One of the most common mistakes in written English is the mixing up of its and it’s. Of course, the words look very similar, so it’s an easy error to make. However, it’s and its have different meanings, and confusing them can make writing look clumsy. The good news is that there is a clear distinction, so there shouldn’t be much confusion about when to use them correctly once you learn how to use its and it’s.
How do we easily tell the difference between it’s and its? The simple trick is to expand the contraction it’s to either it is or it has and see if the sentence still makes sense.
Its relates to the word it, most notably as a possessor or object of an action. In the simplest terms, its tells us the ownership or qualities of something. It is used as a possessive pronoun in a similar way to words like my, his, her, our and their.
When do we use its in a sentence?
To show possession of an attribute or quality of an object or thing:
To show possession by an animal or child*
*if the gender of the child is known, it’s perfectly okay to replace its with his or her. Using its is usually always correct for an animal, but you can use his/her for reasons of style or to put emphasis on the gender of the animal:
To show possession for a group or country:
While there is often confusion between its and it’s, people can also confuse its and their when it is unclear if the object is singular or plural.
Its is used to show possession of singular objects and entities:
Their is used to show possession of plural objects and entities:
However, it is sometimes not clear whether we are referring to singular or plural, such as with sports teams. Although we might be referring to a group of people, the singular its is mostly preferred when speaking or writing in British English, but might be plural when speaking or writing using American English:
More original examples of its in a sentence:
It’s is a contraction of the phrase it is or it has. We use contractions for brevity and when speaking or writing informally. The use of contractions is rarely incorrect grammatically, but it is best to use the full phrase in formal writing and in some special circumstances discussed later.
Other contractions, such as there’s, who’s and where’s, follow the same formula as it’s, and you can always check the correct usage by expanding them to the full phrase: there is/has, who is/has, where is/has.
When meaning it is, it’s indicates that something is happening in the present or a statement of a concept’s existence. In each of the examples, using it is would also be correct:
When meaning it has, it’s means something happened or a concept existed (in the past). In each of the examples, using it has would also be correct.
Using it is or it has at the end of a sentence
There is a rule that the contraction it’s cannot be used at the very end of a sentence, so it is necessary to use the uncontracted form, it is. Look at these examples:
More original examples of it’s in a sentence
The use of its’ can sometimes mistakenly creep into writing. Let’s be clear: there is no such word as its’ in English. The confusion comes because other words take an apostrophe to show possession. Look at the examples below:
The reason we don’t use the apostrophe after its is because its is already a possessive, like my, your or his, and therefore ownership is already implied.
Of a thing, of it; possessive form of 'it'
Stand the box on its side
It's going to rain today; I think it's a table