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Grammar Tip #1: It’s or Its?

December 6, 2011

Ten or more years ago, I used to get considerably vexed by bad grammar. I still do, to a certain extent. Technology during those ten years allowed us to communicate faster and faster, so that any complaints I make about grammar in text messages, IM chats, e-mails, tweets, or even blogs just seemed like so much old-fogeyness. So I’ve stopped whining about misspellings and grammar faux pas (or obliviousness) in those media. (Now I reserve it for more traditional, printed forms of communication. More on that later in the week.)

That relaxation doesn’t mean I like the errors, but I’m thinking maybe people need some easy-to-understand pointers about proper grammar. Thus my occasional grammar tips, of which this post is the first.

Today’s lesson: When to use its and when to use it’s.

It’s really rather simple: Substitute “it is” for whatever form you used in your sentence and, if it still works, you’re good. If the substitution doesn’t make sense, take out the apostrophe, and then you’re good. In other words, whenever you’re tempted to use it’s, make sure you can substitute “it is”; if not, use its.

For those of you who want more specifics on the rules, it’s is a contraction, which is two words that contract to one word by inserting an apostrophe in place of omitted letters. It’s is the contraction of “it is.” (Aren’t is a contraction of “are not”; don’t is a contraction of “do not.”)

Its denotes possession the same way hers or his denotes possession. That is, its would be used in front of a thing (i.e., a noun) to show that the thing belongs to it.

Here are a few examples to help:

  • The book’s chapters = its chapters
  • The boat’s hull = its hull
  • It’s not necessary to attend. = It is not necessary to attend.
  • It’s hard to explain how its music affected me. = It is hard to explain how the movie’s music affected me.

For those of you who struggle with these two words, does that help? Let me know!

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