It’s or Its – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ July 26, 2017/ Uncategorized

its versus it's

What’s the Difference Between It’s and Its?

This is one of the most confusing word sets for native and nonnative speakers alike. These words sound the same and are spelled with all the same letters. A sole apostrophe separates their spellings.

However, to confuse them is to make a grammatical error.

Its is a pronoun. It is the possessive form of it.

  • My child is so silly. She named our car. She said that its name is Ron.

It’s is a contraction of the words it is or it has, depending on whether it is the simple present tense or the present perfect tense.

  • It’s such a shame that the actress died at such a young age. (present simple usage)
  • It’s been such a pleasure working with you over the past year! (present perfect usage)

Both of these words come from the subject pronoun it, which makes them extra confusing. However, seeing them in context can help you remember how and when to use each.

Let’s look at a few ways to use these words in your sentences.

Using Its in a Sentence

When to use its: Use its when you want to show that an animal or thing has ownership, or possession of something.

In other words, I, you, he, she, it, we, and they become the possessive adjectives my, your, his, her, its, our, and their when in front of a noun that belongs to them.

For example,

  • The girl and the cat each have one toy. That is her doll over there, and that is its ball of yarn right next to it.
  • At first I was scared of my roommate’s pet snake, but then I realized its sweet nature.

The main mistake people make with its is adding an apostrophe. This makes some sense—depending on how you think about it. For proper nouns, like people’s names, we add an apostrophe for possession.

For example,

  • This is John’s hat.
  • These are Sussie’s shoes.

But, its is not a proper noun. It is a possessive determiner like my and your. My and your and the other possessive determiners don’t use an apostrophe, so neither does its.

Additionally, you shouldn’t ever capitalize its—unless it starts a sentence obviously.

Using It’s in a Sentence

When to use it’s: Use it’s any time you want to contract the words it is or it has.

For example,

  • I’m so glad you came to visit! It’s always nice to see you! (it is contraction)
  • Where have you been? It’s been two days since I last saw you! (it has contraction)

Remember that contractions are not often appropriate for formal or academic writing. Also, you cannot use the contraction it’s to end a clause.

For example,

  • It’s a long way to Mississippi. (Correct – The contraction is at the beginning of the clause)
  • Is it true that you were at home on the night of April 14th? It is. (Correct, because there is no contraction.)
  • Is it true that you were at home on the night of April 14th? It’s. (Incorrect, because you can’t end a sentence or clause with this contraction.)

This is also true for the contraction it has. It cannot end a sentence.

Remembering It’s vs. Its

The easiest way to remember the difference between its and it’s is to remember that the apostrophe in it’s replaces the i in is.

If you can say the words it is, then you should use it’s. If saying it is doesn’t make sense, then use the version without an apostrophe.

Outside Examples

  • Over two decades, one prospective buyer after another passed over the abandoned village in the Connecticut countryside. There were requirements to preserve its historical character and problems with the septic system, not to mention rumors that it was haunted. –Houston Chronicle
  • “It’s not what Amazon is getting from [Whole Foods] but more what Amazon can do with them, which is to bring its distribution into play,” said James Bailey, a management professor at George Washington University. –Denver Post
  • MacPhail said of the performance, “It’s great. I went to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Seal Beach.” –OC Register
  • It’s bad idea to spend big money or make financial decisions during the Moon Alert. It’s also a bad idea to initiate things during that time. –Chicago Sun Times

Quiz: It’s vs. Its

Select the correct word.

  • ___________ very important that you listen to your parents.
  • ____________ okay to get the rag dirty. That’s what ____________ there for.
  • Is this your dog’s bone? _______ bone is so big!

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use it’s or its? Despite only being separated by a single apostrophe, these words have completely different functions within the sentence.

  • Its is a possessive adjective that shows an animal or object has something that belongs to it.
  • It’s is a contraction of the words it and is.

If you mentally check yourself by always saying it is, you will always be able to choose the correct word.

Answers from Quiz

  • It’s
  • It’s, it’s
  • Its