they’re there & their

Rant time.

I am sick to the back teeth of seeing these three very simple words misused so here’s a very simple guide. Will all guilty parties PLEASE keep a link to this in your bookmarks:

THERE – a place, point or matter. As in; “Hi there”, “We visited there last year”, “Is there any point”, “There is no hope for some people”, “Let’s just leave it there”, “Let’s stop over there”, “There she goes!”, “It came from over there” and so on.

THEIR – belonging to them. As in; “Did everyone remember their guns?”, “Their car broke down”, “Their rights were infringed”, “Has anyone seen their baggage?”, “Did somebody leave their hat in the cloakroom?”, “Their presentation stank!” and so on.

THEY’RE – an abbreviation of THEY ARE. As in; “They’re going to regret this”, “Look at the state they’re in”, “They’re clearly lacking a good education”, “I’ll be happy when they’re gone”, and so on.

I wouldn’t normally bother posting but I must see confusion of these words every single day and it is just so hard to take. I can understand such mistakes from people for whom English is a foreign language and who do not pretend to be in any way competent. The vast majority of misuse I see is coming from English speaking people or people whose English language is at a good enough level that they should know better. I see these mistakes in hundreds of mails from people who are old enough to have had an education and smart enough to hold down good jobs and yet apparently unable to tell three of the most used words in their language apart and too damned lazy to Google a definition if they’re not sure. It’s just not good enough, it really isn’t.

They all sound the same. Okay, so what? So do shore and sure but I don’t see too many people writing “Are you shore?” or “I went for a walk down by the sure.”. I also haven’t seen “Are you mail or female?”, although I’m sure I will. I have seen misuse of other homophones – brake and break, tire and tyre – but nothing comes close to the regularity of my anguish at reading passages involving criminal acts with the three words above.

I’m not especially intelligent nor well educated but I can at least understand the fundamental differences between these three simple words and I REALLY wish everyone else could follow my lead! Just how utterly useless is the education system in Britain these days?

From now on, misuse of these words in comments on this blog by people who should know better will not be tolerated. Someone has to draw a line, for heaven’s sake!


30 thoughts on “they’re there & their

  1. Scatts, don’t get hot under the collar, it’s all about haste, I’m afraid. When I write very fast I tend to mistake those words, even though I can easily tell the difference and I saw those error you write about made by native speakers or foreigners, including Poles more or less advanced in English.

    From my perspective, Poles also make glaring errors when they use their mother tongue and I often wonder how they have finished university if they cannot build a sentence without making an error. But here’s the price to pay for lower level of education and shift from the written word to the culture of (moving) picture.

    A few weeks ago I saw a phrase sth is ova and I had to think hard for a while before I figured out what it was – OVER. They write what they hear – for a non-native speaker of English it’s confusing!

  2. Actually as long as the problem with they’re and their is somehow justifiable, as those words sound almost exactly the same, I can’t see what there has to do with it.

    DC, thanks for the link. My quirky facebook statuses won’t stand a chance to get there.

    Is anyone whose English is good enough is around? ;-)

  3. adtheland, lose and loose is a frequent mistakes with Poles, even in official documents which should have been proofread. Everything in a due course.

  4. Felicity, thanks! I’m certainly no stranger to errors myself, as we can see. In the case you point out, I’d say I use ‘who’s’ instead of ‘whose’ approximately 99% of the time!! In fact the whole ‘s thing is a problem for me and I’m always having to think twice about its versus it’s. I know it’s very easy because ‘s is replacing the word ‘is’ but then ‘s also denotes ‘belonging to’ as in David’s cake and so that throws my radar off a little so my brain uses the completely incorrect logic of “English, belonging to who = who’s”. I know, there’s no hope!

    Nevertheless, my threat of severe action on the chosen words remains in place! I’m on a mission to get the entire globe using these three words properly, then we’ll move onto loose, lose and who’s. ;)

  5. Bartek – Nope. Quirky won’t get you there. You have to do or say something really asinine. Or just abuse the English language badly enough to get noticed.

