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Grammar Assistant: “Its” vs. “It’s”

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between “its” and “it’s”? For some of us, the answer may seem obvious, but, when you’re writing, it is easy to get confused between the two words. In fact, out of all of the words that are misused in the English language, “its” and “it’s” rank extremely high.

One reason for this is because the words are so similar. When you’re typing or writing quite quickly, it is easy to make spelling mistakes. In the case of “its” and “it’s”, one simple mistake can cause you to write one word rather than the other.

Whilst the best solution for these spelling mistakes is to thoroughly proofread your writing, it is also important to make sure that you clearly understand what the difference between “its” and “it’s” actually is.

What's the Difference?

Due to the fact that “its” and “it’s” are such similar words, it is easy to believe that they mean the same thing. After all, the only difference between them is an apostrophe. 

Yet despite their similarities, the two words actually have very different meanings. To understand their differences, let’s start with “its”.

“Its” is the possessive form of the pronoun “it”, just as “his” is the possessive form of “he”. This means that whenever you are talking about a possession of something you would call “it”, you should use “its” to refer to it. To illustrate this, here are a few examples of where “its” has been used correctly and incorrectly.

“That dog is so happy. It really loves its ball.”

“I can see an apple tree. Its leaves are so green!”

Its so great to see you! I’m glad you could come.”

Can you see why the first two examples are correct and why the last is incorrect? In the first two examples, subjects that are referred to as “it” (the dog and the apple tree) have a possession. When discussing this possession, the word “its” should be used. In the last example, however, the speaker isn’t considering a possession. They are saying that “it is” great to see the other person, which is why they should say, “it’s so great to see you”.

“It’s” is an abbreviation of “it is” or “it has”, and it should only ever be used to mean “it is” or “it has”. This means that whenever you use the word “it’s”, you should be able to replace it with one of these two phrases, and your sentence should still make sense. This can be a useful trick if you are ever unsure of which word to use. Would your sentence make sense if you used “it is” or “it has” instead? If it does, you should use “it’s”. If it doesn’t, you should use “its”. Here are some examples where “it’s” has been used correctly and incorrectly:

It’s been such a lovely day today!”

“We should do it now, before it’s too late.”

“That kitten is very cute. What is it’s name?”

In the first two examples, “it’s” has been used correctly. It acts as an abbreviation; in the first sentence, it could easily be replaced with “it has”, and, in the second sentence, it could be replaced with “it is”. This shows us that the word has been used in the right way. In the final example, however, “it’s” cannot be replaced with either “it is” or “it has”. It is being used to refer to something that belongs to the kitten (its name), which means the sentence should be: “what is its name?”

Shouldn't There Be Apostrophe in "It's"?

Even when a person understands the difference between “its” and “it’s”, they can still get confused and attempt to add an apostrophe to “its” (when it shouldn’t have one). This is simply because although “its” is a possessive term, it breaks a common grammatical rule. Usually, when we refer to something that belongs to someone else, we include an apostrophe in the possessive term. The best way of thinking about this is to use someone’s name; if someone called “Cassie” owned a dog, we would say it is “Cassie’s dog”. The apostrophe is used because the dog is something that belongs to Cassie.

Yet when we say “its”, no apostrophe is required. This can be a little difficult to get your head around, but once you practice this rule enough, you should get used to it. Just remember: if the word could be replaced with “it is” or “it has”, you should use “it’s”. If you’re talking about a possession of something such as a tree or a dog, you should use “its”.

Hopefully, this post has will helped to explain the difference between “its” and “it’s”. These words can be tricky to get right, though, so you if you still have questions, feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. We also correct the misuse of “its” and “it’s” in our editorial services; if you think your writing would benefit from such corrections, why not get in touch?


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