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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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It's or Its?

It's high time we discussed two of the most frequently confused words in the English language: it's and its.

Here's the nitty-gritty:

●  It's is a contraction for it is or it has.
●  Its is a pronoun indicating possession.

Simple as that!

So why is it so difficult to keep them straight?

I have a theory on this. Apostrophes are used for two primary purposes: to signal ownership in possessives and to shorten words or phrases into contractions. I believe the confusion occurs because the word its can function as a possessive OR a contraction (once the apostrophe is added), so logic seems to dictate that its should always receive an apostrophe.

However, as you've probably figured out by now, grammar doesn't always follow logic. The word its (without the apostrophe) actually belongs to a larger group of possessive pronouns that don't have apostrophes:
hers, his, yours, theirs, ours, and its. You wouldn't insert an apostrophe in the word hers or yours, would you? No! So it stands to reason that the word its doesn't need an apostrophe when it is used to indicate possession.

In an effort to help you conquer the battle between it's and  its, I'll share one of my proofreading tricks with you. Every time I come across the word it's or its, I actually whisper the words "it is" to see if they can be substituted. If they can, it's is a contraction and the apostrophe remains; if they can't, its is possessive and the apostrophe is eliminated. However, you'll need to memorize the difference between it's and its before you can use this technique.

I would also recommend using the "Find" feature in your word processing program to double-check every instance of it's and its in your documents. Unfortunately, you can't always trust Microsoft Word's grammar check, especially in this case. I've come across several instances where Word suggested using it's when the correct word was clearly its, or the other way around.

There is actually an easy (yet extreme) way to fix this problem: stop using the contraction it's altogether. If you want to use the phrase it is or it has, spell it out every single time. By doing this, you'll find that the word it's (with an apostrophe) will become obsolete; you'll never need it again. Your writing might sound a little stiff, but it will be correct―at least when it comes to it's and its!

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