As the old joke goes, that’s what you say to an unhappy grammarian. So if we must have three spellings of a word, how can we remember to use them in the right contexts?
There’s an alphabetical theme to this memory jogger. Some of you may have come across the joke alphabet: a for ’orses, b for mutton, c for swimmin’, d for ... you get the idea. First, put the words in alphabetical order: their, there, they’re. The reminder for your three choices is:
Belonging to a place where there’s no 'a for ’orses.
The first spelling denotes that something belongs to people. There’s a person in the middle (‘I’) to remind you.
Their house, their car, their luxury yacht were all bought with their lottery winnings.
We can be in many places: here, there, anywhere. They are all spelt with ‘ere’.
There were many advantages to being millionaires, one of which
was owning a beautiful house.
If you have read Apostrophes, you will know that the apostrophe can show you that a letter is missing. In this case, ‘they’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are’, so the missing ‘a’ is replaced by the apostrophe.
If they are generous with their winnings, they’re sure to invite their friends
to visit them there.
Belonging to a place where there’s no ’a for ’orses.