  6. And now tell me the difference between

    “these” and “those”
    “i will” and “i am going to”
    “whether” and “if”


  7. gast, assuming a serious question and completely my interpretation (if you want a proper explanation you need someone like Pinolona, Jamie, others):

    these & those – these are closer and often being pointed to or held. (would that be like tam versus tam ten?)

    I will & I am going to – hmmmm, pretty close these ones. ‘going to’ indicates prior planning (and possibly some idea of timing) whereas ‘will’ is a bit more spur of the moment or wishful thinking. ‘Will’ used to denote willingness to do something. On the other hand, I find that ‘will’ is a stronger statement of intent – “I WILL fix the dishwasher” is I think more certain than “I am going to fix the dishwasher (sometime in the next 6 months!)”.

    whether & if – to me these are completely different but trying to explain why is tough. You can read about it here One easy rule is that ‘whether’ is used to list alternatives “I don’t know whether I’ll pass or not”.

    I should add that these are all tougher to get right than there, their and they’re – in my opinion. I certainly wouldn’t rant about folks confusing these things and can’t say I see much evidence of that happening. Perhaps because people avoid them altogether? My main beef with the examples in the post is the sheer quantity of errors by native speakers.

    Sorry can’t be of more use.

  8. Totally agree.

    Personally, the thing that annoys me the most is writing “should of” or “could of” instead of “should have” or “could have” (as in “I should have written about it earlier”). It really surprises me how widespread that is right now.

  9. It is a common mistake in the US as well.

    In speaking, there is also confusion with the singular and plural:

    “There’s 10 of them sitting on the table”; but should have been, “There’re 10….”

    The sound: “re’re” in “There’re” is hard to pronounce and people misspeak these two contractions all the time.

    I find that people who have a hard time writing are very good in math.

  10. hahaha sorry, just nitpicking. I had some doubts though to be honest…

    I don’t understand Bartek’s comment: there and their are exactly the same while they’re might sound slightly different depending on the regional accent.

    Believe it or not, grammar actually does evolve with usage. Several years ago, I did a staż in the translation department of a certain international institution in Paris and – when asking about the infinitive – I got the reply: ‘oh, split it, split it!’

    Sticking too close to the rules produces these such gems:

    ‘these are basic errors, up with which we will not put!’

    See what I mean?

  11. Jeannie, that would be “…at maths”!! :-)

    So to make my position clear, all I need to do is reply to them with something like 2+2=5 and they might see how annoying it is??

  12. Felicity,

    I like that old fashioned stuff, actually.

    I’d prefer – ‘these are basic errors, up with which we shall not put!’ but that’s probably wrong, right?!

  13. no, it probably is ‘shall’… I’m not so clear on the will/shall divide: I’m used to ‘shall’ being an enacting verb in legal translation so I end up avoiding it in normal conversation :)

    Have a read of this: David Crystal is a linguist specialising in English and a sort of modern grammarian. On his blog he answers grammar and general language questions from readers… and it’s not always the answer you’d expect. Interesting – at least I think so.

  14. these / those = te / tamte in Polish. The problem is that the rule is generally the same Pole hardly ever use the latter, and the former is commonly used, despite the distincion you outlined Scatts. This may explain some of the mistakes.

    Very decent remarks on use of whether / if and will / to be going to. They’ll come in handy.

    there are ten people… I also noticed it. Poles have in turn problems with per cents. In Polish we’d say ten per cent of poeple prefers to do sth, in English, logically, ten per cent of people prefer to do sth. As this is plural.

    Nitpickers can pick on this “per cent” or maybe “percent”. Hey, which version is correct.

    Why not
    “these are basic errors, we will not put up with”?
    “these are basic errors, with which we will not put up”?
    “we will not put up with these basic errors”?
    “these basic errors, which will not be put up with”?
    “these basic errors, which we will not tolerate”?

    I really don’t know in which sentence I overdid and how much.

    But let’s look at another example.

    “this guy runs so fast that I cannot catch up with him”

    can it I describe that guy as:

    “this is the guy, with whom I cannot catch up”? Because I feel a strong internal temptation to add a second “with” at the very end of the sentence.

