While to many people the difference between its and it’s is as clear as the difference between smoked salmon and pickled onions, for others there’s a gut-churning jolt of uncertainty every time they come to write either.
You’d be wrong if you thought you were the only one who rewrote sentences, removing the need for ‘i-t-s’ altogether, just to avoid a mighty faux pas. But it’s not uncommon for people to bravely soldier on with incorrect usage causing copywriting carnage for some of the biggest brands (like the two recently spotted examples in this post).
So, for those of you who want to get it right, once and for all…
It’s really not that hard
If you can rewrite the sentence using ‘it is’ instead, then you should be using the contraction ‘it’s’.
It’s a matter of opinion. / It is a matter of opinion.
It’s time to face the music. / It is time to face the music.
Sarah says it’s going to be OK. / Sarah says it is going to be OK.
The reason? The apostrophe stands in for the missing ‘i’ of ‘is’. Just like it stands in for the missing ‘o’ in ‘didn’t’ or the missing ‘a’ in ‘we’re’.
Baby koalas are adorable (and possessive)
The baby koala held on tightly to its mother.
The cake was knocked off its stand.
Its leather seats and retractable roof are amazing.
Try and replace ‘its’ with ‘it is’ in these sentences. You can’t, can you? That’s because they require the possessive form ‘its’. The reason you probably want to throw in an apostrophe is because when we make singular nouns possessive, we normally tag ’s on the end:
Sarah’s hair looks really curly today.
The koala’s nose wiggled excitedly.
But when we use ‘its’ as a possessive determiner, (i.e. to show that something belongs to or is associated with something previously mentioned or identified – the baby koala’s mother, the cake’s stand, the car’s leather seats) it’s the same as using ‘her’ or ‘his’. You’d never write:
Her’s hair looks really curly today. You’d say: Her hair looks really curly today.
His’s nose wiggled excitedly. You’d say: His nose wiggled excitedly.
So think of ‘its’ in the same way and you’ll be fine!
If all this learning is a bit too much, and you’re worried about making a pickle of things for your company, please get in touch.