Words at work

– 4 min read

How to use it’s and its

Holly Stanley

Holly Stanley

Using the apostrophe seems simple enough. We use it for contractions and to show possession. But when it comes to writing it’s or its, things get tricky — you leave out the apostrophe to show possession.

Just how many times have you paused as you write either version to question yourself and doubt its spelling? Or maybe you’ve been writing it the wrong way for decades, assuming that apostrophe showed possession.

In this post, we’ll show you the correct usage of it’s and its.

Let’s jump in! 

What is the correct possessive form of it?

Not sure how apostrophes work? Don’t worry — putting them in the wrong place is one of the most common grammar mistakes. Here’s a quick rundown.

Apostrophes can show possession. They demonstrate that something belongs to someone or something. 

For instance: 

•  The teacher’s pet rushed to shout the answer to the math problem.

•  My sister’s new phone has a much better camera than mine.

So far, so good. Apostrophes are pretty straightforward.

But here comes the rebellious rule-breaker: its is the possessive form of the pronoun. 

That’s right — it doesn’t take an apostrophe in the possessive form. 

If you’re scratching your head, bear with us — there’s a method to the madness. 

Its is in fact a possessive pronoun just like my, your, and his. When you think closely about these personal pronouns, you’ll realize that none of them take apostrophes to show possession.

To be proper about it, its is a third-person singular neuter pronoun.

So, although it may be tempting to stick an apostrophe onto its to show possession, remember that you’d never add an apostrophe to personal pronouns like his or my

When you remember that its is a simple possessive pronoun, you’ll be less likely to add an apostrophe. 

It’s easy to confuse the two spellings

Its and it’s are some of the most commonly misspelled and confused words.

They sound the same and there’s just one minor change in the way that they’re written.  

When to use it’s

Now that you know that its is a personal pronoun, let’s dive back into apostrophe 101 for round two. 

The English language has lots of quirky rules. But, hey, writing wouldn’t be as fun without them, right? 

An apostrophe and it go together to show a contraction. A contraction is a shortened form of a word. Generally speaking, contractions are best used for less formal writing. If you’re writing a formal document, it’s best not to use abbreviations. Always use the complete version of the phrase. 

It’s is always a contraction of it is or it has.

Just like that is becomes that’s or what is turns into what’s

Pro tip: When in doubt, replace it with it is or it has and see which one makes sense in the sentence. 

Examples of it’s versus its

Here are some examples to help you learn when to correctly write its or it’s

Correct examples

✅ The dog was chewing its bone when the mail carrier arrived.  ✅ It’s no secret that they’re dating; they’re always together.  ✅ The bird is in its cage. ✅ Have you looked outside? It’s raining cats and dogs out there. 

Incorrect examples

❌ Do you know if its time to leave yet? 

Here there should be an apostrophe to show the contraction of it is

❌ That yogurt is well past it’s expiration date.

The personal pronoun its should be used here. 

❌ Don’t worry about your practical exam; its a piece of cake. 

Remember, you need an apostrophe to abbreviate it is

❌ This shark is too big for it’s aquarium. 

Here you need the personal pronoun its, which doesn’t take an apostrophe, just like his or my.

One last thing: there’s no such thing as its’

If you learn one thing today, remember that its’ doesn’t exist. 

Although it’s tempting to add an apostrophe to the end of the word like you would with any other word to show possession, remember that its’ is not a word. 

It’s only natural that lots of English speakers would instinctively think its’ means possession by a group. 

Whenever you want to convey singular or plural possession with the word it, use its

That’s just another confusing English grammar rule that makes it a unique and sometimes irregular language.

To recap: it’s vs. its

When you know the different meanings of each word, you’ll realize when it’s correct to use an apostrophe:

•  Its is used to demonstrate possession

•  It’s is a contraction meaning it has or it is

•  Its’ is not a word

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