WOW 1

its and it’s

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee

Can you tell the difference?

Look at the sentences below and decide which use of its and it’s is standard.

  1. He said that its been repaired and is ready to take home now as long as we’ve still got it’s charger.
  2. The hamster is really sweet. Can we see its cage?
  3. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear it’s purr.
  4. The sky is black now and I’m absolutely sure it’s going to tip with rain.
  5. Its a fact that it’s addictive to start watching a  TV box set.

The answers are at the bottom of the page – if you identified the standard usage correctly, you probably don’t need to read the rest of the page!

If you’re not so sure … read on …

banana skin1b   How can I avoid slipping up?

The key lies in the apostrophe.

Apostrophes have two jobs:

  1. they mark contractions (shortened forms with missing letters) e.g. can’t (can not)won’t (will not), I’ve (I have)
  2. they show possession (as part of an  -‘s or -s’ inflection on a noun) e.g. John’s book, the dog’s collar, the students’ essays 

The problem with its and it’s is that people think the apostrophe is a sign of possession. In fact, possessive determiners have their own special form: my, your, his, her, its, our, their.  These determiners come before a noun and don’t need an apostrophe (e.g. its tail was very long and my ruler was too small to measure it).

When it’s has an apostrophe, it is a contracted form of it is or it has.

In your own writing, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • will my sentence still make sense if I use it is? → if the answer is YES, choose it’s 
  • will my sentence still make sense if I use his or her? → if the answer is YES,  choose its

If your writing is formal, remember that it is always better to use the full form of it is or it has rather than the contracted form it’s.  

ANSWERS

Standard usage is in blue. Non-standard usage is crossed through with the standard version in red.

  1. He said that its [ it’s → contracted form of it hasbeen repaired and is ready to take home now as long as we’ve still got it’s charger [its → possessive determiner + noun – no apostrophe needed].
  2. The hamster is really sweet. Can we see its cage? [possessive determiner + noun – no apostrophe needed]
  3.  If you listen carefully, you’ll hear it’s purr [ its → possessive determiner + noun – no apostrophe needed].
  4.  The sky is black now and I’m absolutely sure it’s going to tip with rain. [contracted form of it is]
  5. Its [It’s → contracted form of it is] a fact that it’s addictive to start watching a  TV box set. [contracted form of it is]
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