Welcome to Beta-Bitching, where I complain loudly over commonly abused homophones and other grammatical misusage.
While I had hoped to put off the There-fecta for a while for braver territory, I did get a couple of comments on it last time, so we’ll get right into it. Because, yes… seeing the wrong one used is irritating. A simple grammatical error can yank your reader right out of the story.
Maybe it’s annoying if you’re trying to figure out which “there” to use, too, and you just pull out the There/They’re/Their dartboard and just go with whichever you hit.
Put the darts away before you hit the cat. Let’s see if we can clear this up.
There: (usually an adverb or pronoun) a place, point, or state of being.
The party will be there. (place)
There’s a party? (existence) Dude, I’m there! (place)
He paused there for emphasis. (point)
There we go. (interjection)
There, there, it’s not so bad. (expression of comfort)
There is a house in New Orleans. (Try to keep that song out of your head now!)
Their: (possessive pronoun) belonging to them
Their lights are still on.
But that’s their problem.
They’re: (pronoun + verb) a contraction (shortening) of they are
They’re not home right now.
I don’t know when they’re coming back.
Note, mostly for non-English speakers: you can’t have a sentence that ends with they’re. Why? Because we tend to emphasize one or the other of the words: they are, or, they are.
At that, a sentence can’t end with their, because it needs an object. Otherwise, it’s like ending a sentence with the.
Confused yet? Well, brace yourself… More forms are coming.
Not only do we have the base forms to deal with, but then we also get the contraction there’s and the possessive theirs.
There’s: (contraction) there is
There’s a party going on right here. (How many songs can I get in your head?)
Where there’s a party, there’s Mikey, and where there’s Mikey, there’s a party!
(contraction) there has (usually there has been)
There’s been too much war already.
Theirs: (possessive pronoun) a thing belonging to them
You can’t have that; it’s theirs.
Don’t worry, they’ll get theirs.
What’s theirs is no concern of mine.
Note: no apostrophes in his, hers, ours, theirs, or its. Why? Evolution of language. Possessives used to follow a pattern of the turtle his shell, which became shortened to the turtle’s shell. At one time, the above-listed possessive pronouns had apostrophes, but due to fashion or a common agreement among typographers, the understood possessive apostrophe in these words was dropped.
(It’s with the apostrophe is the contraction of it is.)
So how do you know offhand which one to use? Well, one tip most beginning writers are told to follow is to read a lot of professionally published work. (This doesn’t include fanfic, where these mistakes just keep cycling around.) Look at how the professionals use language, and try to emulate it.
That’s great, Beed… What if I don’t have time to memorize and mimic the whole friggin’ language?
Okay, go-to tips:
Overall, check that things make the kind of sense you intend. Simplify your sentence so you can focus on getting the usage right by taking off everything that isn’t the main point—temporarily drop off phrases that are conjunctions (connected phrases which are separate thoughts), prepositions (in the garden, up a tree, overhead, with a sigh, etc.) and adverbs that occur at the end of the sentence (words that describe the verb: quickly, solemnly, abruptly, fast, slower, etc)
Can you expand it to they are and have it make sense? If yes, then it’s they’re.
They’re going to the fair. – They are going to the fair. – Yes
They dropped they’re books. – They dropped they are books. – No
He’s over they’re. – He’s over they are. – No.
Their will always require an object following it: their car, their cookies, their pizza… so it’s never at the end of a sentence…
They left the books over their. – No. (over their what?)
…and neither is they’re.
They left them they’re. – They left them they are. (makes no sense)
Can you substitute our and have it make sense? If so, then you can use their.
Their leaving. – Our leaving. – No. (not a full sentence)
Their books will get wet. – Our books will get wet. – Yes.
They will get their stuff later. – They will get our stuff later. – Yes
The books just lie their. – The books just lie our. – No.
If you can rule out the forms above, only there is left, but to check: Can you substitute here in its place?
There is a good pizza place. – Here is a good pizza place. – Yes
There going out. – Here going out. – No.
What there doing is wrong. – What here doing is wrong – No.
That is there house. – That is here house. – No.
Similarly, with there’s, can you expand it to there is or there has?
And with theirs, can you substitute ours?
Y’all ready for the quiz now? (Oh shit, there’s a quiz?!)
Use their, there, and they’re to fill in the blanks:
______, ______, ______ ______ in ______ lair.
Use theirs and there’s to fill in the blanks:
What’s ______ ______ and what’s ______ ours, but what’s ______ is ______, and ______ been problems with that!
I’ll post the answers in the comments.
Bitch atcha next time!
Got a particular grammar pet peeve you’d like me to address? Let me know!
Beta-Bitching Bite #3: Taking the Bait
Beta-Bitching #21 - Bare/Bear Necessity
An attempt at Features in Eclipse
Beta-Bitching Bites #2 - Wander-lost
A minor fix:
A simple grammatical error can yank your reader right our [out] of the story.