    I popped in DC blog and the post on 800 word myth is great. Though there’s a trend towards impoverishing the linguistic resources and simplification in general.

  15. whether generally implies ‘or not’ – whilst ‘if’ is conditional e.g. If I break my leg I will not be able to walk’ is completely differenrt to ‘whether (or not) I break my leg I will not be able to walk’. The second sentence is means something completely different to the first (as well as requiring the or not to make sense at all). Similarily you wouldn’t use whether (or not) in place of ‘if’ in ‘Will you pay me if I help you?’
    So use ‘whether’ if you can put ‘or not’ in the sentence without changing its meaning and use ‘if’ when you can’t. Try it out on the examples provided in Ian’s link. Sure, there are some exceptions where if can also be used but where generally the use of whether would be more ‘gramatically’ correct.
    Does that make it any easier?

  16. Another use of these words
    If or Whether?
    “It’s good practice to distinguish between these words. Use if for a conditional idea, whether for an alternative or possibility. Thus, Let me know if you’ll be coming means that I want to hear from you only if you’re coming. But Let me know whether you’ll be coming means that I want to hear from you about your plans one way or the other” (Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style). (

  17. gast – like it! Combining the Polish ‘K’ fetish with English seems to work well, actually I just this second tried it myself with the guys from Eden water who once more screwed up and they seemed quite impressed! The Polish attitude toward the ‘F’ word, versus the ‘k’ word, is actually quite interesting, perhaps worth a post one day.

    Bartek –

    “these are basic errors, we will not put up with”? – This would need to be two sentences really as the ‘we’ sort of brings a halt to the proceedings. It would be best as “These are basic errors. We will not put up with them.”.

    “these are basic errors, with which we will not put up”? – I don’t think anyone would use this as it is just too complicated and doesn’t even give an ‘old school’ feel to it. If I had to use it I’d probably go with ‘shall’ again.

    “we will not put up with these basic errors”? – IMO, this would work better with ‘tolerate’ “We will not tolerate these basic errors.”. Not sure why exactly, it just flows better but is perfectly acceptable as you have written it.

    “these basic errors, which will not be put up with”? – This would only really work as part of a longer sentence “Please stop making these basic errors, which will not be put up with, as they do not demonstrate your true potential.”.

    “these basic errors, which we will not tolerate”? – This would be better as “These basic errors, which will not be tolerated……”.

    “this guy runs so fast that I cannot catch up with him” can it I describe that guy as: “this is the guy, with whom I cannot catch up”? Because I feel a strong internal temptation to add a second “with” at the very end of the sentence. I’d write those as either “This guy runs so fast I can’t catch him up!” or “This is the guy I can’t catch up with.”

  18. isn’t it funny how posts about language and grammar – regardless of the language in question – always get the most comments? Everybody has an opinion and nobody feels that they are butting in.
    These kinds of posts seem to elicit much more emotion than any political ranting…

  19. Scatts, thanks for the comments above. I made up those sentences just to brush up on my “confounding skills”. Whenever somebody does the same thing in Polish to me I immediately get into a muddle :/

    Good point Pinolona, nothing stimulates a heated discussion better than lingustic dilemmas. We have to keep on writing about this from time to time.

    Scatts, I hereby give you the right to reproach each and every Pole for those glaring errors they make in writing dates – not 26 luty 2009, 10 marzec 2010, but 26 lutego 2009, 10 marca 2010. Know why? It is “26th day of February”, “10th day of March”, not for instance 10th March… …in this century, as this year. If a foreinger will pull them up for that appalling manner of mangling the Polish language maybe they’ll learn how to use it properly!

  20. Ian … That was funny, because we were talking about singular vs plural, *but* we never say “at maths” in the US. That is an unheard-of expression. To us, Math is the subject, not Maths. If you said, “at maths,” here someone would send you back to an English class to further Americanize you. ;-)

  21. thestuffinbetween – wierd – so do you study mathematic or mathematics? Or is math somthing different from mathematics? When you talk about statistics for example do you shorten it to stats or stat?

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