Writing Tip: “It’s” vs. “Its”

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I have had a lot of trouble with it’s and its in the past, and I’m certainly not the only one. These two little words can leave many writers, especially beginners, scratching their heads. When exactly do you use “it’s”, and when do you use “its”?

This was a problem for me for a long time. At some point during school, I’m sure my English teacher must have taught me this grammar rule, and yet all I remember are big red arrows pointing to unnecessary or non-existent apostrophes. I didn’t properly learn how to tell when to use “it’s” and when to use “its” until a couple of years ago, when the rule suddenly clicked into place.


The rule is quite simple. “It’s” is a contraction. This means that it is the shortening of two words (in this case, “it is”) into one word. You can use it place of “it is”, “she is”. “he is” or “that is”. “Its” is a possessive pronoun. Use it in place of “his” or “her”.
An easier way to understand the difference between “it’s” and “its” is to look at some examples. Let’s do that now.

Example of it’s:

“That’s Mary’s dog. It’s crazy. It’s always chasing people.”
In this example, “it’s” is a contraction. You can tell because you could rewrite the sentence like this:
“That’s Mary’s dog. It is (she is, he is) crazy. It is (she is, he is) always chasing people.”

Example of its:

“Steven’s dog is always chasing its tail.”
In this example, “its” is a possessive. You cannot say Steven’s dog is always chasing it is tail”, which is why you do not use an apostrophe. You could rewrite the sentence like this, though:
“Steven’s dog is always chasing her tail.”

Written by: Laura Clark

* Laura is a 23 year old English woman with a history degree residing in the UK. She has been writing for many years and enjoys writing horror/fantasy stories, as well as poetry. You can view her work at: https://inspiredstoriesandpoems.wordpress.com/

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