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Language Arts

Its vs. It's



Should you use it's or its? In this article we'll explore the differences of its vs. it's, define the words, compare both words, and find out why mistakes happen when using it's versus its. Find out more on contraction it's vs. its.

The spelling of English is one of its most difficult aspect. It's hard to say how many writers of English, native speakers or not, have at one time or another used one of the pair its/it's in place of the other.

In these two sentences, you see a correct example of the usage of these two often confused words. Let's define each one.

Its

Its is the third person singular possessive adjective meaning "belonging to it."  Here is an example of how it is used.

You see that enormous, scary-looking dog? That is its toy you've picked up!!

Notice that, like pronouns, the possessive adjective has an antecedent, or word that it refers back to and renames. In the example, the antecedent is the noun phrase "that enormous, scary-looking dog.‚"Ě It would be possible to say,

You see that enormous, scary-looking dog? That is that enormous, scary-looking dog's toy you've picked up!!

-but that would take longer, giving your friend less time to throw the toy and run like crazy.

The other possessive adjectives are: my, our, your, his, her, and their.

Its is also the third person singular possessive pronoun, but it is essentially never used. The other possessive pronouns are mine, ours, yours, his, hers, and theirs.

It's

It's, on the other hand, is a pronouns and a verb combined in a contracted form. In a contraction, one or more letters are left out and substituted by an apostrophe. In this case, it works like so:

it (pronoun) + is (verb) = it's  as in this example:

There's a parrot in that pet store. It's really smart.

Notice that the second i is missing from the contraction, and the apostrophe is indicating the spot from which letters have been removed.

But it's can also be a second contraction:

it (pronoun) + has (verb) = it's as in the example:

I took my car to the mechanic. It's been acting up.

In this second case, you will see that two letters-h and a-are missing from the contraction, with their place being held by the apostrophe.

Its is not simply used for the neuter third-person in English. In addition, it serves as a placeholder for the subject in sentences like:

  • It's raining. (it is)
  • It's been a long day. (it has)
  • It's a matter of life and death! (it is)
  • It's not a good time for this discussion. (it is)

And there are more possibilities for sentences in which both it's and its appear:

It's not like I stole the doughnut: I only paid a nickel less that its price because I miscounted the change I gave the cashier!

Why Mistakes Happen

Because the difference between the two words rests in the little apostrophe-not in the pronunciation or the letters-confusing it's and its is much less noticeable than other types of errors, both while you're in the process of writing and also when you go back to proofread. Also, because it's a "little word"  we tend to skip over it and focus on bigger, more salient issues, like whether we spelled Ms. Scheidegger's name properly and remembered that she lives on a Drive, not a Street.

Also, if I write a sentence like this:

"Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas,"  is the first words of a popular song.

and do not have "grammar" as well as spelling checked in Microsoft Word's Spelling and Grammar check, the fact that I have substituted Its for It's will not be caught, since Its is no a misspelled word-just not the right word for that situation.

Written by Mary Elizabeth