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Its vs. It's

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.
  • Its is the possessive form of the word it.
  • It’s is a contraction of the phrase it is or it has.
Some examples:
  • It’s going to be a sunny day.
  • It’s been a year since I broke my leg.
  • The table broke because its leg was wobbly.
  • Princeton has chivalry among its core values.
  • It’s wrong to say that its fur is grey.
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.
  • It is going to be a sunny day. Correct.
  • It has been a year since I broke my leg. Correct.
  • The table broke it is/has leg was wobbly. Incorrect.
  • Princeton has chivalry among it is/has core values. Incorrect.

When to use Its

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:
  • The flower showed its (the flower’s) full color in the morning sun.
  • He drank warm milk for its (the milk’s) calming effect.
To show possession by an animal or child*
  • The baby held its arms aloft.
  • The dog rolled over on its belly.
*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:
  • The baby, a beautiful boy, held his arms aloft.
  • A mother bear watched over her cubs protectively.
  • The black stallion tilted his head towards mine.
To show possession for a group or country:
  • When in Cuba on vacation, you will soon learn that its people are very friendly.
  • The prosperity of the human race and, indeed, its survival depends on combatting climate change.

Its vs Their

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:
  • The dog raised its paw slowly.
  • The child shook its rattle
Their is used to show possession of plural objects and entities:
  • The dogs raised their paws slowly.
  • The children shook their rattle
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:
  • Reports say Utah Jazz wants to trade its best players. (British)
  • Reports say Utah Jazz want to trade their best players. (American)
  More original examples of its in a sentence:
  • Anna adored the painting, enchanted by its luminosity, its grace.
  • New England won its 6th Super Bowl, delighting its many fans.
  • Visit California and experience all its natural wonders.
  • Is it the red book with all its edges frayed?
  • With the signing of the Treaty, backers of the European Union knew its time had come.

When to use it’s

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’swho’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 isit’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:
  • It’s raining outside.
  • It’s unkind of you to say that.
  • It’s not going to change my mind.
  • You can tell it’s difficult.
When meaning it hasit’s means something happened or a concept existed (in the past). In each of the examples, using it has would also be correct.
  • It’s stopped raining already.
  • It’s been all over the news this week.
  • The performance suggested that it’s been months since they practiced.
  • It’s not changed my mind.
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:
  • Can you tell me what it’s? Incorrect.
  • Can you tell me what it is? Correct.
  • I don’t know what it is. Correct.
  • I don’t know what it’s. Incorrect.
More original examples of it’s in a sentence
  • It’s about time you started studying for your French exam. It’s tomorrow.
  • She told me it’s going to be fine, but it’s doubtful I’ll do well.
  • It’s been a terrible summer.
  • Can you tell me if it’s correct?
  • It’s less than three weeks to my birthday.

Its vs Its’

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 books’ covers were mainly red.
  • The brothers’ apartment was set up for the party.
  • The cats’ howling kept me awake all night.
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.