JS Tip 418: Using "It's" and "Its"

From the Writing Workshops: Using “It’s” and “Its”

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about this, but we still see the problem.

“It’s”—with the apostrophe—is always, always, always a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” It’s never a possession.

Notice what we just said:

It’s been a while . . . . It has been a while . . . .

It’s never a possession. . . . It is never a possession.

    So how can you tell the difference? 

    Play the substitution game. Mentally substitute “it is” or “it has” for “it’s.” If the substitution works, the apostrophe works. If it doesn’t work, the apostrophe doesn’t work.


    For example: “It’s a beautiful day.” Substitute “It is” for “it's”: “It is a beautiful day.” 

    Yup. That works.

    “The company must return to it’s roots.” Substitute “it is” for “it's”: “The company must return to it is roots.” 

    Nope. That doesn’t work. Get rid of the apostrophe.

    But what about the argument that apostrophes usually indicate possession? “Amie’s quilt?” “The plaintiff’s testimony?” Sure. Usually. But not always. We say “his,” not “hi’s.” We say “whose,” not “who’s.”

    English isn’t a logical language, but that’s another discussion.

    Send us your questions. We love this stuff.

    Mark Brooks