Grammar Guerrilla: It’s And Its

There are a couple of simple ways to distinguish it’s from its:

  1. It’s is a contraction. It stands for it is. Whenever you wish to say it is informally use it’s as in “It’s almost time for lunch.”
  2. Its is the neuter possessive. It performs the same function as hishers, and ours. Where you want to indicate possession use its as in “After the tornado, the house was still sanding but its roof was missing.The missing roof belongs to the house.  Use its as you would use his or hers: “The backpack is his” or “The purse is hers.” Notice that there are no apostrophes in its, his, hers, yoursours, or theirs.

One more thing: there is no such word as its’ but I have seen it recently. This is a case where a writer thinks that there must an apostrophe somewhere so he adds it to the end just to be safe.

The difference is between a contraction (it’s) and possession (its). If you remember that distinction should have no difficulty in using the correct word.

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  1. Dear Scott,

    Thanks for your ongoing adventures of Grammar Guerrilla. I’ve always had a bee in my bonnet concerning this basic, simple usage.

    May the Guerrilla rule! [Take no prisoners.]

    Ron Beabout, Pastor
    Trinity Reformed Church (OPC)
    Gaithersburg, Maryland

  2. If a paper’s sole issue is it’s use of it’s contractions, then its probably a pretty good paper.

  3. Notice as well the reason for the missing apostrophe:

    The goal is optimal efficiency in the communication of meaning. Therefore, the apostrophe is unnecessary in the neuter possessive because those words are already possessive in form. That is, they have no (or very rarely have) meaning without the possessive sense, and so adding an apostrophe becomes redundant.

    As Stanley Fish says (something to the effect of), Grammar is just logic.

  4. When people get THIS one wrong, the problem could be spelling rather than grammar. You wouldn’t want to start a Spelling Guerrilla (Thanks, spell checker, I’d just spelt the latter with one “r”!), unless those who cannot spell are the lame and blind who are hated of thy soul.

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