Read aloud, you won’t hear any problems with that sentence using any of the options, but only one choice is correct in each case.

‘They’re’ is a contraction of ‘they are’. It usually is followed by an adjective, or a verb ending in ‘ing’ (present continuous form). This is a way you can see if you’re using it correctly.

They’re feeling great today.

They’re doing maths homework.

They’re very tall for such young children!

’Their’ is a possessive adjective. We use possessive adjectives to show who owns, or possesses something. They go before a noun.

Their books are on the table.

I think their house is in Manchester.

Police use their guns in extreme situations only.

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‘There’ is an adverb, relating to the position of something. It means ‘in that place’. It’s the opposite of ‘here’.

Marie’s granddad is standing over there.

Where’s your book? Over there, on the chair.

Native English speakers and language learners also commonly confuse the words ‘its’ and ‘it’s’. As they are so similar, and are homophones, they are easily written incorrectly. They perform different functions, however.

Again, one is a possessive adjective. Which one do you think is the possessive adjective? That’s right, ‘its’, without an apostrophe. Where do possessive adjectives go? Before nouns. So, we use the word ‘its’ before nouns, to indicate possession.

The dog chased its tail (animals are often ‘it’ in English, unless they are ours and we know its gender!).
To stop the chair moving, put a piece of paper under one of its legs.

‘It’s’ is a contraction of ‘it has’ or ‘it is’ (apostrophes either denote possession or contraction, so a good way to remember this is to imagine what the full form of the sentence would be, without the contraction). For example, the above sentence ‘the dog chased its tail’ could not be ‘the dog chased it has tail’, or ‘the dog chased it is tail’, as those sentences don’t make any sense. Therefore, we know we can’t use ‘its’!

It’s been raining for six days now. I’m bored of the rain. (it has, as ‘has’ is often followed by a participle)

It’s a lovely morning to go for a walk! (it is)

It’s taken me five hours just to do one composition! (it has)

It’s always cloudy like this in the middle of February.

Now, which is correct?

It’s/its got a fly in it’s/its eye.

It’s got a fly in its eye – it HAS got a fly in its eye (possessive adjective, who or what does the eye belong to?).

Now you know the differences between these tricky homophones, take our test!

E. Lawrenson

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