For example, in the following sentences, in which ones should I use there, and not their?

____ house is beautiful.
____ are lots of skyscrapers in Dubai.

  • 5
    Don't forget they're ;)
    – Em1
    Feb 1 '13 at 7:51
  • 2
    I think it's important that you recognize the part of speech they belong to. Once that's sorted, really, you can't go wrong. Feb 1 '13 at 9:36
  • How has this question got 14 votes? It's a pretty mediocre question (if I don't use the term dumb). Jan 8 '16 at 18:49

In grammatical terms, their is a possessive determiner, just like my, your, his, her, its and our. It indicates that what is described in the following noun phrase belongs to, or is in some other way associated with, the person or thing to which the possessive determiner refers. Just as my car is a car that belongs to me, so their house is a house that belongs to them.

There is a word with many uses. In your example, There are lots of skyscrapers in Dubai, it is what is sometimes called a ‘dummy subject’. It would be grammatical to say Lots of skyscrapers are in Dubai, but, generally, we don’t. We use there are (or there is) where French uses il est or il y a, German uses es ist, es sind or es gibt and Spanish uses hay.

  • 1
    Japanese uses: ある for "there are"/"there is" which literally means "to exist". Feb 1 '13 at 14:57

Their means belonging to them, while there is a place or a "dummy subject." In your examples, you would say:

Their house is beautiful.

There are lots of skyscrapers in Dubai.

In the second example, there is a "dummy subject." In the following example, it is a place:

They are in the skyscraper over there.

  • 3
    Actually, there in there is/are is not a pronoun used for a place.
    – apaderno
    Feb 1 '13 at 9:32
  • @kiamlaluno: what is it then? Feb 1 '13 at 14:42
  • @kiamlaluno Quite right. I have corrected my answer.
    – ctype.h
    Feb 1 '13 at 16:33

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