Its vs It’s — When to Use Each

When do you put an apostrophe in its/it’s? How do you know? This issue commonly confuses English writers — pros and newbies alike. It’s easy to confuse the two, considering the (often befuddling) rules of English. 

With this article, we’ll put the confusion to rest. 

The Difference between Its and It’s

The difference between these two lookalike words is that one is a contraction and the other isn’t.

  • Its – The possessive form of the pronoun it.
  • It’s – A contraction of it is or it has.

When to Use Its

Its is a possessive pronoun, meaning it shows ownership or belonging. In English, we use its similarly to the words my, our, his, her, and their.

We use its to show ownership or possession by something previously mentioned. For example:

I like this grocery store for its great selection.

This car goes fast. Its engine is very powerful.

A cheetah can run up to 75 mph in pursuit of its prey.

Point of confusion! Don’t we use apostrophes to show possession? Yes, but only with nouns that aren’t already possessive. We don’t use an apostrophe to show possession with its, because the pronoun is already possessive. In the same way, we don’t use an apostrophe in his, her, or other possessive pronouns. 

When to Use It’s

It’s, with an apostrophe, is a contraction of the words it is or it has. 

Just as in other contractions like don’t, isn’t, where’s, and there’s, the apostrophe represents missing letters.

Use “it’s” as a shorter version of it is or it has. For example:

The weather report said it’s going to be a gorgeous day. (it is)

It’s been so long since I saw you! (it has)

He visited New York, and now he thinks it’s the best city in the USA. (it is)

How to Tell When to Use Its or It’s

If you want to know when to use its or it’s, ask yourself, Is it a possessive, or a contraction?

If it’s a possessive, it won’t have an apostrophe — just like the other possessives my, our, his, her, and their also don’t have apostrophes.

If it’s a contraction, it will have an apostrophe, like other contractions — such as there’s (there is) or where’s (where is).

If you remember that the apostrophe represents missing letters, you’ll be able to ask yourself if using the phrase it is/it has makes sense in the context of the sentence.

Let’s test ourselves with a few examples: 

The pine tree has lost (its/it’s) needles. 

Which one is correct? Well, let’s try the contraction, which represents it is/it has. Since it doesn’t make sense to say, “The pine tree has lost it is needles,” it can’t be it’s. It has to be possessive — its and it is! 

Answer: The pine tree lost its needles.

Another example:

(Its/It’s) raining outside.

Can we replace the word with the phrase it is, as in “It is raining outside”? Yes! Then it must be a contraction, meaning it needs the apostrophe to represent the missing letter in is.

Answer: It’s raining outside.

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