Grammar

It’s or Its: How do you know which?

Wondering whether to use it's or its? Let the English Forward team help you know the correct use.

Victoria Mac Callum Written by Victoria Mac Callum · 4 min read >
vowel chart

You need to get this right. In writing, it’s typical to interchange between “its” and “its”, especially when you’re rushing, inattentive, or writing absentmindedly. We can’t blame you; it’s indeed easy to overlook an apostrophe— the only difference between these two words. Yet, these words do not just differ in one apostrophe. In English writing, there are a lot of homophones or words that have the same pronunciation but are written (or sometimes spelled) differently and do not have the same meaning.

Here are some more examples of homophones, aside from its and it’s:

  • ad and add
  • be and bee
  • ate and eight
  • buy, by, and bye

By reading these aloud, you’ll now understand how baffling grammar can sometimes get. What makes it even more confusing is when you simply do not know the meaning and usage of each word. Again, English grammar is never easy to deal with, so we can’t blame you. But we know how important it is to correct two very easily confused words but have totally different meanings.

Already know the difference between those words, but are still making that mindless mistake of swapping them? A great tip would be to always double-check your work after you submit or publish it. You wouldn’t want to be judged with a single mistake you didn’t intend, would you? Or if you’re writing academically, would you like a point deduction for that silly mistake?

Do I use it’s or its?

The difference between it’s and its is simple:

It’s: shortened form for it + is or it + has

“It’s” (with an apostrophe) is the shortened form of it is or it has. It’s good to note though that there is a general rule in grammar not to shorten it was to “it’s”.

Now to further explain the meaning and usage of “it’s”, keep in mind that “it” is a singular pronoun used to represent an inanimate thing, or a person or an animal with unknown or unrevealed gender. Like “it”, other examples of singular pronouns are: she, you, he, and I. All of these are also called the subject pronouns.

To be clear, here are the singular/subject pronouns with and without contractions:

  • it’s is a contraction of it is or it has.
  • she’s is a contraction of she is or she has.
  • he’s is a contraction of he is or he has.

Even words that are not pronouns use apostrophe s as a shortcut for two words. Some examples are “there’s” and “where’s”. Therefore, remember that if the apostrophe s is used as a contraction, it is “it’s”.

Here are some more examples:

  • It’s time to break up Jonathan because he’s so possessive and it’s not healthy. (“It’s” here is a contraction of it is.)
  • We know that it’s not easy to heal a broken heart, but we’re here for you.
  • It’s not been received until now. (“It’s” here is a contraction of it has.)

Also, keep in mind that using contractions are discouraged in formal writing contexts. So if it is it’s its not allowed.

Is its Possessive?

On the other hand, “its” (without an apostrophe) is the possessive form of the pronoun it. Many possessive words use an apostrophe plus s (‘s), which is why a lot of people find this confusing. Some examples are Mike’s laptop (the laptop Mike owns) and the dog’s bark (the bark of the dog). But keep in mind that it’s a different case for possessive pronouns such as theirs, yours, his, ours, hers and of course, its.

Moving on, possessive pronouns denote ownership. Therefore, “its” means belonging to “it” (with “it” referring to a person, animal or thing). In other words, “its” is a possessive pronoun we use to say that something belongs to or refers to something. Some examples are its tail (the dog’s tail) and its monitor (the computer’s monitor).

Another rule to keep in mind is that its’, with an apostrophe after the s, is always wrong when used in this word, even if its is possessive. Therefore, remember that if “it” denotes ownership, possession or belonging, then it is its and not its’.

Examples:

  • The computer needs its display monitor repaired. (“Its” here refers to the computer.)
  • The beautiful house is often admired for its interiors. (“Its” here refers to the house.)
  • Although its cinematography is superb, I didn’t enjoy that movie that much. (“Its” here refer to the movie.)

Now, we can conclude that there are two roles for apostrophes: to merge two words (it’s) and to show that it’s possessive (Mike’s). But we learned from the last example that not all words in the possessive form need an apostrophe before the s (e.g. its).

Pro Tip: Another way to figure out whether you should write it’s or its, is to interchange it with it is or it has and see if it makes sense.

When to use it’s or its

The way to make sure you understand the difference is to learn more from examples. Here, we’ll now distinguish how to use “it’s” and “its” correctly and incorrectly by distinguishing which are contracted and possessive words.

Incorrect usage:

  • Linda doesn’t know that its not allowed to feed the monkeys in the zoo. (We cannot use “its” to refer to Linda because it’s clear that she’s a female. Moreover, if we use its, the possessive form of “it”, it simply wrong.)
  • Its been a long time since the ex-lovers last saw each other. (It doesn’t make sense. “Been”, being a past participle of “be” in this sentence needs a helping verb which is “has”. Therefore, the “its” in this case should be a contraction of “it has”, so it’s necessary to use an apostrophe before its s.)
  • The mobile phone seems to be broken because of it’s battery. (If we will expand “it’s” here, then it will be: The mobile phone seems to be broken because of it is battery.)
  • A slipper is no good without it’s pair. (Just the same explanation as above. Here, we need to use the possessive “its”.)

Correct usage:

  • Linda doesn’t know that it’s not allowed to feed the monkeys in the zoo
  • It’s been a long time since the ex-lovers last saw each other.
  • The mobile phone seems to be broken because of its battery.
  • A slipper is no good without its pair.

It’s, Its: An exercise to test your grammar skills

Another way to ensure that you master your skills in grammar is to do some exercises like this. So, is it it’s or its? Let’s see.

  1. Larry didn’t get your order this morning because he thought ___ not urgent.
  2. They want to know if ___ genuine or fake.
  3. Christina needs to put body lotion every day because her skin easily loses ___ moisture.
  4. The dog scratched ___ face because ___ begging for attention.
  5. ___ time to bring your cat to the vet for ___ monthly check-up.
  6. It’s time to get my computer fixed because ___ monitor is not working right, though ___ just a minor issue.
  7. ___ time to master your grammar! ___ one good way to excel academically and professionally.
  8. Leila asked Eric to get the antique chair for her ___ too heavy.
  9. Writing is not just her way of living; ___ her passion.

Final thoughts

So there you have it! After all, it’s not that hard to get it, is it? The next time you ask, “what is its?” you know know that it’s just a possessive form of a pronoun. We hope that by reading this article, you are able to review and improve your grammar a lot better because we know how much you need it, whether you are a student or a professional. Writing should also be a lot easier now. So, like the last sentence in your exercise, it’s time to master your grammar! (Whoops, we didn’t intend to reveal the answer!)

Written by Victoria Mac Callum
Victoria honed up her English language skills in the Media Industry working at a campus radio station in 2014. Since then, she has upgraded to more demanding roles of English teacher on Preply and course creator. She's also a radio presenter, news anchor, voice-over artist, writer and editor. Profile