Grammar Tip: It's vs Its

March 23, 2022 Surya Nair

English has many homonyms, i.e., words that spell and sound alike but have different meanings.

It is easy to make mistakes when using such words. A common error is the incorrect use of it's instead of its and vice-versa.

Here are the rules for the use of these words:

It's (a contraction of "it is" or "it has") – the apostrophe is used to replace a letter or a group of letters

Its (the possessive form of "it") – indicates possession, as in it belongs to something

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What is confusing about the use of it's vs its?

It's and its are separated in spelling only by an apostrophe. And it is common in English to use apostrophes to show contractions (e.g., "you're" for "you are") as well as possessive nouns (e.g., John's books, octopus's tentacles, Sara's bag, the tree's branches).

Tip: If you keep in mind that English does not use apostrophes for possessive personal pronouns (i.e., yours, ours, theirs, his, hers, and its), you can use its appropriately.

Given below is an example that demonstrates when an apostrophe is used and not used to show possession.

Incorrect: The brown tables legs are wobbly.

Correct: The brown table's legs are wobbly.

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Incorrect: It's legs are wobbly.

Correct: Its legs are wobbly.

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Some more examples of how its is used:

The toy is in its bin.

The rabbit lives in its burrow.

The company celebrated its 25th anniversary.

This chapter gives an overview of the software, its features, functions, and the user interface.

 

And now, some examples of how it's is used as a contraction for "it is" or "it has".

It's for "It is" – examples:

It's a great day for a picnic! Yes, it is.

It's a powerful speech.

It's mostly rainy at this time of the year.

 

It's for "It has" – examples:

The weather is great. It's been a lovely day so far.

It's been a year since we last visited our aunt.

It's now been released as Revision D.

 

Some notes:  

  • "It was" is never contracted to "it's".
  • In technical or formal writing, it is recommended to avoid contractions such as "it's" and use the expanded forms "it is" or "it has".
    For example, "When a record in the Main pane is selected, it's previewed in the Preview pane." Although this sentence is grammatically correct, in technical writing, it is recommended that you use the expanded form – i.e., "When a record in the Main pane is selected, it is previewed in the Preview pane."

Using an apostrophe can be tricky – but its confusion can be avoided if it's used correctly. 😊

About the Author

Surya Nair

Technical Writer and Editor<br><br>Surya has been writing and editing technical content for over two decades in multiple industries. How do you transform complex technical content into an easy-to-understand document? Ask Surya - technical writing is her passion! She has been with ASCENT since 2018. She holds a master’s degree in English Literature, and a diploma in Journalism, and is a certified Technical Writer.

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