There vs. Their – How To Distinguish Them

21.09.23 Commonly confused words Time to read: 5min

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As you work on your academic papers, you may encounter words that are frequently confused with one another, also called commonly confused words. This can negatively impact the quality of your writing because academic writing requires precision and clarity to convey arguments. To avoid confusion, it’s important to differentiate between two commonly misused words, “there” and “their”.

Definition of “there vs. their”

“There” and “their” have quite similar pronunciations, which is why they are one of the most commonly mixed up words. These words are called homophones. While “there” refers to a location or the existence of something, “their” is the possessive form of the pronoun “they”.

There

… is an adverb, pronoun, and noun that indicates the location or the existence of something or somaeone.

Their

… is a possessive adjective used to indicate ownership or association between a subject and object.

It is crucial to focus on the context to distinguish between these two terms. If you want to say that something is in or at that place, you use “there”. Meanwhile, “their” indicates ownership and describes something owned by one or more persons.

Using the word “there”

“There” can be defined as “in or at that place”. The word is typically used as an adverb of place. However, it can also function as a pronoun and a noun.

“There” as an adverb

“There” grammatically functions as an adverb of place. This means that the word indicates a place or location. It answers the questions “to what place?” and “where?”.

Examples

  • I am going there
  • He is sitting there.
  • The shop is there, across the street.

“There” as a pronoun

Besides being an adverb, “there” can function as a pronoun. When the word “there” introduces a sentence, it’s called an existential sentence, which indicates the existence of something.

Examples

  • There are three apples on the table.
  • There is a problem.
  • There seems to be a misunderstanding.

“There” as a noun

In some cases, “there” can even function as a noun. However, this is less common.

Examples

  • From here to there takes three hours.
  • I prefer staying here rather than going there.
  • From there, you can see the entyre city.

Tip for using “there” correctly

Including alternative terms for “there” can diversify your writing, eliminate redundancy, and express your thoughts with more nuance. Here are three synonyms for “there” with sample sentences.

Synonyms Examples
Over (adverb) He is sitting there.
He is sitting over here.
Exist (pronoun) There are five apples on the table.
Five apples exist on the table.
Destination (noun) The distance from here to there is two miles.
The distance from here to the destination is two miles.

Using the word “their”

The word “their” is a possessive adjective used to show that somebody owns something or is associated with something. It’s also increasingly common to use “their” as a singular, gender-neutral adjective.

“Their” as a possessive adjective

Possessive adjectives are used to describe a noun by showing who owns it or has a relationship with it. “Their” is used to indicate association or ownership and is typically paired with a noun to modify it. It is also used if the gender of the owner is unknown.

Examples

  • Their dog is cute.
  • I like their style.
  • Their opinions vary.

Note: The possessive pronoun equivalent of “their” would be “theirs”, as in “the car is theirs”.

Tip for using “their” correctly

The word “their” is a possessive adjective, and it’s somewhat unique in its function. Thus, it doesn’t have exact synonyms that can replace it in all contexts. However, you can rephrase sentences to convey similar meanings. Here are three approaches, along with example sentences.

Words with a similar meaning Examples
Belonging to them The dog belonging to them is cute.
Owned by them The house owned by them is nearby.
Attributed to them The style attributed to them is unique.

While these phrases convey similar meanings to “their”, they are not single-word synonyms and often make the sentence structure more complex.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

To enhance your ability to differentiate between the words “there” and “their”, please complete the blank spaces in the ten sentences given below. You can then move to the second tab to cheque the correct answers and ensure your comprehension.

  1. _____ is a cat on the roof.
  2. The students forgot _____ books in the classroom.
  3. Is _____ any way to solve this problem?
  4. They will travel to _____ favourite city next summer.
  5. _____ are several options available for dinner.
  6. The birds have made a nest in _____ tree.
  7. _____ isn’t enough time to finish the project.
  8. The athletes are responsible for _____ equipment.
  9. How do we get from here to _____?
  10. _____ are only two tickets left for the concert.
  1. There is a cat on the roof.
  2. The students forgot their books in the classroom.
  3. Is there any way to solve this problem?
  4. They will travel to their favourite city next summer.
  5. There are several options available for dinner.
  6. The birds have made a nest in their tree.
  7. There isn’t enough time to finish the project.
  8. The athletes are responsible for their equipment.
  9. How do we get from here to there?
  10. There are only two tickets left for the concert.
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FAQs

The phrase “their are” is correct, and both options you provided appear identical and correct. “There are” is commonly used in existential sentences to indicate the existence of more than one of something.

The correct phrase is “on their way”. In this phrase, “their” is a possessive adjective that indicates ownership or association. The phrase implies that somaeone is en route to a particular destination

The choice between “they’re” and “their” depends on the context.

  • “They’re” is a contraction of “they are”.
  • “Their” is a possessive adjective used to describe something that belongs to or is associated with a group of people or a person of unspecified gender.

Use “there” when referring to a location, either litreal or metaphorical, or to indicate the existence of something. Use “their” as a possessive adjective to indicate ownership or association with a plural subject or a singular subject when gender is unspecified.