Health Inspectors mandate that signs be posted in restaurant and grocery store restrooms reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work. Misplace the sign, and the establishment will be fined. Misspell the sign, and, well … it becomes a job for Grammar Man!
The Case of There, Their, They’re Confusion.
There, there! It will be okay. I am a trained professional. As a trained professional, I’ve seen more than my share of there, their and they’re abuse. Would you look at that sign? Meant to enforce health standards, while at the same time numbing our culture’s literary senses at the same time. To the rules we go!
There is primarily used in our language to represent a place. Consider it in comparison to the word here. It’s either here, or it’s there. Now–steady yourself–there can be used as an adverb, a noun, a pronoun, an adjective and even as an interjection. There, there! But primarily–say it with me–there represents a place.
Their is a possessive pronoun. It is used to show possession, as in ‘who does this belong to?’ It’s theirs. Some grammar geeks recognize their as a possessive adjective where contrast is inherent in the sentence–this is our car; that is their car–because it stands in adjectival description. (And just so you know, moms and dads will light up with pride when their son or daughter uses the phrase stands in adjectival description in a sentence. Try it sometime.) A clue: if you can ask the question ‘whose ____?’ then their is your word. Too bad our sign maker didn’t ask that question. Whose hands? Employees? Oh–so THEIR hands. Voila!
They’re should be the easiest not to confuse. It’s a contraction. The apostrophe replacing the missing letter is a dead giveaway. They’re is short for they are. Only use they’re if you’d be able to say the same thing using they are. But–and here’s the real gem–be sure to use they’re if you’re meaning to convey they are. Most common of all the there, their, they’re confusion is for people to mean they are and mistakenly choose there or their. There coming for dinner. NO! Their on their way now. NO! They’re coming. They’re on their way.
Be vigilant about this, my dear friends, because spell-checker won’t be. It’s true. When you write a document and spell-check it, unless it has a grammar component to it, your spell-checker will fail to point out these misuses. If they’re spelled correctly, though they are there in your document, their particular grammatical usage may go unchecked. So there is no substitute for you knowing how to use there, their and they’re. Get it right. Make Grammar Man proud. And don’t eat in an establishment that gets the hand washing sign wrong. I mean, if the sign is wrong, how much confidence do you have in their ability to wash their hands?
What grammar gaffes have you spotted recently? Egads!