JS Tip 462: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." "It's" or "Its"? 

From the Writing Workshops: Its and It’s

We’re continuing our back-to-basics series.

It’s like the water-carrying brooms in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Mickey Mouse—the sorcerer’s apprentice—can’t stop them. They keep coming.

Over and over, we see the inappropriate use of it’s and its. (We’ve discussed the problem several times, but the discussion bears repeating. We’ve got to stop those stupid brooms.)   

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

Its—without the apostrophe—is possessive. 

So how can you tell the difference?

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

Example: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” 

Substitute “It is”: “It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” Yup. That works.

Example: “Hold the tauntaun while I jump on it’s back.” 

Substitute “it is”: “Hold the tauntaun while I jump on it is back.” What? Nope. Doesn’t work. Adjust accordingly: “Hold the tauntaun while I jump on its back.”

But . . .

But what about the argument that apostrophes indicate possession? “Amie’s quilt?” “The plaintiff’s testimony?” Sure. Usually. But not always. We say “his,” not “hi’s.” English is not a logical language, but that’s another discussion.

If you have questions, comments, or arguments, let us know. We love this stuff.

Next week: “affect” and “effect.” An effective and worthwhile discussion. It may affect your writing. 


Mark Brooks