You’ve seen me refer to the Fake AP Stylebook before. The group puts out funny little comments about language every day on Facebook and Twitter. If you don’t use these, you can go elsewhere to see some great examples. Some really get me thinking.
Case in point: A recent post observed, “there/their/they’re – What, seriously? This confuses you?”
I have never had trouble distinguishing among the three. I don’t find it confusing at all. But it’s not because I’m good at remembering rules necessarily; otherwise, I’d have gotten this bring-versus-take thing down long ago.
What I realized is that it says something about the way my brain works.
When I hear and when I speak, I see the words written out. I suppose this means I am a visual learner or perhaps a visual thinker. I envision words as they are spelled. Maybe that’s why I have such a sensitive ear when it comes to pronunciation. If people saw “sherbet,” maybe they wouldn’t say “sherbert.”
Like the Fake AP Stylebook, when I see there/their/they’re confused, I am tempted to wonder how anyone can get it wrong. I also wonder how anyone graduated from second grade without mastering it, but perhaps I’m too quick to judge.
“There,” “their” and “they’re” are homonyms. They sound exactly the same. It’s no wonder people who are not visual learners might be homonymphobic.
If we had to spell according to how words sound (“sound it out,” we were always told), especially in this confusing language we call English, how can we be expected to commit the difference to paper?
Maybe I can offer some tips.
Let’s start with “there.” “There” is often the answer to “where?” “Where are my glasses? There they are.” On top of my head, usually. So that one’s easy: Where? There! Spelled the same (after their respective consonant digraphs).
“They’re” is a contraction of “they” and “are.” Until I had a baby, I thought contractions were easy. You begin with what you are (you’re) trying to say and shorten it; for example, “They are” doing something. With a contraction, typically a letter and a space come out, an apostrophe goes in and, voilà, two words become one. In a sense, they’re getting married. To use song lyrics as a prompt, “They’re Playing Our Song” or, for readers of my generation, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa.” By now they probably are.
I haven’t come up with a tip for “their.” Maybe you have one. For now, let’s just say it’s the other one, and remember, “i” before “e” except after “c.” Oops, and except in “their.”