The distinction between “it’s” and “its” is one of the top pet peeves and most common errors out in the writing world. This article attempts explains the distinction between the two words so you can keep them straight!
“It’s” is a contraction. Most of us have heard of and are familiar with contractions. Here’s how they work:
If you want to say “Here is” in a short, informal way, squash the words together and substitute an apostrophe for the last vowel (“I”) to create “Here’s.” If you want to say “Do not” less formally, squash the words together and substitute an apostrophe for the last vowel ["o"] to create “Don’t.”
This process of contraction is how we form many words such as: can’t; doesn’t; aren’t; there’s; and (drumroll please)… it’s!
Simple isn’t it? If you want your word to mean “it is” or “it has” then just make a contraction: it’s.
It is time for bed. = It’s time for bed.
It is a girl! = It’s a girl!
It has been raining for days. = It’s been raining for days.
I think where people get flummoxed is when they want a word meaning “belonging to ‘it.’”
Why is this confusing?
When something belongs to Harry we add an apostrophe after “Harry” and say it’s “Harry’s.” When something belongs to the barber we add an apostrophe and say it’s the “barber’s.” However, when it comes to saying something belongs to “it,” the apostrophic form goes out the window, i.e. we do NOT use an apostrophe. Something belonging to “it” is “its.”
Why is there no apostrophe in “its”?
There are other times we do not use an apostrophe to show possession. When something belongs to “her” we say it’s “hers” (NO apostrophe). When something belongs to “him” we say it’s “his;” when something belongs to “us” we say it’s “ours” and when something belongs to “them” we say it’s “theirs.” There are many irregular constructions here. Yet people rarely make mistakes when it comes to these other possessive forms. It’s “its” that continues to baffle us.
What all the examples have in common where apostrophes are NOT used to show possession is that they are all a part of speech we refer to as a pronoun. Pronouns are our shortcuts so that we do not have to keep referring to people and things by their name or other descriptor. They are a referential shortcut. They replace, or substitute for, nouns.
Some examples of pronouns are the following: he, she, they, you, her, him, us
Some examples of POSSESSIVE pronouns are the following: his, her, your, our, their, its.
Here’s your rule to remember: When forming a possessive PRONOUN, do NOT use an apostrophe. Since “it” is a pronoun, we do NOT put an apostrophe after it to make it possessive. Just as you would not write “her’s” or “our’s,” do not write “it’s” when you are intending to show possession.
It’s my fervent hope this article has cleared up some common misperceptions and that its contents will be distributed widely by its readers!