Homophones are words that sound the same when pronounced out loud but have different meanings. Homophones such as they’re, there, and there 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” 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:
- Too, two, to
- Its, it’s
- Accept, except
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?
Your and you’re
pique (as in pique their interest) and peak (as in mountain peak)
Oh yes, your and you’re are misspelled as often as they’re, there, and their. Pique/peak is a really good one!
Guess who else loves homophones? Brian McKnight.
Naturally, that’s the first thing I think of. 😀
OMG, that video is GREAT! Wow, I need to start using videos here on Writing Forward. Oh boy. Now I’m going to be spending who-knows-how-many-hours perusing YouTube for writing-related media. Thanks, Kelvin!
Hehe, I am not sure how much you would find if you specifically look for it. I just happened to watch a lot of educational television, haha.
I’ll poke around and see what turns up. Not sure when I’ll have time to do that, but I’m adding it to my to-do list.
Wow! I love Brian McKnight. What an awesome find there hahaha.
Especially for the guy that English is his other language… 🙂
Its and It’s!
Your and You’re!
Two of the biggest (sets) of problems, along with the “there”s.
Argh. These three drive me nuts. How HARD is that to remember?? (grin)
Deb, you’ve got me thinking about ice cream treats wrapped in chocolate chip cookies…yummm. These are actually easy to remember if you use mnemonic devices (tricks to help you remember), but I suspect these are difficult for people who struggle with language or folks for whom English is a second language. When I was learning French there was lots of stuff I couldn’t remember because there was just so much to absorb!
But having said all that, they drive me nuts too.
I occasionally have a “here” and “hear” typo, but I see my friends texting me the wrong one all the time.
I honestly have issues remembering when to use “affect” vs “effect” and “except” vs “accept” when I’m writing, yet I clearly know the difference between the two words, I just blank out in mid type.
But those are severely simple tricks to remembering the “there” that I must tell others in dire need. Thanks.
Ah, well right up there are a couple of links with tips to help you remember affect/effect and accept/except. Normally, I’m good with homophones but they do slip by as typos every now and then. That’s why I proofread.
The one that I always botch up is its and it’s. I know the reasoning behind the two but if I let my mind wander, I start to swap the two.
The theres are pretty easy for me to remember, though your tips are great.
Luckily you can always catch those typos during proofreading as long as you know what they should be.
Hello Melissa – I have always found the following both useful and easy to remember; it might raise a smile or two – as well as being an aide-memoire.
It’s is not, it isn’t ain’t, and it’s it’s, not its, if you mean it is. If you don’t, it’s its. Then too, it’s hers. It isn’t her’s. It isn’t our’s either. It’s ours, and likewise yours and theirs
I came across this more than twenty years ago and I still use it, rather like ‘Thirty days hath September …’
I hope someone might find it as useful as I have.
Your mnemonic device is interesting but I personally would have a hard time remembering it. However, maybe it will work for some folks here. Thanks for sharing it!
Others are ‘ affect’ and ‘effect’ – distinguishable as ‘a’ in ‘affect’ means ‘a’ for action, as in ‘This will affect your scores.’ ‘And the effect of that will be a fail on your grades’
‘DefinItely’ , not ‘definately.’
Yes, affect and effect are commonly confused. I like “a” for action as a way to remember! However, definitely is not a homophone since definately is a misspelling, not a similar word.
To, too, two
tool, tulle, tewl
Your, you’re, yore
Sight, site, cite
Lots of good ones! I had never thought of tool and tulle but those are definitely homophones. I think that tulle is a rare enough word that these two don’t get confused all that much. According to my dictionary, tewl is not a word.
Faze and phase. Faze is an emotional reaction, phase is a brief time period. See those a lot lately.
Ooh, good one! Thanks, Elaine.
Thank you! That’s really clever pointing out there has the word here in it!
I don’t have any problem with they’re because of y, the ‘ and that it’s two words together.
There and their look so much alike that my dang brain will garble them every single time.
Referring back to this article during my next edit.
Yes, I think they’re is the easiest for most people because it’s a contraction (two words joined together with an apostrophe). I’m glad you found the here trick helpful!