Its or It’s – which one to use? Or is there a weird rule to learn here?
Most people just don’t care whether or not they put an apostrophe — it’s possible these folks don’t mind either way. That’s OK — everyone is entitled to their opinion 🙂
For those who do want to know which one to use, there are two ways to use “its” PLUS a rule, which some think of as an “exception to the rule” — and yes, there are always exceptions to the rules, just to make it interesting for us.
Before I go any further …
Please note that I am an Australian, currently living in Australia, who was taught English in an Australian school. Please don’t criticize me if you’re from a different country and learned a different way than mine — each teacher around the world teaches different techniques, which are not necessarily the same worldwide.
When should you use an apostrophe?
SOMETIMES you need to use an apostrophe if you are OMITTING a letter (but NOT ALWAYS). For example, “It is …” is shortened to: “It’s” – you leave out [omit] the second “i”, and it is replaced with an apostrophe in some specific cases:
Meaning # 1: It’s = It is = It has
- It’s [it is] raining men!
- It’s [it is] a long way to Tipperary!
- It’s [it is] just not fair – I should have won first prize.
- I liked that movie – with all its adventure, I think it’s [it is] going to be a smash hit!
- Isn’t it a shame? Yes it’s [it is] a shame we missed the train.
- It’s [it has] been such a great week.
Meaning # 2 : Its = when meaning “Its own …” does NOT need an apostrophe.
So, when do you use “Its” without an apostrophe?
You don’t need an apostrophe if you want to say:
(a) “The cat licked its fur. ” This shows ownership of the fur, but does not need an apostrophe (and yes, I know that sounds WRONG compared to what I said earlier :-)) — but keep reading, OK?
If you did add an apostrophe in this phrase [“The cat licked it’s fur.”], you’d actually be saying:
“The cat licked it is fur.”
This changes the sense of the original sentence.
Here’s another example
(b) “The briefcase and its contents were stolen.” This is the correct use of “its”.
However, if you put an apostrophe in this sentence, it would mean you meant to say:
“The briefcase and it is contents were stolen.”
This changes the sense of the sentence.
Remember there are rules for apostrophes
- the first is to show possession or ownership, as in:
- James’ shoes were muddy (read more on Apostrophes with Proper Nouns and Apostrophes with a person’s name) – this could also be written as, “James’s shoes were muddy.” if you prefer to put an “s” after the apostrophe – both are correct.
- James ends with an ‘s’ which might confuse folks, so let’s use a different person’s name: “Jenny’s shoes were muddy after the sudden downpour of rain.” Jenny + ‘s shows ownership of the shoes.
- the second is to show the removal or omission of a letter, as in: It’s [it is] raining cats and dogs — UNLESS the word is “ITS” … which is a bit tricky
- the third Rule is that “its” belongs to a group of pronouns which are already possessive and don’t need an apostrophe, for example: yours, hers, his, its, theirs, ours
- and don’t forget there are rules along the way which may not seem to make sense to you — but which we need to learn. One of those is, “The cat licked its fur.” is correct — and “its” does not need an apostrophe.
It might feel wrong, or sound crazy, but it is one of the oddities in the English language — and it may be handled differently in different countries too — you may have been taught something different than I was taught in using British English in Australia.
I hope this helps but do please ask me a question if you still find this confusing — I’m happy to help wherever I can (do please post a Comment below or send me an email).
And remember — if in doubt, don’t use an apostrophe.
If you’re not sure, it might be best not to use an apostrophe at all (rather than using it incorrectly) and hope for the best (until you can do some quick research).
DEALING WITH “ITS”
- You need an apostrophe if you REMOVE or OMIT a letter in “it is” … UNLESS “its” is showing ownership or possession in which case you do not need an apostrophe — OK?