Spelling and Grammar

Please find below the rules for three of the common mistakes made in the practice SAC: the difference between their, they're and there, the correct use of apostrophes, and the correct use of capital letters.

For more spelling and grammar tips, here are some useful sites:

Clear instructions on how to fix common mistakes: http://www.elearnenglishlanguage.com/
Grammar instruction with a bit of humour: http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm

Their, They're, and There

What's the difference between their, there, and they're? They're really not that complicated; once you understand their differences there shouldn't be any more confusion.

Their is the third person plural possessive adjective, used to describe something as belong to them. Their is nearly always followed by a noun.
  • Where is their car?
  • Are these their pens?
  • Their books are on the table.
  • This is their room and this is ours.
  • What happened to their dog?
  • Their being here is causing some problems.

There has several different uses.
1. Adverb that means the opposite of "here"
  • He's over there.
  • Stop right there.
  • Do you want to sit here or there?
2. Pronoun that introduces a noun or clause.
  • There is something strange going on.
  • Is there a phone?
3. Adjective that emphasizes which person.
  • That guy there seems to be in trouble.
  • Those there look good.
4. Noun that means "that place."
  • From there, we drove to Boston.
  • I'm not going in there!

They're is the contraction of "they are" and is often followed by the present participle (verb form ending in -ing).
  • They're going to be late.
  • Is that what they're saying?
  • I think they're lying.
  • If they're ready, we can go.
  • I can't believe they're not here yet!
  • When they're older, they'll understand.

The Bottom Line
The confusion between their, there, and they're occurs because the three words are pronounced in very similar ways.
If the word means "belonging to them," use their. If you're able to replace the word with "they are," use they're. Otherwise, there is only one correct answer: there.


The apostrophe has two purposes in English:
  1. To indicate that one or more letters was dropped in a contraction:
    it is > it's
    we are > we're
    does not > doesn't
    of the clock > o'clock
  2. To indicate possession:
    a) singular with 's
    Tom's book
    Jeannie's idea
    the girl's toys (toys belong to one girl)
    b) plural with s'
    the books' covers
    my brothers' jobs
    the girls' toys (toys belong to several girls)
The apostrophe should never be used when you are just talking about something that is plural, with no possession.
  • The girl's walked by > The girls walked by
  • My brother's are tall > My brothers are tall
  • Welcome traveler's > Welcome travelers

The Bottom Line
Just remember that the apostrophe has a purpose: to indicate a contraction or possession. It does not indicate a plural - the letter s does a fine job of that all by itself.

Capital Letters

  • the first word of a sentence or fragment
  • the name of a day or a month, e.g. Monday, March
  • the name of a language, e.g. English, Spanish
  • a word expressing a connection with a place - e.g. French, Afghan
  • the name of a nationality or an ethnic group e.g. Portuguese, Pashtun, Hazara
  • a proper name - e.g. Anna, Hassan, Amir
  • the name of a historical period - e.g. Medieval period
  • the name of a holiday - e.g. Labor Day
  • the first word, and each significant word, of a title - e.g. President, Prime Minister, Her Majesty, His Royal Highness.
  • the first word of a direct quotation which is a sentence e.g. "For you a thousand times over!"

For more detail, go to: http://www.informatics.sussex.ac.uk/department/docs/punctuation/node27.html