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Avoid this oh-too-common grammatical error.

Imagine you are writing a cover letter. Or writing an important business letter. Or even sending a text to a new person in your life. You craft your message carefully, you double check it for typos and hit SEND.

On the other end, your recipient scans your message, and at first, they are quite delighted. The message is clear. It makes sense. So far, so good. And then they spot it: the dreaded grammatical error. It practically leaps off the page.

And within a second or two, you just lost the job. Or the business. Or the new friend.

Your reputation depends on this one rule.

It is one of the single most common grammatical mistakes. And it can lose friends or business in an instant. What is it?

The difference between their, they're and there.

You'd think understanding the different usage of these three words is basic knowledge for anyone with a high school diploma. It is not. This mistake in writing is made all the time. By educated people no less! And maybe you. You may not even realize you are using it incorrectly. Why would you, unless someone points it out?

But perhaps you have an inkling your grammar may not always be spot on, or why would you be reading this?

So here is my attempt to clear it up once and for all...

It's what's inside that counts.

The best way to distinguish these common words is to look at what's hidden inside the words.

Let's begin with the most difficult: they're.

All you have to do with this one is look at the apostrophe. Let the apostrophe guide you. You know an apostrophe means this word is a contraction, right? ie. it is missing a letter. What is missing? An A of course. Because it is a contraction for "they + are." Sounds easy, but why do so many people mistake it for "their"? Because an apostrophe can also mean possession. You know how to use "they are." So just think this: they're = they are.

Next: their.

Here's a great memory-boosting tip: "their" has "heir" inside it. Which hopefully reminds you of possession. An heir is someone who will possess something. So it is "their kingdom", "their jewels", "their throne."

Lastly: there.

There has “here” inside it. "Here" is a place. So, "there" is a place. But when you're in the midst of composing an important communication, it can become muddy real quick. So if you even just recall this one simple rule: look what's INSIDE the word, then you won't ever confuse the three again.

As for others who continue to make this mistake: that's their concern. They're not reading this article. So there.

For reference....

Need more help on these and other grammatical issues? Get Canadian Press Style on your bookshelf (if you live in Canada), or Associated Press Style Book (for America). They are invaluable references and have saved me many an embarrasment.

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