IT’S or ITS? An Easy Way to Remember

Posted on August 6, 2013


I’ll never blast a blogger or a fan fiction writer for a few grammatical errors or spelling mistakes, but the basic mistakes creeping into professional publications are reaching worrisome levels.  People who are paid to write or edit owe to their employers – and their audience – to do so correctly.

There are plenty of common mistakes out there, but today I’d like to help writers and editors obliterate just one:  ITS, or IT’S?  Apostrophe, or not?  This one is a particular peeve, because during my stint writing finished products for the senior levels of the Department of Defense, an editor once “corrected” this very thing in my article and made it… wrong.  Embarrassingly wrong.  I went to see him about it, and he insisted for several minutes that his version was correct.  Here’s what finally convinced him of the truth:

HIS                         HE’S

HERS                      SHE’S

THEIRS                  THEY’RE

OURS                    WE’RE

YOURS                  YOU’RE

ITS                          IT’S

See the pattern?  We all know that apostrophes indicate both the possessive (“Lila’s blog”) and the contraction which adds “is” to a noun (“Lila’s annoyed!”).  But English is one of those languages with a maddening number of exceptions, and possessive pronouns are one of those.   The reason we don’t usually get confused on pronouns other than “it” is that the words shift entirely between possessive and the contracted “noun + is.”  No one says “her is” or “our are.”  The word “it,” though, sounds identical  in either form, and therein lies the difficulty.  Doing a quick mental run-down of the other pronouns is a handy way to be certain you are using the correct form in writing.

If you are one of those rare folks who has been mistakenly adding that possessive apostrophe to everything you can wedge it into – oh, yes, I have seen “your’s,” their’s,” and “her’s,” which almost causes my eyes to bleed  – just remember this:  always go back to “HIS” for reference.  It’s not too hard to remember that there is no apostrophe in “HIS.”