving the office.
___________ hasn’t been any rain for weeks, so __________ almost out of water.
___________ waiting for English class to start with ___________ new teacher.
Now Check the Correct English Grammar
So, how do you think you did? You can check the correct answers here.
Hello, is anyone there?
They wasted their time going to that meeting.
Next time, they’re going to call first before leaving the office.
There hasn’t been any rain for weeks, so they’re almost out of water.
They’re waiting for English class to start with their new teacher.
Well then, how about a bit more practice with these three homonyms? Now try these, but no peeking ahead at the answers!
Is __________ a way that __________ work can be seen by __________ new teacher before the exam?
__________ studying for __________ next English exam __________ in the library.
__________ textbooks are __________ where __________ sitting.
These were more difficult, so how well did you do this time?
Check the Correct Answers
Is there a way that their work can be seen by their new teacher before the exam?
They’re studying for their next English exam there in the library.
Their textbooks are there where they’re sitting.
Okay then? Great! Now you can determine when to use “their”, “there” and “they’re”. Keep studying and practicing your English.
English Grammar in Use
Correctly applying the homonyms “their”, “there” and “they’re” is just one small aspect of English grammar in use. While many times English may seem to be confusing because of its multiple irregularities, with a little practice and simple explanations any learner can speak better English in a short time.