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The Correct Usages of "They're", "Their" and "There" and Other Common Confusions

Updated on June 24, 2011

Seeing typos is one thing that gripes me, in everything, most of all news articles, all of them online. Minor grammatical errors that should have been caught easily but are glossed over without a second look over by the author, or an editor. This happens all the time with posters who don't look over their work.

Another thing that gripes me is the misuse of certain phrases, most of all: should have, could have, would have. Sure, they're minor, but I see them all the time on Facebook as “should of”, “could of” and “would of”. If you really look at those phrases, none of them make sense. You would never should, could or would of anything. Of what? “Of” comes before a noun. “Of a certain place” for example, or even “Of course!”

When someone says “would have” they are saying that they would have done something or have to do something, same as “should” and “could”, as well as “might” or “may”. “Have” comes before a verb.

“I would have gone to the club, but I'm not sure if I want to get wasted tonight night,” would be an example of a correct use.

“I should have decided to stay sober tonight, but I've changed my mind,” would be another. So is, “I could have been alone tonight, but I'm going call Sarah and go with her to Rick's party.”

Another thing I see often is the misuse of the three “theres”: they're, their, and there.

The differences are simple to explain.

They're” is a contraction of the words “they” and “are”, and so “they're” is only used when either saying “they are” or perhaps “they were”, though the latter would more properly be spelled out.

“They're going to get plastered tonight,” would be correct.

“They're breaking out the vodka, Sarah!” would work too.

Their” is possessive and implies ownership of something.

“That's their Smirnoff bottle, Tommy,” would be correct for this.

“Well it's not theirs now, Sarah,” would be correct when plural.

There” is a noun, used when describing a place.

“I think I'm going to puke in that toilet over there, Sarah,” is correct.

“There's way too much vodka in your brain right now, Tom,” is good as a contraction for “there” and “is”.

Another misuse I see as a pet peeve involves the use of either “its” or “it's”.

Its” is possessive. It's good for describing what someone or something possesses either materially or as a trait or characteristic. There is no apostrophe, as when possessive, the apostrophe is only used with a noun outside of “it”.

“The cat's looking at me funny with its creepy yellow eyes, Sarah,” would work.

“I want to crush its skull,” is fine too.

It's” is simply a contraction for either “it has” or “it is”.

“Tommy, you're beginning to creep me out, it's time to go,” works for “it is”.

So does, “Aw, but Sarah, it's not that late and I'm not wasted enough yet.”

“It's been a long night and I don't like Rick anyway,” works for “it has”.

“But it's only been four hours, Saraaaah,” is also correct.

Another instant involving the apostrophe confusion involves “were” and “we're”.

Were” is right to choose when referring to something in past tense.

For example: “Remember when we were kids, Rick, and we'd go out and eat snails off the street?”

“You were the only one who did that, Tom,” is another example.

And an example for “I”: “I wish I were drunker.”

We're” is another contraction for either “we were” or “we are”, much like “they're”, also similar in that “we were” is better spelled out.

An example would be: “We're going to have to leave, Tom.”

And another: “We're having a great time, Saaarah!”

Your” and “You're” are two of the biggest mistakes I've seen made in mixing the two up.

Your” is another possessive, like “their”. It's used when saying something belongs to “you” when speaking in the second person.

“Your mind is messed up, Tommy,” is an example of the possessive.

“Your face is messed up, Sarah!” is another.

You're” is yet another contraction, this time for “You are” and as with “they're” and “we're”, “you were” isn't a favorable use of this contraction.

This is correct: “You're going to die if you keep drinking like this, Tom.”

So is this: “You're really beginning to make me wanna die, Sarah.”

These are the main words I see misused all the time online most of all, and there's a carelessness about it that kind of bugs me. One interesting thing to note is that nearly all English teachers are required to take a simple test to determine their grammatical skills, and they involve these usages, among others, put in context with certain sentences. They usually get most of these wrong.

Hope this helps any readers who see this to keep themselves a bit more straight in their usage of these small connecting words.


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    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 5 years ago from Tasmania

      Ben, this is a good Hub, and right up there with my feelings on the subject. Surprised it has not been active for 20 months

    • Ben Graves profile image

      Ben Graves 6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Wendi M, thanks for the comment and for sharing this hub with those who need it. I forgot all about then and than, but I do see those two messed up a lot as well, so thanks again.

      Manchester 23, glad you agree. "Definitely" is a horrible one as well. I've seen it typed as "defiantly", "definately" and "defiently". People just aren't as phonetic as they should be. It would really help.

    • Manchester23 profile image

      Joshua McDonald 6 years ago from Fort Collins, Colorado

      LoL, I Definitely agree. I don't understand how difficult it is to actually understand this one. But shockingly enough people have trouble with it, also, you should try doing the stats on how many folks don't know how to spell "Definitely" correctly. That's one of my pet peeves. Nice one!

    • Wendi M profile image

      Wendi M 6 years ago from New Hampshire

      This is a fantastic hub Ben. It drives me crazy to see people of all ages, and all walks of life, use these words in the wrong context on a daily basis.

      I'll give you two more to ponder....then and than! I'm so tired of seeing postings such as "I'm finishing up my chores THAN I'm going to go shopping!"

      I plan on sharing your hub on my "Facebook" page...maybe the "few" offenders will get the hint eventually!


    • Ben Graves profile image

      Ben Graves 6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks for reading, iZeko. There's nothing like being a writer, obsessed with grammatical perfection in my own fiction and nonfiction and coming across these mistakes everywhere online. I just wonder how long it'll take for anyone to catch the little story about Tom and Sarah in the examples.

    • iZeko profile image

      iZeko 6 years ago

      Your pie chart is very accurate..., unfortunately! I see these errors everywhere (sorry, I mean "these error's every where";-)).

    • Ben Graves profile image

      Ben Graves 6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Thanks again, Cogerson.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Great advice....thanks for sharing this information...voted up and useful