In the case of its and it's, one pesky apostrophe is responsible for many spelling mistakes. Because both words sound the same, it doesn't matter when you're speaking — but the difference can be noticeable and confusing when you're writing. You only need an apostrophe in it's in certain situations; otherwise, you should use its.
So when do you add the apostrophe, and when do you leave it out? It depends on the context of the sentence.
|Word||Definition||Part of Speech|
|its||belonging to it||possessive determiner|
|it's||it is/it has||contraction|
Its shows possession for the pronoun it. For example, a computer can update its drive, or a spider can repair its web. It's is a contraction meaning "it is" or "it has." In the sentence "It's going to be a fabulous night," it's is a contraction for "it is."
Most possessive nouns end in an apostrophe and "s," which is why many people think its should have an apostrophe. However, like other possessive pronouns (such as hers or theirs), its shows possession without an apostrophe.
Examples of its in a sentence include:
- This cheese is past its expiration date.
- Its front door will open when you're nearby.
- This book is better than its cover would suggest.
- In its most basic form, this plan will work.
- This frog is too small for its aquarium.
- Its greatest attribute is its flexibility.
- What is its country of origin?
- Its scent fades, but the memories will last forever.
- The plant is in its pot.
- Its tires spun out of control on the ice.
- I'll take that puppy and all its siblings.
- Its demise contributed to the town squabble.
- The truck parked itself neatly in its bay.
- If its engine restarts, we'll go to the party.
- The bird is in its house.
It's only functions as a contraction for "it is" or "it has." In a present tense sentence, the apostrophe goes before the "s" where the "i" is missing. When you're replacing "it has," the apostrophe goes in place of the missing "ha" in "has."
- We've got to be downtown at four and it's still not here.
- It's always raining.
- Some days I think it's a wonderful world.
- She said it's only a fifteen-minute drive.
- I don't know if it's his or not.
- It's nice inside the house.
- I know it's hard, but you'll be okay.
- It's a nice car.
- In our house, it's okay to sit by the fire and read a book all night.
- It's fun to go to the fair.
- Can't you tell it's a zinnia, not a gerber daisy?
- It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- That's exactly how it's going to be.
- It's been an unforgettable day.
- Of course, it's our dog!
One way to double-check yourself is to re-read the sentence and replace "it is" wherever you've placed its. For example, it doesn't make sense to say, "The bird is in 'it is' house." That's how you'll know to remove the apostrophe from an unneeded it's.
You know that plural possessive nouns have an apostrophe after the "s," so wouldn't you say its' instead of it's or its? The answer is no — its' is never a correct word. It is a singular pronoun, so there's no need to put the apostrophe after the "s." If you're looking for a plural form of its, choose their or theirs.
The difference between its and it's starts to come naturally the more you use them. Now that you know when to use an apostrophe in it's, explore a few examples of when it's NOT correct to use an apostrophe. Dates and plural words are two of the largest areas of confusion. Until then, enjoy knowing you've mastered the its or it's debate!