The Grammarphobia Blog

The “It” Squad

Q: My son, a 10th-grader, is always mixing up “it’s” and “its.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to explain the difference to him. Do you have an easy trick to help him understand?

A: The “It” Squad gives lots of people fits, and not just 10th-graders. Luckily, you don’t have to be Strunk or White to figure out whether “it’s” or “its” is correct.

“It’s” is a contraction—two words (“it is” or “it has”) mushed into one, with an apostrophe standing in for what’s missing. But “its” (no apostrophe, please) is a possessive, a word showing ownership, like “his” or “hers” or “ours.”

Here’s an easy way to keep “it’s” and “its” straight:

If you can substitute “it is” or “it has” and still make sense, “it’s” is right. Otherwise, choose “its.” (“It’s feeding time when my parakeet begins screeching in its cage.”)

For more, see “An Itsy-Bitsy Problem” in my grammar book Woe Is I.

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