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IT’S or ITS? Why is a tiny apostrophe so hard?

Grammar Gripes and Grumbles

(Or simple errors your editor really shouldn’t have to fix.)

It’s or its may well be the greatest conundrum faced since the advent of the written word. So it is fitting to kick off this little series of Grammar Gripes and Grumbles with a quick look at this dreaded three-letter word.

For such a simple little rule, there are certainly a lot of errors out there in the world of print. Newspapers, magazines, published books, café signs, websites, teacher reports, school newsletters—you name it, I’ve seen it. And it annoys me every time.

Here’s the rule:

If it’s a contraction of ‘it is’, or ‘it has’, you need the apostrophe. If it isn’t a contraction, you don’t.


Still unsure if you should be using it’s or its?

Try replacing it’s in your sentence with ‘it is’ or ‘it has’.

This sentence: Ask an editor to check your writing to ensure it’s correct.

is okay written like this: Ask an editor to check your writing to ensure it is correct.

Apostrophe needed.


In this sentence: In May, Just Right Words celebrated it’s first birthday.

an apostrophe does this: In May, Just Right Words celebrated it is first birthday.

Leave the apostrophe out.

For the record, my friendly spellcheck gives me a squiggly blue line under it’s almost every time—which just goes to prove why you shouldn’t rely on spellcheck.

After reading at this, you might be (rightly) thinking but the possessive form of a noun needs an apostrophe—so what makes ‘it’ so different?

You’d be right. Nouns do require an apostrophe to show possession or ownership, but…

…possessive pronouns do not use an apostrophe—whose, ours, hers, his, yours, theirs…and its.

Don’t you just love English!

These pronouns already indicate possession, so an apostrophe of possession is redundant.

Has the it’s or its question given you an appetite for more?

If you’re not already confused by the joys of inconsistency in English grammar, keep reading about The Fourth Deadly Sin: Misuse of the Apostrophe.

However, if you’ve had enough—all you need to remember is this rule:

Contraction = apostrophe

NO contraction = NO apostrophe

After all this, maybe you just want someone to take the stress out of having to remember pesky rules and just fix it all for you. If that’s you, have a look at the editing services we offer.

Photo credit: Lauren McConachie on Unsplash

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