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Sunday, November 28, 2010

It’s vs. Its

Its are a drag, aren’t they? At least for me, the use of an apostrophe between the word “it” and the “s” has always caused me problems. I mean, I get the contraction for “it is”; the apostrophe simply replaces the “i” in is. But in the case of the possessive, I always want to use an apostrophe there a well. Microsoft’s grammar check won’t allow it. Frustrated by blue line that Microsoft uses to draw attention to my mistake, I give in to the rule of technology and remove the apostrophe because I want the blue line to go away, not because I understand its reasoning.
But now I get it and it is so simple that I thought that if any of my readers ever struggle with this, you should be let in on the learning trick that worked for me.

The other day when I was web-surfing to find some fun ways to present grammar points for my students, I came across a blog with a post full of grammar tips. (I am so sorry that I didn’t bookmark that site and can’t find my way back to it now…). The author explained that when “it” owns something, just exchange the “it” with a different pronoun: his (note that “hers” works just as well).

Let’s look at a sentence I already used in this post: “… not because I understand its reasoning…” “It” is the owner of the reasoning, so it makes sense to me to use an apostrophe like you would if “it” had a name, i.e., Kathy’s reasoning. But “it” doesn’t have a name; it’s a pronoun! (Note the apostrophe I just used – that’s because in that case, “it” is a pronoun.) So it was like saying … her reasoning


So here’s the trick: just add a gender to any “it” and try out the pronoun for that gender; it becomes clear then that the apostrophe does not belong there: i.e., her reasoning; his reasoning.

All the technical grammar jargon used to explain these things in formal education assumes that we are all interested in why; we aren’t. Some of us just want to know usable tricks that help us remember how to get it right. This one worked for me and I hope it helps you, too. It’s simple! (Note the apostrophe = it is simple!)


  1. Even with your lovely definition I will still put the apoostrophe in all of my its. I will never remember the gender thing and even if I do, I will still get confused. I think everything is it IS no matter what it belongs to. I guess that's what copy editors are for?