JS Tip 203: From the Writing Workshops: Its and It’s

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 again, we see the inappropriate use of it’s and its. (We discussed this problem in one of first tips—four years ago—but the discussion bears repeating. We’ve got to stop the water-carrying 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.”

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

Example: “The company must return to it’s roots.”

Substitute “it is”: “The company must return to it is roots.” Whoa. No. That doesn’t work. Adjust accordingly: “The company must return to its roots.”  

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.

A Tip-Contest Follow-up Announcement. This was our fault. Entirely. We discovered another early tip in the stack. We have two winners: Zuleika Quezada and Alix Bax. Alix—thank you for your forgiveness.