It's vs. Its - How to Correctly Use

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published March 15, 2021, updated September 7, 2022
It's vs. Its - How to Correctly Use

Even the most experienced writers can confuse it’s and its. If you’ve made this common mistake, you’re not alone. Only one tiny punctuation mark differentiates these two words, but that apostrophe creates an important difference in meaning. 

This article will explain the difference between it’s and its and provide a helpful trick to remember the proper usage, distinct differences, and correct spelling.

The key 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.

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

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

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

 

It’s Use [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 down for maintenance. Can you please let me know when it’s (it is) back online? 

Let’s get the sales report out early because it’s (it has) been late the last two months. 

It’s (it is) getting warm in here. Can you open the window?

Its Use [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.” It’s true that its sound is not quite as catchy, though. (See what we did there? 🙃)

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 uses a possessive form (e.g. the company’s employees), not a contraction.

Last tips about its vs. it's

Possessive Rules

Here is a final, more nuanced detail about this potentially confusing topic: Confusion between it’s and its is common because an apostrophe in most words signals the possessive form. 

This is Jose’s briefing document.

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.

Power of Proofreading

Remember that this type of it/it’s use mistake can easily happen, even when you understand the English grammar rules. We’re human and most of us produce a lot of writing in our work, often at a very quick pace. It’s common to type quickly and inadvertently mix up its for it’s

There are many programs that can help us catch these errors; Grammarly is a great one. However, there is no substitute for careful proofreading. Longer documents require more in-depth editing and proofing, but even a quick email requires a double-check. Strong business writing is detailed, organized, and error-free. 

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published March 15, 2021, updated September 7, 2022
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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