It’s or Its? Apostrophe in Its

It’s, with the apostrophe, is a contraction of it is or it has. Its, without the apostrophe, is the possessive form of it and is used to show that something is associated with or belongs to something else.

  • Contraction: It’s a wonderful day today. (it is)
  • Contraction: It’s been a difficult year for everyone. (it has)
  • Possessive: You should check its temperature.
  • Possessive: Here are some images of Jupiter and its moons.

To check whether to use an apostrophe in its, try replacing the word with it is or it has. If the sentence still makes sense, use it’s (with the apostrophe); otherwise, use its (without the apostrophe).

  • It’s/Its a beautiful day.
    Can be replaced by it is.
  • It’s/Its been fun traveling with him.
    Can be replaced by it has.
  • The kitten is chasing it’s/its tail.
    Cannot be replaced by it is or it has.

Use of apostrophe: Contraction vs. possessive

Two words sometimes combine to form a single shorter word called a contraction, in which some letters are omitted and replaced by an apostrophe. Thus, it + is forms it’s, where the missing letter is marked by an apostrophe. Note that it + has is also it’s. Meaning is clear from the sentence.

  • It’s raining again. (it is)
  • It’s been a long winter. (it has)
  • It’s funny how that worked out. (it is)
  • It’s starting to boil. (it is)
  • It’s been raining all morning. (it has)
  • Look at the baby: it’s smiling at us. (it is)
  • Where’s the cat? It’s gone over the wall again. (it has)

In contrast, possessive pronouns such as its (and hers, yours, theirs) never contain an apostrophe.

  • Farley’s watch has lost its shine.
    Here, the word its is a possessive and not a contraction: don’t use an apostrophe.
  • We need to change its battery.
  • Earth is the only planet we know that can support life on its surface.
  • The cuckoo then lays its eggs in the crow’s nest.
  • This ship needs its sparkplugs changed.
  • Are any of its pages torn?
  • This book is hers.
  • Is this book yours?
  • This money is theirs, not ours.

This rule—apostrophe in contraction but not in possessive—applies not just to it’s and its but to all contractions and possessive pronouns: Who’s is a contraction of who is or who has; whose is the possessive form of who. You’re is a contraction of you are, while your and yours are possessives.

  • Contraction: Who’s there? (who is)
    Contraction: Who’s been eating all my cake? (who has)
    Possessive: Whose line is it anyway?
  • Contraction: You’re funny. (you are)
    Possessive: Is this book yours?

Confusion arises because an apostrophe does mark the possessive with nouns (e.g., the bee’s knees, the students’ books). Just remember that the apostrophe never appears in the possessive forms of pronouns. If a pronoun word contains an apostrophe, it is a contraction (like it’s, who’s, you’re), not a possessive (its, whose, yours).

Examples from literature

Here are some examples from writing that show its and it’s being used correctly. Note how the writers use an apostrophe in contractions but none in possessives.

  • Contraction: Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.
    Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad (1924)
  • Contraction: There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.
    Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
  • Contraction: It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.
    Neil Gaiman, American Gods (2001)
  • Possessive: The wholeness of the pattern, its perfection, would be gone.
    Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day (1980)
  • Possessive: Cody cut into a huge wedge of pie and gave some thought to food—to its inexplicable, loaded meaning in other people’s lives.
    Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)

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