One of the biggest writing errors you can make and one of the easiest to correct when line editing is the proper usage of the words they’re, there, and their. Even though I know how to use these words properly, mistakes still show up in my writing. Apparently, my typing fingers have minds of their own…
An easy way to correct these mistakes in Microsoft Word is through a “Find” search. (In later Word versions, it’s on the “Home” tab under “Editing” – to the far right on my computer.) Search each of they’re, their, and there separately to double check if the correct word was used. If you can’t tell, try these tricks.
They’re is the contraction for they are so read the sentence substituting they are for they’re; if it sounds right, keep they’re. If it doesn’t, try there or their.
Their shows possession for the group they or them. If your sentence is describing something owned by they or them (like their wares), then their is correct.
There is a little bit trickier. According to Dictionary.com, there can mean “in or at that place; at that point in an action, speech, etc.; in that matter, particular, or respect; into or to that place; or used by way of calling attention to something or someone.” In my mind, there refers to a place or location but not necessarily a physical location. If the sentence isn’t talking about possession and they are doesn’t make sense, chances are you want there. To triple-check, decide if the Dictionary.com explanation applies.
Happy their, they’re, and there hunting!