It's vs. Its - How to Correctly Use

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published March 15, 2021, updated March 17, 2021
It's vs. Its - How to Correctly Use

Even the most experienced writers can confuse it’s or its. If you’ve made this mistake, you’re not alone. This article will explain the difference between it’s and its and provide a helpful trick to remember the proper usage.

The difference between it’s and its

It’s is a contraction of two words: it is, or it has. The apostrophe connects the two words, and the middle letters are dropped.

It’s Example:
Darlene has been pushing the Acme proposal and it’s receiving great feedback.
( ... it, the proposal, is receiving great feedback)

Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it. When it owns an object or a quality, then we use the possessive version of the pronoun.

Its Example:
Let’s bring in a consultant to analyze the Acme proposal and assess its worth.
( ... assess the proposal’s worth)

Confusion between it’s and its is common because an apostrophe combined with the letter s (‘s) indicates possessive for single nouns or plural nouns that do not end in s. However, the pronoun it does not follow this possessive rule. The apostrophe and letter s indicates a contraction, and no apostrophe is needed to show possession.

How to use it’s [additional examples]

Apply it’s anytime where you want to shorten a sentence by contracting. We naturally use this shortened form in reading and writing. If you can break it’s in two, then it warrants an apostrophe. 

  • I forgot that you’re taking the website is down for maintenance. Can you please let me know when it’s back online? 
  • Let’s get the sales report out early because it’s been late the last two months. 
  • It’s getting warm in here. Can you open the window?

How to use its [additional examples]

Use its when you are showing possession of the pronoun it. It is the neutral, third-person singular pronoun, which can be a substitute for any inanimate object. This form makes it an incredibly useful and common pronoun. 

  • The conference was valuable due to its curated program.
  • Leave the manuscript with its owner.
  • The presentation content looks great. Can you tweak its formatting?

A trick to remember

If you’re uncertain whether its or it’s is correct, then try breaking the word apart into two parts. If the sentence still makes sense in an un-contracted form (it is or it has), then the contraction it’s is the right version. For example, “I can’t believe it’s not butter” also makes sense as “I can’t believe it is not butter,” if not quite as catchy.

Alternatively, “This company cannot operate without its employees” is nonsensical when its is broken in two: “This business cannot operate without it is employees.” This sentence is using a possessive form (e.g. the company’s employees), not a contraction.

The power of proofreading

This type of mistake can easily find its way into writing, even when you’ve mastered this rule. It’s easy to type too quickly and inadvertently mix up an its for an it’s. Therefore, proofreading should be integrated into any writing process. Longer documents may require more in-depth proofing, but even a quick email requires a double-check. Strong business writing is persuasive and error free. 

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published March 15, 2021, updated March 17, 2021
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.

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