Rogue Ink

July 2, 2008

War on English: Homophones Their/They’re/There

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 6:30 am

They lurk in the silent places. You cannot hear them coming. They are wily and crafty, and if there is anything a rogue fears, it is wit and guile in beings that have no right to it, and an evil intent behind using them, besides. Also, words that sound like OTHER words, which is what homophones are. Such sneakiness is reserved for members of the Rogue Guild, and no others.

It is the evilest of intent behind the homophone. It seeks to sunder the meaning from a word and render it laughable. And it is laughable. I, for one, will mock it roundly. Commencing thusly.

There their they’re

A devilish trio, these, and perhaps the most notorious of the homophonic coven of havoc. The young folk in particular are guilty of mistaking any one of these for its evil sibling, relying on the sound to convey the purpose. This is a mistake, for anyone knows that if you give a homophone a vowel he will go and take the whole goddamn phonic, and there is no dealing with a word like that.


Their is possessive, clutching subjects to itself. “That’s their box of half-eaten Spam and no, I don’t know why” or “Their children sneeze too loudly.” Grabby little word, their, always taking hold of objects and giving them up to unseen persons. Accusatory, too, pinning the blame elsewhere. This may be why their is rarely mistaken for its fellows, though its fellows are often mistaken for it (goes round and round your head like a bad night on Vicoden and Guiness, doesn’t it). Also, it’s hardest to spell.


They’re is a riotous word, a contraction in fact, a gleeful shortening of ‘they are’. It chatters incessantly. It wants to spill the secrets. They’re is, in fact, a gossip of a high order. “They’re going to the movies and they’re sitting in the back row.” “They’re coming, hide the marshmallows.” “They’re going to smell like tuna now, you watch.” They’re confuses the hell out of most people, perhaps because of the chattering, or the apostrophe. It’s hard to tell.


There is the most distant of the three, quiet and placid. It can be found, often, over there, in a place that is not this place. It is perhaps the most deadly of the three, for it is easiest to spell, and most frequently is taken for the other two. “There is a house,” it says softly, “over there.” And just as you look to see what it meant, it’s off taking they’re’s place in a description of the previous evening’s antics.

They’re taking their tares there.

Everyone got that? Good. What about this one?

Their taking there tares they’re.

See the problem? See how it just DOESN’T MAKE SENSE? The homophones are silent and deadly, like certain kinds of gas (hm, second fart joke in as many days. I should never have read that Mike Myers interview). They will stink up your writing like nothing else. We shall be adding more soon.



  1. I thank the gods of the English language that I have never had problems with most homophones.

    Although knight/night did bite me in the butt twice recently, and I always have to be extra careful not to write son instead of sun.

    However, the son/sun mistake is for another reason entirely. I like to think I have a valid excuse for that mix-up.

    Comment by Allison — July 2, 2008 @ 9:36 am | Reply

  2. I’m with Allison – I don’t understand how people mix these up (although I know they do) because to me they’re completely different words.

    Not that I’m pretending to be superior here – I suck at words with double letters (especially if there is more than one set of them) like accommodation and correspondence. I always have to check correspondence, is it two r’s, two s’s or two of each? Can’t seem to get that stuck in my head. 😐

    Comment by Rebecca Leigh — July 2, 2008 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  3. Tei, my favorite Stickler-slash-Blogger,

    You were there? The night I was on Vicodin and Guinness? They’re a sneaky pair, and I admit, their power was too much for me.



    P.S. Tuna. ROFLOL.

    Comment by Kelly — July 2, 2008 @ 11:59 am | Reply

  4. The misuse of there-their-they’re is one of my biggest pet peeves. Homophones are not nearly as difficult to grasp as many people make them out to be. But then…I can write a paragraph and a complete sentence, something high school seniors are not often required to do these days.

    Comment by macpeas — July 2, 2008 @ 12:19 pm | Reply

  5. Tei: Now yours is a grammar book I would have read and enjoyed growing up. Hilarious, fun, to the point, and very clear.

