Its and It’s

I’ve battled all my literate life to know the difference between its and it’s. When I’m writing I often go out of my way to avoid using the word because I’m frightened of spelling it the wrong way.

Part of why I’m writing this blog is so I can work at becoming a better writer so I thought I’d try and nail this one down. Has anyone got a strategy for being able to know which one I should use in a particular context?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Its and It’s

  1. Dan

    It’s easy. If it’s “it’s” you want to say, it’s important to put the apostrophe in. If it’s not “it’s” you want, but it’s “its” instead, leave its apostrophe out. It’s kind of important to know the difference.

    In the first “it’s” its apostrophe replaces the i from is. In the second “its” its lack of apostrophe is the only time in English you can indicate possession without an apostrophe.

  2. Good on you! So many people don’t bother to get this one.

    The apostrophe that shows a letter is missing TRUMPS the apostrophe that shows it belongs to someone.

    Therefore it’s = it is

    and its = belongs to it.

  3. ditto. ‘it’s’ only for ‘it is’. But if you’re writing an essay or a formal piece of writing, then you shouldn’t use contractions anyway. So basically the only form you need to use in formal writing is ‘its’, as long as you remember; no contractions.

    The other apostraphes can get tricky too. I find the plural nouns of possession a bit of a spin out. ‘Children’ needs to be ‘childen’s’ even though ‘cow’ is ‘cows”, coz it’s already a plural noun. Have to think about that one every time. And ‘Jesus’ only needs one apostraphe too coz there’s already an ‘s’ at the end. So ‘Jesus’ people’ not ‘Jesus’s people’. Got to love the English exceptions. Although at times i really do think Hebrew shoud adopt punctuation – would make things so much clearer.

    Nick

    • steveboxwell

      A yes, plural possession hasn’t been my difficulty. It’s (!) odd how we have our grammatical ‘Achilles’ heals’.

      NB I put the apostrophe on Achilles after the s and without a “‘s” because it’s a name from antiquity.

      But enough pomposity from me.

  4. I’m currently reading “Eats, shoots and leaves” at the moment (a book all about punctuation) and it recommends that for possessives ending in ‘s’ you should add an extra ‘s’, e.g. Achilles’s heel, Jesus’s disciples. However, it was noted that this is not a hard and fast rule and, because it looks ugly, I don’t hold to it. I feel I need to have a sentence in this post with it’s in it so I’d just like to say that it’s lovely to read a blog which has its eye out for correct punctuation!

    • steveboxwell

      I’ve read “Eats, shoots and Leaves” and I disagree with it on the grounds that the Oxford dictionary disagrees (but only for names in antiquity) thus I’d right Angus’s guitar, but I’d also write Moses’ beard.

      I used to have a t-shirt that on the front had a huge semi-colon and on the back it said “Semi-colons have rights too! – a message from the caretakers of abused and neglected punctuation.

  5. helena

    easy peesy
    it all comes down to ownership or ommission
    Are you indicating ownership to something eg: the boy’s books – books belonging to the boy. Or ommission – you have left out characters eg it’s – left out the ‘i’ in is.
    simple so far . . . next lesson – if you are talking ownership – make the ownership word plural or singular FIRST then add the ‘s (but if you add ‘s after an s you would just leave out the final s because you just would not pronounce it anyway. eg:
    mens’ clothes – make it plural first, then add ‘s, but as you would not say ‘menses’ leave out the s after the ‘.
    man’s clothes – make it singular and add ‘s.
    Hope this helps – believe me – once you have this concept/rule you will never forget.

  6. helena

    forgot to mention with its and it’s too – with those two little babies, the its is a possesive pronoun. A good test is if you can put his or her into the sentence (eventhough it will not logically make sense) then its will be your choice.

  7. Stephanie Stoker

    I remember Graeme McLean giving us a mini-lecture on the correct usage of ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ during PHL206 last year. As I’m sure you’d know, Steve, he gets quite frustrated with our generation’s poor knowledge of the English language lol.

    • steveboxwell

      and what an honour it is to hear Dr McLean complain! I really should try and get in contact with him again, just for a chat.

      Nice use of lol as well 🙂 Remind me to think of a box pop prize for you for being the first person to use lol on the box pop!

  8. Stephanie Stoker

    Hey Steve,

    Sorry, I only just read this comment!

    I’m sure Graeme would love to hear from you again 🙂 I would recommend calling rather than emailing him though, because he gets a billion emails a day.

    And that’s cool about me being the first to say “lol” on your blog!

  9. Will

    Hi Steve,

    Yesterday my old vicar in Wee Waa sent an email to the parish recommending your blog for help on how to vote. I’m still on the email list, so I followed the link.

    What a delight. I’ve just spent an hour going through the back catalogue.

    Whenever this the it’s/its topic comes up, I like to point out that in the phrase “for all its worth”, it doesn’t matter whether you put in the apostrophe, because it could be possessive or a contraction of “it is.”

    A little grace in the legalistic world of punctuation!

    Will

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