Word Confusion: It’s versus Its

Posted August 1, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Yeah, this is kind of the reverse of what you would normally expect of a possessive, but hey, it’s (it is, really) the English language. Exceptions abound.

Okay, I’m not pointing anyone out, and I’ve run into too many word confusions for it’s as well as finding it on just about any website that addresses words that get confused. So, I’m gonna say, there is a trick to contractions of any sort.

The Trick is…

Follow the Steps It’s Its
1. Remove the s and the apostrophe if it has one It’s a slam dunk. Its a slam dunk.
2. Replace the letter(s) the contraction is placeholding It is a slam dunk. It a slam dunk.
3. Does it make sense? Yes Well, maybe in dialect…so, no.
4. If it simply reads as if someone were speaking formally, then it’s (it is) okay to use the contraction
5. If it doesn’t sound right, don’t use the contraction
On the One Hand… …and On the Other
It’s a lovely night outside for a walk.

It is a nice night and we could go for an enjoyable walk.

…a lovely night outside for its walk.

I don’t know what “it” is and the night could be anything. Perhaps it’s a robot that likes a dry night. Maybe it is an abominable snowman who prefers blizzardy sort of nights. Maybe it is a worm with a preference for rainy nights. Hmmm, I really can’t figure out what sort of night it is. Nor can I figure out whose?, what?, creature goes out for a walk.

Well, yeah, humans and dogs like a nice night to go for a walk, but then one would replace “its” with “his” or “her”.

It’s Animal!

Someone is excited that a person, pet, or object is here.

Its Animal’s!

Since “its” is possessive, whatever “it” is, it belongs to Animal.

Can you tell me how it’s relevant?

Tell me how it is related.

Can you tell me how its relevant?

What exactly is “relevant” possessing?

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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It’s Its
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com
Part of Grammar:
It’s what it is.

“Big Mouth” by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Its big mouth is truly astonishing.

Pronoun, third person singular Possessive Determiner, a.k.a., Possessive Pronoun
Contraction of it is and it has Possessive of it
It’s a dog licking its paw.

It is a dog licking the paw that belongs to it.

It’s the truth.

It is the truth.

It’s raining out there.

It is raining out there.

Can you tell if it’s arrived yet?

Can you tell if it has arrived yet?

The dog licked its paw.

The doll hit its noggin on the stair.

Try it with ‘s, and it just doesn’t sound right as “The doll hit it is noggin on the stair”, which means its is right.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

The sentence from the post, “Its and It’s”, is from Richard Nordquist courtesy of About.com while “Maremma sheepdog relaxing in the shade” is Boden Matthews’ own work [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons was made transparent in Photoshop.