Homophones are words that sound exactly alike when pronounced out loud but have completely different meanings. They’re such troublemakers. Homophones confuse kids, slip past spell check, and pop up all over the place as typos and misspellings.
To make things worse, many homophones have different spellings, which means spell check ignores them, since alternative spellings are correct.
These little devils of the English language give readers headaches and copy editors nightmares, so it’s up to us as writers to learn how to use homophones correctly. If we can do that, we can spread proper homophone spelling and usage to the far corners of the planet.
They’re, There, and Their
I’m willing to bet that they’re, there, and their are among the most commonly misspelled and misused words in the English language. You see it all the time — in newspapers and magazines, on blog posts and comments, even on signs and advertisements – there is used where their should be, and vice versa. Throw they’re into the mix and you’ve got a big mess.
It’s pretty disheartening.
But there are some easy ways to remember which homophone is correct when you’re using they’re, there, and there. And for those of you who already know how these three homophones should be used properly, let this be a reminder that we cannot rely on spell check.
This is the easiest of the three because it’s a contraction, which means that the word itself is actually two words shortened and joined by an apostrophe:
They + are = they’re
If you can say “they are” in place of “they’re” then you are using it correctly. But if “they are” just doesn’t work, then you’ll need to look to one of the other spellings of this word.
The trick to remembering how to use there is hidden inside the word itself. There refers to a distant location.
She put her books over there.
In the example above, there refers to a place. Another word that refers to a place is here, which refers to a nearby location.
She left her books here.
If you’re using there to indicate a location (i.e. over there), make sure you use the spelling that has the word here tucked inside: T H E R E
Their is a possessive pronoun. This means it’s a word used to show that someone owns something. For example:
The Smiths just washed their car.
The car belongs to them (the Smiths), and their demonstrates ownership. How to remember? Well, look at the spelling: t-h-e-i-r. Within this word is another word, and as luck would have it, this other word also implies (future) ownership. The word inside is heir.
If you’re using their to indicate ownership or possession, check to see if the word heir is within the spelling: T H E I R
Get in on the Homophones Challenge
Here are a few more sets of homophones:
Do you ever get hung up on how to properly spell and use homophones? Got any tricks for remembering correct homophone spellings? Can you think of any other homophones to add to this list?