Dictionary.com

Word Fact: It’s Versus Its

chalkboard its

English contains so many confusing words and punctuation marks you’d be forgiven for imagining some diabolical grammarian put them there to torture us. You’d be wrong, but it’s a reasonable assumption. One confusing pair that unites tricky words with slippery punctuation is its and it’s. This confusion is exacerbated by the fact that its is one of the top 100 most frequently used words in English. It appears all the time—giving us oodles of opportunities for error.

Its is the possessive form of it. This is particularly confusing because many possessive forms have an apostrophe, like Mary’s cat, but the possessive its is a pronoun, and, like other possessive pronouns (his, hers, yours, and theirs), is written without that particular bit of punctuation: “I have to fix my bike. Its front wheel came off.”

It’s is a contraction of the words it and is, just as what’s, how’s, and she’s are contractions of what is, how is, and she is. It’s is used correctly in the sentence: “It’s starting to rain.”

To help figure out which form you should use, try this trick: switch out the word in your sentence for it is. If the sentence grammatically works with it is, use it’s. If the resulting sentence doesn’t make sense, go for its. In the sentence “It’s unclear what he meant,” it’s can be swapped with it is and it will read: “It is unclear what he meant.” Now that’s a full and proper sentence. In the sentence, “The book has lost its jacket,” “If you replace its with it is, it will read: “The book has lost it is jacket.” That sounds funny.

Another rule to keep in mind: the word its’ is always wrong. The apostrophe never follows the s. It’s nice to be able to say never in a rule concerning English grammar; it doesn’t happen very often.

Like this Word Fact? Sign up for our Word Fact of the Week email!

29 Comments

  1. Richie -  May 17, 2016 - 10:37 pm

    Mary’s book. Correct?
    Mary is book. Doesn’t make sense!!

    Reply
    • Jackson -  August 16, 2016 - 3:55 pm

      It doesn’t work the same, for some words ‘s is possessive, and sometimes ‘s is the word is.

      Reply
      • posidon -  August 22, 2016 - 2:56 pm

        DIE PUNY MORTALS, THE WORLD WILL DROWN

        Reply
        • Poseidon -  October 3, 2016 - 6:17 am

          That is not how you spell my name mortal.

          Reply
          • moon moon -  October 5, 2016 - 11:51 am

            Father of the fishies

    • kylie -  September 22, 2016 - 10:04 am

      yeay

      Reply
    • God -  December 5, 2016 - 6:38 am

      I am here

      Reply
  2. Cadee -  April 14, 2016 - 8:57 am

    This was so helpful. It totally makes sense now.

    Reply
  3. wordy smith -  December 22, 2015 - 10:35 am

    Much obliged, this article was useful.

    Reply
  4. Adagba Terry -  July 30, 2015 - 8:52 am

    Thanks, this article was helpful.

    Reply
  5. Kit Snicket -  March 11, 2015 - 3:42 pm

    Every ship has its own sail.

    Reply
  6. Francis mussa -  March 2, 2015 - 10:49 pm

    I like this page due to the fact ,more clarifications to grama

    Reply
  7. Milena -  January 13, 2015 - 5:15 am

    Good article! Bright explanation! I would definitely suggest to re-read it ones again.

    Reply
    • dinesh -  September 16, 2016 - 2:09 am

      once again not ones again

      Reply
  8. larkin -  November 17, 2014 - 11:46 am

    hay girls

    Reply
  9. irfan -  November 10, 2014 - 8:43 pm

    irfan ansari

    Reply
  10. PRAVEEN KATIYAR -  November 6, 2014 - 9:46 pm

    Very nice explaination. Thanks for the efforts.

    Reply
  11. George -  October 30, 2014 - 3:57 am

    When I was in school, one of my teachers repeatedly indicated the incorrect apostrophes in red with notation, until I had it drilled that “it’s = it is.”

    Reply
  12. Nirali -  October 29, 2014 - 8:33 am

    Give a good knowledge

    Reply
  13. Mashaka -  October 24, 2014 - 8:53 pm

    Wthat’s the difference of day and night

    Reply
  14. Mashaka -  October 24, 2014 - 8:47 pm

    A day cam to be aday!

    Reply
    • Dave King -  November 13, 2014 - 11:27 am

      I have never found an instance where “towards” could not be replaced with “toward”. Are there rules for the proper use of this word?

      Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top