Its and It's

Commonly Confused Words

its and it's
When it's hot, the dog sleeps in its hiding place on the old porch. (Ted Soqui/Getty Images)

The words its and it's are easily confused, but here's how to tell them apart.

Definitions

Both its and it's are based on the pronoun it, which serves as a function word or refers to a previously mentioned noun

Its (without an apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun, like his or her.

It's (with an apostrophe in front of the s) is a contraction of "it is" or "it has." The apostrophe in it's is a mark of omission, not possession.

See the usage notes below. Also see:

 

Examples

  • Sal placed the ring back in its box and returned it to the safe.
     
  • "The moon had shifted to the other side of the roof—unusually large, red, its face obliterated."
    (Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Key." A Friend of Kafka, 1979)
     
  • It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
     
  • "It's been a long day," Granny said, "and we're all rather tired."
     
  • "The house is there today; the manager of the liquor store lives in it. It's covered with aluminum siding; a closed-in porch has replaced the veranda."
    (Alice Munro, "Meneseteung." The New Yorker, January 11, 1988)
     
  • When the landlord asked about this month's rent check, Kim said, "It's on its way."

 

Usage Notes

  • "Its is a unique construction because this possessive word quite frequently gets mistaken for its cousin it's. To keep the meanings straight, you need to remember just two things:
    - Possessive pronouns don't have apostrophes.
    - It's is a contraction meaning it is. Try substituting its or it's with it is or it has, and see if the sentence still makes sense. If it doesn't, you know not to use the apostrophe."
    (Lara M. Robbins, Grammar and Style at Your Fingertips. Alpha Books, 2007)
     
  • "Its without the apostrophe is a possessive pronoun/determiner, pure and simple, as in left the dog on its own. Like the other pronouns in those roles (his, hers etc.), its has no apostrophe. What confuses the issue is the fact that nouns do have apostrophes when they are possessive, as in the dog's breakfast or a baker's dozen, suggesting that it's is the possessive pronoun for it. . . . In fact it's was used interchangeably with its for the possessive pronoun until around 1800, according to the Oxford Dictionary (1989). . . .

    "From its debut in early C19, contracted it's has become increasingly common in everyday writing . . .. It compacts the space occupied by the functional words of the sentence, and like French c'est ('it is') enhances the flow of expository prose."
    (Pam Peters, The Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Cambridge University Press, 2004)

    Practice

    (a) Although _____ not yet fall, this tree is already losing _____ leaves.

    (b) Either _____ dying, or _____ a sign that cold days are coming soon.

    (c) If the tree dies, we'll plant a new one in ____ place.

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Its and It's

    (a) Although it's not yet fall, this tree is already losing its leaves.

    (b) Either it's dying, or it's a sign that cold days are coming soon.

    (c) If the tree dies, we'll plant a new one in its place.

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words