It’s or Its? Apostrophe in Its

Summary

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

Examples
  • Contraction: It’s a wonderful day today.
  • Contraction: It’s been a difficult year for everyone.
  • Possessive: The kitten is chasing its tail.

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

It’s vs. its

It’s is a contraction formed by combining two words, while its is a possessive, a word that expresses a relationship of belonging or association.

Examples
  • It’s raining again.
    contraction of it is
  • It’s been seven days.
    contraction of it has
  • Check its temperature.
    possessive: the temperature of something

It’s and its are often confused. In this article, we discuss when to use an apostrophe in its, and a simple trick to get it right every time.

It’s (with the apostrophe)

It’s, with the apostrophe, is a contraction of “it is” or “it has” (the apostrophe denotes the contraction). We use the pronoun it to refer to things, animals, and children.

Examples
  • It’s not funny.
  • It’s starting to boil.
  • It’s been raining all morning.
  • Where’s the cat? It’s gone over the wall again.
  • Look at the baby: it’s smiling at us.

The word it is also used as a dummy or anticipatory subject in sentences. In such usage, it is used as a placeholder for a subject in a sentence without one, or as a fake subject that refers to the logical subject, which appears later in the sentence.

Examples
Caution

Avoid using contractions in formal writing. In a résumé or statement of purpose, for example, use “it is” or “it has” instead of “it’s.”

Its (without the apostrophe)

Its is the possessive form of it. The word is a determiner that signifies possession by or relation to something. Use its, without the apostrophe, to indicate that something belongs to or is associated with another thing.

Examples
  • Farley’s gold watch has lost its shine.
  • We need to change its battery.
  • What a remarkable discovery! Think of all its applications in space travel.
  • Earth is the only planet we know that can support life on its surface.
  • Here are some images of Jupiter and its moons.
  • None of its moons is habitable.

Its is also used to speak of possession by or association with an animal or a child of unspecified sex.

Examples
  • The cat is licking its chops.
  • A bird has built its nest in my window.
  • Can a baby touch its toes to its nose?
Note

It is sometimes thought that we must always use it instead of he or she to refer to an animal. This understanding is incomplete. For pet animals, especially any animal with a name, he or she is the preferred pronoun. He or she may also be used to refer specifically to the male or female of a species.

Examples
  • My cat Hobbes loves its/his new bed.
  • The lioness teaches its/her cubs how to hunt.

The it’s-or-its apostrophe test

Use this simple trick to decide whether to use an apostrophe in its: if “it is” or “it has” sounds fine in a sentence, use it’s; otherwise, use its.

In the following sentences, “it is” or “it has” would fit. Therefore, you can use the contraction it’s (with the apostrophe).

Examples
  • It’s important that we meet.
  • It’s raining frogs!
  • It’s got to be around here somewhere.
  • It’s been an impossible year.
  • Fortunately, it’s over.

But in the following sentences, neither “it is” nor “it has” would work. Use the possessive its (without the apostrophe) instead of the contraction it’s.

Examples
  • The cuckoo then lays its eggs in the crow’s nest.
  • A day is how long it takes the Earth to complete one rotation on its axis.
  • Our rocket ship needs its sparkplugs changed.
  • Are any of its pages torn?

Here are some more examples of it’s and its used correctly.

Examples
  • I don’t trust this car: it’s got a mind of its own.
  • It’s in summer that the jacaranda comes into its own.
  • It’s on its last legs.

Examples from literature

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

Examples
  • The wholeness of the pattern, its perfection, would be gone.
    Anita Desai, Clear Light of Day (1980)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.
    Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
  • It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones.
    Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)
  • 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)
  • And it’s wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It’s possible to love something and still condescend to it.
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
  • It makes you wonder why we bother accumulating, accumulating, when we know from earliest childhood how it’s all going to end.
    Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)

Other contractions vs. possessives

Apostrophe usage with who’s and whose can also be confusing. Just like with its and it’s, use an apostrophe in the contraction but not in the possessive. Who’s is a contraction, while whose (without the apostrophe) is a possessive.

Examples
  • Who’s there?
    who’s = who is
  • Who’s been eating all my cake?
    who’s = who has
  • Whose line is it anyway?
    which person’s line?

Finally, note that possessive pronouns like yours and hers don’t take apostrophes.

Examples
  • Incorrect: Is this book your’s?
    Correct: Is this book yours?
  • Incorrect: This phone is her’s.
    Correct: This phone is hers.
  • Incorrect: This money is our’s, not their’s.
    Correct: This money is ours, not theirs.

Quick Quiz

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Did You Know?

Job titles like chef are capitalized when used as part of a name or to address someone but lowercased otherwise.
Know more:Are Job Titles Like Director, Chairman, Manager, and Chef Capitalized?