Anne Horrigan Geary: The difference between 'there,' 'their,' and 'they're'



There are lots of insects in the garden now; some I am happy to see, some not. Mosquitoes have come on with a vengeance after the rainy weather, and flies have joined ranks with them in the afternoon. Ants and wasps and spiders can be pests; but lately I've been bugged by something else.


In this season of graduations and weddings, the word "congratulations" is often written on banners and greeting cards. Most of the time it is even spelled correctly. But, as a former English teacher, I cringe at the verbal shortened form, "congrats." I think anyone who has diligently completed a course of studies over several years deserves to hear laudatory words, meaningful celebratory words -- yea, verily, congratulations. In our texting, tweeting, chop-everything-to-pieces world, there is still a place for formal recognition and commendation.

With great pleasure, I add my warmest wishes to all the graduates of 2014. I also wish great happiness to all June brides, and to their grooms I say hearty, congratulations. Come on folks, it's a long word, but a word packed with sentiment and stature. If you regularly use the magnificent word in all its staccato syllables, congratulations to you too!

Now that we've let the world-weary grammarian out of the box, she has another horse to ride. As a student, teacher, and fan of grammar (yes, I even like diagramming sentences), I am appalled by the rampant misuse of the tricky trio of the homophones (words which sound alike but are spelled differently): "there," "their," and "they're." Please join me in my reconstructed seventh grade classroom for a quick review of these grammatical goblins.

"There" is a location, the opposite of "here." Please put your smart phones on the table over there, so you can pay attention while I am speaking. Old MacDonald, the farmer, knew where his cows were: "Here a cow, there a cow, everywhere a cow, cow ..." He also knew the term for a distant location; so do you.

"Their" is a possessive. It shows ownership. As an heir inherits a family fortune, his or her children can expect to receive their share of the goods.

Our strawberries are good, your strawberries are better, but their strawberries are the best. To change the possessive adjective to a pronoun, simply add "s." Ours are red, yours are redder, theirs are the reddest.

Now that we've passed this second hurdle, let's all adjourn for strawberry shortcake, and debate whose is the tastiest.

Sated with strawberries, let's wiggle our sticky fingers, wipe the berry juice coloring our lips, and master the final part of our pesky trio. It's the easiest actually. "They're" is a contraction for the words "they are."

The apostrophe is an indication that something has been removed, in this case the letter "a." In tweeting we remove lots of letters, but leave it to the reader to figure out which and from whence they have been axed. It's no wonder, people have trouble reconstructing words in the English language when they have been constantly bombarded by: "btw," "lol," and "thx."

In our hurry-up world, communication has morphed into many new forms: texting, tweeting, voice mail, email, and more. It is still important to remember that in formal communication we want our receivers to get the complete, correct message. They're listening. They've read their texts and tweets. They want to know exactly what you mean, from here to there and everywhere. Please tell them. Be specific and perhaps it will lead to great things: a challenging job, a wonderful friendship, or the admiration of a stranger.

Someone, some day may even offer congratulations to you on a job well done.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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