A big part of the English language revolves around ease and convenience. It endeavors to find ways to make life easier for both the speaker and the writer.
For instance, you have several abbreviations that relieve writers of having to write a barrage of letters when just a couple would do.
For instance, you have abbreviations like “Mr.” which is short for “mister,” “Dr.” which is short for “doctor,” “Ex.” which is short for “example,” and “Dec.” which is short for “December.”
English is also filled with acronyms, arrangements of letters that both spell out other words while forming their own unique word.
A perfect case in point is how the word “scuba” is actually an acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.” Imagine if you had to say that mouthful every time.
Other famous acronyms include “SIM,” “radar,” “AIDS,” and “laser.” Yes, laser is an acronym, and it stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.”
There are many other ways English speakers take shortcuts, some of which might border on the lazy. For example, we use plenty of contractions.
Contractions are when you shorten a word or a group of words by omitting specific letters and sounds.
This is why English speakers can say “I’m” instead of “I am.” It is also how we get away with saying “you’re” rather than “you are.”
Interestingly, many people get confused between “you’re” and “your.” Just remember, “you’re” is the contraction, whereas “your” is the possessive form.
However, this isn’t the only case where contractions can confuse people.
Sometimes, people are uncertain whether the contracted form is correct in the first place. A prime example of this can be seen in the words “there are.”
Can we contract them to “there’re,” or would that be plain wrong?
Let’s try to answer that question together.
- 1 Is “there’re” a legitimate contraction for “there are”?
- 2 So, should you use “there’re” or not?
- 3 There’re: Final Verdict
Is “there’re” a legitimate contraction for “there are”?
Strictly speaking, on a grammatical level, it is correct. “There’re” is a legitimate contraction of “there are.” However, just because the rules say something is correct doesn’t mean you can actually use it.
For instance, most text editors don’t recognize “there’re” and will flag it if you write it. What’s more, if you look it up in most online dictionaries, including Cambridge, Oxford, and Collins, you won’t find this word.
So, should you use “there’re” or not?
“There’re” is short for either “there are” or “there were.” Which contraction you are going for can only be understood through the surrounding context.
There’re a few things we need to talk about.
In the above sentence, it should be clear that we are contracting “there are,” not “there were.” How can you tell? Simple, you can look at the verb “need.”
If we had meant “there were,” then “need” would have been in the past, giving us “needed.”
There’re a few things we needed to talk about.
Unfortunately, it’s not always going to be this cut and dry, which might be a bit confusing for the reader.
There’re mangoes in the fridge.
Without any surrounding context or additional information, it’s almost impossible for us to know what the author is really saying.
Are there currently mangoes in the fridge, or were there mangoes in the fridge, but there aren’t anymore?
We will return to this ambiguity a bit later, but, for now, let’s try to figure out whether we should use “there’re” in the first place or not.
As mentioned earlier, the right question isn’t whether you should use “there’re.” The right question is whether there are any circumstances where it is ok to use it.
However, before talking about the situations where we can use “there’re,” there are a few things we need to clear up.
Why use contractions at all?
Contractions perform two main functions, one of which serves the writer and the other serves the speaker.
For the writer, contractions offer a way of reducing the number of letters necessary to send across the same message.
It might seem pedantic to focus on a few letters, but when you abbreviate every “I am” to “I’m,” every “you are” to “you’re,” and every “they will” to “they’ll,” these omissions add up.
The other service contractions do is for the speaker. They allow them to lessen the number of syllables they have to use while talking.
To see this clearly, let’s look at the number of syllables in each of the aforementioned contractions.
“I am” is made of two syllables, whereas “I’m” is just a single syllable.
Similarly, “you are” consists of two syllables, yet “you’re” is only made up of one syllable.
And, as you may have guessed by now, “they will” requires two syllables to utter, but “they’ll” is happy with a single syllable.
So, in short, even though you can contract plenty of things, it only makes sense to use a contraction if one of the two functions is achieved.
You can use a contraction if it will help you use fewer letters while writing or allow you to utter fewer syllables while speaking.
Are these hard and fast rules?
Obviously, the answer is no. But, they are excellent guidelines to bear in mind.
One more on the use of contractions
Before we move on from the subject, there is one more thing we should point out. Contractions are allowable in informal writing.
However, when writing a formal document, you shouldn’t use any contraction such as “you’re” and “they’re,” let alone a contentious contraction such as “there’re.”
On the difference between speech and writing
It goes without saying that what we say and what we write are two different things.
Even though writing is a crude approximation of what we say, it doesn’t measure up.
When writing, there are several rules we have to follow to make our writing legible. These are grammatical rules, punctuation rules, and even formatting rules, and they are all intended to make the reader’s life easier.
At the end of the day, every writer should strive to help the reader glide over the writing without ever having to pause, to do a double-take, or to reread a passage hundreds of times just to understand what the hell is going on. I’m looking at you Foucault.
