Aug 5, 2010

Grammar Lesson: It’s Not Hard, Really It’s Not

Do you struggle with when to use it’s or its?  Many do, and I admit that years ago I did too, always insisting that it’s was the proper possessive form of it.  It sure made sense to me.  Most everything else uses an apostrophe s to show possession, so why should it be any different?

I believe the first time it hit home was when I was a corrected by a Major I worked for not long after I joined the Marine Corps.  I’m not sure how he explained it, but it has stuck with me to this day, more than 30 years later.  Since I don’t have his words of wisdom to fall back on, I use my own ways of remembering which form to use.

It’s is a contraction, a short way of writing two words.  A simple way to remember when it’s ok to use the apostrophe before the s is when you can substitute it with the full version of the two words it’s being used for – it is.  If you can’t say it is in place of it’s, then you’re using it - er,  it’s - incorrectly.  Remembering that it's is the opposite of it isn't might help too.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Baker)

So why isn’t it’s considered possessive?  And why is the proper possessive form – its – not considered plural?   I’m not a grammarian so I honestly have no idea and too lazy to look for an answer.  Maybe someone wiser than I will leave a comment and explain it to where it makes sense. I just liken it to the word mine, which is possessive all by itself (although I’m sure most of us have heard someone make mincemeat of our language by saying mine’s, but that’s another story).

So in a nutshell:

It's = it is
Its = ownership

[Get Copyright Permissions]
Click here for reprint options

Copyright 2011 Marie Anne St. Jean


  1. I'm guilty of this one! It's a grammar mistake that's really hard for me to catch when proofreading, because it looks so right. Thanks for the tip - it should help!

  2. Good one! This is a huge pet peeve of mine because it's so easy to prevent.

  3. This is the way to do it - tackle one thing at a time. Great explanation!

  4. Not only can you liken it to "mine", you can liken it to "his", "hers", "ours", "theirs", and "yours". Not one of those have an apostrophe to indicate the possessive.