    I think you should write one. Seriously! Call it War on English, with a funny subtitle.

    Comment by Steph — July 2, 2008 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

  6. Allison: I shall write on these forthwith.

    Rebecca: I suck at those too, actually. No trouble with ‘parallel’ but for some reason ‘reconnoiter’ will get me every time.

    Kelly: Tuna, Vicoden, AND Guiness. It is not to be contemplated.

    Sandie: I know. It’s so sad. Pity the high school students who then go on to try to be writers. I know some amazingly talented ones who simply cannot spell.

    Steph: I’m so on it. War on English shall commence forthwith. It will give Strunk & White a run for its money.

    Comment by Tei — July 2, 2008 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

  7. You wanna know a really nasty one?


    In the U.S, you pronounce it “LYOO-tenant”.

    In Canada, we say “LEFT-tenant”

    That’s an ANTI-Homonym. The words SHOULD be pronounced the same, but they aren’t.

    And DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED on American/Canadian Spellng. I never know which one to use…

    Color vs. Colour…?? ARGH!

    (I need a beer…)

    Comment by Friar — July 2, 2008 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  8. Tei,

    Keep waging the war–I see these words mixed up more often than I should have to.

    Also–it’s not a homophone, but “it’s” and “its” are routinely misused. Smack that one back, too, if you haven’t already.

    Comment by Jesse Hines — July 3, 2008 @ 1:39 am | Reply

  9. Friar,

    LOL. I had an English teacher in high school, who was from England and uninterested in our rogue American ways of spelling. Confused the dickens out of me, so practise looks right when my spellcheck says it’s wrong, and grey is only okay with an “e,” not an “a,” darn it.

    I love colour and honour and all that. Much more elegant on the page. In the end, we each must bow to our own spellcheck, for sanity’s sake.

    Until later,


    Comment by Kelly — July 3, 2008 @ 4:10 am | Reply

  10. I don’t often comment, but I always – yes always – read. This is funny Rogue, and clever, nothing amiss here then.

    Comment by Simonne — July 3, 2008 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  11. Tei – I am a longtime reader (via Karen Swim), but a first time commenter. This is a great post, and not just because I am a self-professed word nerd and Grammar Nazi. In fact, I wrote a post on tricky homonyms a couple weeks ago and tackled the very same trixy trio, alongside a couple others like its/it’s and two/too/to.

    I still remember when I was tenth grade, I was charged with tutoring a hopeful grad who had failed his literacy exam several times. He was having trouble with the there/they’re/their group and I gave him the same response I outlined in my article: If you can’t handle “they’re”, don’t use it. Plain and simple. Then if it’s the opposite of Here, it’ll have here in it. The other one is the other one. The lightbulb finally went off.

    Keep up the great work here!

    Daniel Smith
    Smithereens Blog
    Productivity, Persuasion and Prose

    Comment by Daniel Smith — July 8, 2008 @ 6:08 am | Reply

  12. I want more complicated less easy to realize that they are there homophones!
    I am a decade old female who has the vocabulary of an 18 year old female.

    Grace Anne

    Comment by Grace Anne Gasperson — November 3, 2008 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

  13. I want more difficult-hard-to-spell homophones that are hard to identify.
    I have the vocabulary of an eighteen year old Female and would like to enlargen it

    Comment by Grace Anne Gasperson — November 3, 2008 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  14. Homophones are extraordinary. They show an importance of a thing or concept, perhaps even CREATING THIS BIAS in many cases. Homophones are close to our body, near to our mind. They are a reflection of our inner being, as is rhyme, which don’t forget they do. Homophones have the power to imbue a ‘nice’ or ‘neutral’ word with some ‘evil’ and vice versa. Homophones show fear, desire, lust & group mentallity. That is, if we agree concepts/linguist neural nets are strengthened by the linking of words that in turn increases repettition….! You ‘know’ ‘I’ ‘WRITE’!

    Comment by PrivateSi — February 3, 2009 @ 4:57 pm | Reply

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