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Are any of the phrases in the title incorrect in any way? Do the meanings differ in any way? Is one preferred over the other and if so then why? I find this particularly interesting for many reasons including because a listener can not distinguish whether a speaker said "There they're." or "They're there." Also, are there other more complex and/or more interesting examples of this kind?

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A string walks into a bar and says to the bartender, "Gimme a drink." The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve strings in here." The string goes outside and sees a guy walking toward him. He says to the guy, "Come here, can you do me a favor? Can you frazzle my ends up a bit then loop me around and stick my head through the loop and and pull it tight?" The guy shrugs and does it. The string goes back into the bar and right up to the bartender and says, "Gimme a drink" The bartender says, 'Hey aren't you that string that was in here earlier?" The string says, "Nope, I'm frayed knot." – Jim Apr 23 '13 at 3:37
up vote 1 down vote accepted

“There they're” is nonstandard English. Contractions of be, had, and would cannot appear at the end of a clause. They can only appear as unstressed sentence elements, and inverting the sentence order in this way (called stranding) puts stress on the verb. This avoids any ambiguity with “They're there,” for this particular case.

Just as it changes the grammatical stress, inverting the word order also changes the sentence's semantic stress, emphasizing there instead of they, answering slightly different questions:

  • Did the Joneses go to the party? – Yes, they are there.
  • Where are the Joneses? – Oh, there they are!
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