The Middle Child Syndrome in the English Grammar


With my ten years of experience in teaching in an “eigo juku”, I noticed one common grammar mistake that students commit when creating their own essays and compositions.

それは、they’re, their, there がはっきり理解されていないことである。

That is the distinction among the usages of “their” (possessive), “there” (demonstrative pronoun), and “they’re” (contraction of ‘they are’).


These homonyms are confusing to the ear and brain, as one would expect, but your mastery of the English Language may reflect within these confusions. Homonyms are words that are pronounced the same way but differ in meaning and origin.

最近、高校、大学生にディクテーション演習を課した。つまり、英文を聞かせて生徒たちに書かせてみた。Recently, I gave a practical dictation exercise. In this activity, I played audios for them to listen to and jot down whatever word they think they heard.

サンプル文の1つは、「Some people sell their goods online.」。

One of the sample sentences was, “Some people sell their goods online”.

ところが生徒たちの書いたのを見ると、9割以上がtheir を thereにしてしまっている。結構できる子も同様のミス、なんてこった!

Alas! 90% of the students wrote down incorrectly, mistaking “their” for “there”.

And so did some good performers.

いやはや、どうやってこの誤りを生徒たちに気づかせるべきか、頭を悩ませています。They leave me wondering how I should approach the correction of this very common grammatical error.


By the way, among these three homonyms, “the possessive – their” seems the most neglected , ignored, excluded, forgotten, and discriminated in the same manner as middle children.