It’s vs Its

One of the most common mistakes people make with written text is distinguishing between the words “it’s” and “its.” Since they are both pronounced in the same way (and mostly spelled the same), you can understand why people frequently make the mistake of using them interchangeably in written text.

The differences between “its” and “it’s”

Its

“Its” is a possessive determiner that corresponds to the pronoun “it.” You use it to show that something belongs to a noun whose pronoun is “it.” Used in this way, it has the same meaning as a possessive like “my,” “her,” “his,” or “your.”
What confuses many people with “its” is that possessives usually have an apostrophe when referring to a noun or pronoun. For example, you would use an apostrophe when referring to a name such as “Jim’s socks were on the floor again last night.”

It’s

When it has an apostrophe (“it’s”), “it” is the short form of “it is” or “it has.” Such short forms are commonly referred to as contractions and they are used to simplify spoken text (they are discouraged when writing formal texts). Other examples of contractions include “where’s,” “there’s,” “here’s,” and “why’s.”

How to remember whether to use “it’s” or “its”

An easy way to remember which word to use is to try replacing “it is” in the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, you should use the word “it’s.” Otherwise, use “its.”

Examples

It’s (the contraction)
  • It’s been raining the entire afternoon.
  • It’s turned the corner in a majestic way.
  • It’s always nice to know that there are people I can count on at the office.
  • It’s a glorious evening overall and I cannot wait to meet the guests after dinner.

As mentioned above, to know whether your usage of “it’s” is correct, replace it in your sentence with “it has” or “it is.” If it sounds correct in either case, you have used the correct word.

Its (for possession)

  • The lion has had its paw pierced by a thorn.
  • The car cannot leave the compound without its spare wheel, Jared.
  • The rhino rammed its head into the car and injured itself very badly.
  • The committee has backed up its hypothesis with hard facts.

As you may have noticed, the word “its” appears ahead of the noun that it is describing.

The nouns and the possessive “its” in the examples above can be better understood by looking at them this way:

  • “the paw” belongs to “the lion”
  • “the spare wheel” belongs to “the car”
  • “the head” belongs to “the rhino”
  • “the hypothesis” belongs to “the committee”.

Conclusion

If you are still having trouble determining whether the “its” is truly possessive, use the technique we used above to identify it as a contraction to rule out the possibility.
In the examples above, to know whether the usage of each “its” in each of these sentences is correct, replace it with either “it has” or “it is” like we did with the case involving contractions. If it does not sound correct, then we have used it correctly as a possessive.

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