In this guide, you’ll learn the meaning of their, how to distinguish it from similar words, its origin, synonyms, examples, and more.
How is it that we all learn common words in the early days of school, yet there are plenty of people who misuse or misspell them as adults? It’s an interesting phenomenon. Even more interesting is that words that are common can still have their meanings change. Hopefully, this guide will provide clarity and refresh your knowledge of the meaning of the word their.
What Does Their Mean?
In the dictionary, the word their means the possessive form of they or them. For example, if an object belongs to a collective group, then it is their object. Typically, it is associated with people or things that were previously mentioned or are easy to identify in the context. If the speaker had been talking about the choir and then the speaker describes their singing, you would infer that the speaker meant the choir’s singing.
- We saw the team on their way to the locker room.
The word their can denote that the identity of the owner is unknown. For example, if you said, “The robber left their fingerprints on the mantle,” the term their is used to show possession when the sex of a person is unspecified or unknown.
- Anyone in their right mind would have done the same thing.
Alternatively, the word their can be the possession of they or them as a singular person that is not gender-specific. If a person’s sexual identity or gender is not defined as the traditional binary forms of male or female, then possession will be shown for that person with their. It is a third-person singular antecedent that is similar to words like his, hers, or its. This can be useful when gender neutrality is preferred.
- It is their right to choose for themselves.
Many people believe that the singular use of the possessive adjective their is a modern development. However, as it relates to the word they, the singular use of the noun dates back to the 14th century. This can be examined further when you look at the origin of the word.
What Is the Origin of the Word Their?
The history or origin of a word is also called its etymology. Learning more about where a word comes from helps us understand its meaning further. For the word their, etymology tells us that the word is from Middle English. The Middle English time is a period of about 300 years from around 1150 CE to about 1450. It is the transitional period between Old English and Modern English.
It was used in Middle English in the same way it is used today to show possession for they or them. The word their replaced the Old English word heora. It was a genitive word, or possessive word, for hīe. It would have meant “of them.”
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, their also has Indo-European roots to the word in Old English thāra, Old Norse theira, and Old Norse theirra. It also relates to the word þeirra which was a genitive plural of the demonstrative sá. Both of these words have roots in Old Swedish, Faroese, and Icelandic.
It’s interesting that the word has evolved into the word we use today. The pronunciation has changed, but the meaning has remained the same over time.
How Do We Use the Word Their?
Homophones are words that have the same pronunciation but each has different meanings. Their is a homophone for they’re and there. For this reason, the word their is often misused in place of the words they’re and there.
It is one of the biggest problems on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. This misuse promotes a misunderstanding of the proper definition of these homophones. Here are the correct definitions of they’re, there, and their:
- They’re is a contraction that means “They are”.
- There is a place or position.
- Their is the possessive form of they or them in the singular or plural.
Here are some examples of they’re:
- They’re going to be late to dinner.
- If they’re coming too, they should just ride with us.
An easy way to know if you’ve used this word correctly is if you could replace it with the words “they are”.
Here are some examples of there:
- Put it over there.
- There is no reason to do that.
Here are some examples of their:
- Americans have their own way of doing things compared to people in the UK.
- They can choose their own clothes for this trip.
No matter how you use their, singular or plural, it should show ownership.
Gender-Neutral Pronouns and “Their”
Nonbinary individuals often prefer the pronouns that relate to the singular usage of they. Out of respect for their gender identity and preferences, when these individuals request the use of they, them, and their, it is expected that others comply.
Gender-neutral pronouns are the best inclusive pronouns to use when you are writing about other people. Whether you are using singular pronouns or plural pronouns, they, them, and their are the best options when you are writing, especially when gender is unknown.
You may not always be able to tell if a their is being used as a plural noun or singular noun, but it is better to be respectful and neutral in this case.
What Are Synonyms for the Word Their?
Synonyms are related words that offer a similar meaning to a word. As a possessive pronoun, the best synonyms for the word their are also possessive pronouns such as:
What Are Antonyms for the Word Their?
Antonyms are words that offer an opposite meaning to a word. As a possessive pronoun to represent a non-gendered person or a collective group, the best antonyms for their are also some of the best synonyms. This is a unique situation.
Whether a word is a good antonym or synonym for their will depend on whether the emphasis lies in the possession or the gender neutrality. Her are antonyms for their:
Examples of Using Their in a Sentence
Example sentences are some of the best ways to understand the use of a word in context. Often we know what a word means, but we can still be unclear on how to include it in conversation.
Based on common mistakes seen in social media, the word their is still confounding to some people. Here are a few examples of how to use their correctly in a sentence.
- We’ll see their act tomorrow.
- You should plan to go in September when their leaves change color.
- It was not their finest hour.
- You should be proud of their accomplishments.
- I wish we had their seats instead of ours.
The Last Word
Broadening our understanding of words we already use commonly in our everyday communications gives us a deeper perspective and increases our ability to use them correctly.
When the meaning of words seemingly evolves in our lives, it’s also a good idea to freshen up our grasp on the accepted definitions of the word. This helps us, our speech, and our writing stay relevant in our current culture. We will not only appear knowledgeable, but we’ll be more knowledgeable about how to use certain words.