Calling It Out: Good Grammar, Your Get Out of Jail Free Card

6 years ago
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Grammar police here. I'm pulling you over for a couple of good reasons. First, to have you stop and think carefully before taking further action. Second, if what you're communicating is important, then read on: 

With the exception of those whose job is to ensure proper grammar, most of us don't get paid to correct other people's words much less our own. However, ALL of us do communicate through writing. Whether it is in responding to a post or writing an email to a potential employer, how we craft our words speaks volumes. The most common offenses of improper grammar are:

  • were and we're - were is talking about a past event. For example: "The skies were clear. Now, it's raining." We're is a contraction of "we are." For example, "We're going to the movies at 7pm."
  • there, their and they're - taken from an excerpt by Laura K. Lawless,, here are examples:


Their is the third person plural possessive adjective, used to describe something as belong to them. Their is nearly always followed by a noun.

Where is their car?

Are these their pens?

Their books are on the table.

This is their room and this is ours.

What happened to their dog?

Their being here is causing some problems.


There has several different uses.

1. Adverb that means the opposite of "here"

He's over there.

Stop right there.

Do you want to sit here or there?

2. Pronoun that introduces a noun or clause.

There is something strange going on.

Is there a phone?

3. Adjective that emphasizes which person.

That guy there seems to be in trouble.

Those there look good.

4. Noun that means "that place."

From there, we drove to Boston.

I'm not going in there!


They're is the contraction of "they are" and is often followed by the present participle (verb form ending in -ing).

They're going to be late.

Is that what they're saying?

I think they're lying.

If they're ready, we can go.

I can't believe they're not here yet!

When they're older, they'll understand.

The Bottom Line

The confusion between theirthere, and they're occurs because the three words are pronounced in very similar ways.

If the word means "belonging to them," use their. If you're able to replace the word with "they are," use they're. Otherwise, there is only one correct answer: there.

  •  your and you're - your is a second person possessive adjective used to describe something belonging to you. Your is always followed by a noun. For example, "Where happened? Your arm is in a cast."  You're is a contraction of "you are" and is often followed by the present participle (verb form ending in -ing). For example, "Hurry up, you're going to be late."  Another example is "You're testing my patience." 
Our use of words, fortunately or unfortunately, says a lot about how considerate we are to our reader(s). Granted, misspellings happen because of autocorrect or fast typing. Thus, resulting in improper grammar usage.  Nevertheless, consider this a friendly warning: double-check before hitting send. 

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