Its or it’s?

Welcome to Apostrophes, Etc. In my first post, I thought I’d tackle one of the most common questions about apostrophes.

It’s is always an abbreviation for it is or it has, in the same way that he’s is an abbreviation for he is or he has. It’s, despite having an apostrophe, has nothing to do with possession; it is what we call a contraction (a contraction of it is, in fact!).

Its is the word that we use for possession, in the same that we use his or her to show possession (in technical grammar terms, its, his and her are all possessive pronouns). In the same way that we don’t put an apostrophe after his, we don’t use an apostrophe with its, when the meaning is possessive.

If you don’t want to worry about the explanation, there is an even simpler way to solve the problem. In formal writing, contractions such as it’s should be avoided:  it is always better to spell out it is or it has.  If you always spell out it is and it has, then you will never use it’s (with an apostrophe).  If you then need to use the possessive its, you just remember that you don’t need to use an apostrophe. (You can also easily test if you are using the possessive pronoun:  if you can replace its with his, and your sentence still makes sense, then you are using the possessive pronoun and you don’t need an apostrophe.)

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