On the other hand, although speakers should abide by the same grammatical rules enforced on writers, speakers break these rules all the time and get away with it.
In fact, speakers are known for using run-on sentences, sentence fragments, and dangling participles, yet, most of the time, the listener has no problem following what is being said and comprehending it all.
Why is that the case? How come speakers can get away with things writers can only dream of?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. For one thing, when speaking, people have their body language and voice tone to help deliver the message.
This might seem like a subtle difference to you, but what if I told you that, according to some studies, that what we say only accounts for 7 percent of the listener’s understanding?
In fact, this study found that when we interpret a spoken message, 55 percent of what we understand comes to us from the speaker’s body language, and the remaining 38 percent can be attributed to our interpretation of the speaker’s tone of voice.
This means that 93 percent of what we interpret when others speak has nothing to do with what they are actually saying.
Now, another reason speakers can break the rules and get away with it is that they have the luxury of correcting any misunderstandings first hand.
Since they are there with the listener, they can personally answer any and all questions, including those arising out of a misunderstanding. Writers, however, do not have this luxury.
One last thing to note is that the rules of language are not like the rules of mathematics or logic. While the rules governing linear algebra are immutable, the rules of language change all the time.
Don’t believe me? Just compare the English we speak today with the English of the King James Bible, written more than 400 years ago. They are almost completely different languages.
This strikes some as surprising because the rules of language don’t only come across as very logical, but they also appear to be timeless.
If you ask any grammar geek about subject-verb agreement or dangling participles, they will give you a long soliloquy about how we need to all follow the rules of grammar and how proper grammar is the last bastion of civilization.
But, this really isn’t the case.
Language is an evolving creature, one whose rules change all the time. What gives language its legitimacy isn’t some abstract rule that exists regardless of people.
This legitimacy comes from the agreement of the majority. In other words, if the majority of English speakers decided to change a certain rule tomorrow, then that rule would change, regardless of how hard the grammar nazis might complain.
Now, seeing as we have covered the main ground that will ferry us through the rest of the article, let’s see the arguments that are in support of using “there’re” as well as the ones that say we shouldn’t make it a thing.
What the detractors of “there’re” have to say
Let’s start with the naysayers because they have more to say.
For starters, they argue that there is no consensus about this contraction, even among official sources such as dictionaries. Ergo, as far as language rules go, the lack of consensus or at least majority agreement is enough grounds to reject “there’re” altogether.
However, for them, that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is that this contraction is useless.
Let’s look at it from the speaker’s point of view.
First of all, “there’re” can be hard to pronounce given the repeated “R” sound. It feels heavy to the tongue and almost a bit unnatural.
Moreover, this contraction doesn’t reduce the number of syllables. While “there are” is made up of two syllables, “there’re” also takes up two syllables.
The only thing this contraction omits is the glottal stop that comes with the “a,” yet that isn’t enough justification to accept this contraction.
If anything, it is that glottal stop that makes “there are” easier to pronounce than “there’re.”
Now, if we look at things from the writer’s perspective, things only get worse.
For one thing, seeing as there is a lot of contention surrounding this contraction, using it would give pause to any reader and break their flow.
Additionally, it really doesn’t do a good job of shortening the number of characters a writer has to use because even though you might have omitted the “a,” you still have to place an apostrophe in its stead.
All of this is not to mention the confusion that can be caused by “there’re,” the one we alluded to earlier.
After all, since “there’re” can be used to contract both “there are” and “there were,” the reader might get confused if the context isn’t clear enough.
One way out of this confusion is to designate “there’re” to only “there are” while having to writer “there were” in full every time.
This is similar to what happens with “they’re,” where it’s clear that this contraction is short for “they are.” However, no one used “they’re” to denote “they were.”
It would cause too much confusion. The same applies to “you are” being shortened to “you’re,” yet we tend to write “you were” out in full rather than giving it the same contraction.
What the supporters of “there’re” have to say
Before anything, almost everybody agrees that “there’re” shouldn’t be used in writing, be it formal or informal. Nevertheless, they do argue that it is ok to use it in informal speech.
Remember how we said speech rules differ from writing rules and that language rules are all about majority agreement?
Well, the supporters argue that using “there’re” is very natural in some dialects of English and that some parts of the world that speak English use this contraction all the time.
They also say that if we were to follow the rules of English grammar to the letter, we wouldn’t find anything wrong with “there’re” in the first place, which is enough to make it a legitimate contraction.
There’re: Final Verdict
Here’s my advice. Don’t use “there’re” in writing. It’ll just stump the reader, and you don’t want that.
And, unless you live in a place where people generally use this contraction, you’re better off going with the full “there are.”
After all, the original phrase and its contraction are the exact same number of syllables, so it’s not going to cost you anything.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.