Thursday, January 22, 2015

Grammar Points - It's vs. Its

Grammar Points is going to be kind of a quick-hitter series that looks to address some common writing questions/difficulties that even accomplished writers can encounter. This first one is a doozy, and you'll find it handled incorrectly even by the most learned folks.

It's  vs.  Its

What's interesting about this is that the two words have such distinct definitions that, as long as you know what you're talking about, it's easy to use the right one. See? I just did.


The word "it's," as you can see, is a contraction. You're combining two words ("it" and "is") into a single contracted word. The value in using the contraction over the individual words is that you don't sound like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. So unless you want to get used to randomly tilting your head and wearing a ton of white makeup, you'll find yourself using this contraction regularly when describing an action that an object is taking, or a state that an object is in. Some examples:

Your face doesn't look as pretty when it's covered in makeup.

It's raining pretty hard out there.


In contrast to the use of "it's," the use of "its" is solely to describe possession. The reason people get tripped up is that most of the time, when you type about someone owning something, you use an apostrophe followed by the letter "s." For example, "Joe's butt looks big in those pants."

(Joke's on you guys, my butt looks big in all pants).

By contrast, because of the way we use the "it's" contraction, the English language makes a special exception for the "apostrophe-s" rule. In order to demonstrate possession by something referred to as "it," we add the "s" but without the apostrophe. The rule actually exists to increase clarity in writing, which is kind of funny because of the confusion people have towards the words. But in truth, as long as you take the time to train yourself, you'll find that knowing the difference and being able to read and write the two words with confidence will help you immensely.

Once again, here are some examples:

A good deed is its own reward.

Your Corvette has lost its luster.


Whenever possible, I'll provide you with a few tricks you can use when you're confused about word usage. This one isn't super easy, but it'll always get you the right answer, and that's at least as valuable. When you're unsure, try swapping in "it is" for the word you're using. If it works, you want to use "it's." If not, you're looking for "its."

If you run into a circumstance where you're just not sure, feel free to drop me a line in the comments. I'll take a look at it and let you know.

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