"It's" or "its"


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Thread: "It's" or "its"

  1. #1

    "It's" or "its"

    This is probably the most common mistake I see in the work of new writers, so I'm making a thread here that I can quickly refer people to when the issue comes up.

    The usual mistake is to put a possessive apostrophe where it doesn't belong. Here's an example ...

    John's house had red tiles on it's roof. (Incorrect)

    John's house had red tiles on its roof. (Correct)

    I can see why writers make this mistake. After all, "John's" has a possessive apostrophe, so why not "it's" as well? However, personal pronouns don't follow the same rules as nouns.

    An easy way to remember this is to think of "its" as equivalent to "his" and "hers". None of these words take possessive apostrophes.

    The only time when "it's" is correct is when you're abbreviating "it is". For example ...

    "Well, its about time," said John. (Incorrect)

    "Well, it's about time," said John. (Correct)

    So, to summarise: use "its" when showing possession for something gender-neutral, and use "it's" when abbreviating "it is."

    I hope that this has been helpful. If you have any questions or have spotted any errors, please let me know below.

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  2. #2
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    I mostly struggle with the apostrophe when someone possesses things and when to use it

  3. #3
    You should pretty much always put the possessive apostrophe in there if you're using a noun, for example ...


    • Nelson's ship
    • Obama's dream
    • The wind's fury
    • The Earth's gravity


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  4. #4
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  5. #5
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    Regarding the possessive apostrophe:
    There are four and a half pages on forming possessives in the Chicago Manual of Style. There are exceptions to the rules below, but these are the general rules in that style guide, which is the most commonly used (aside from journalism and science writings). Note that the treatment of nouns ending in s may be different from what you are used to; Chicago now recommends an additional s to form possessives, which conflicts with some guides, e.g. Strunk & White's Elements of Style.

    For singular nouns, add apostrophe+s
    dog becomes dog's
    canvas becomes canvas's (words ending in s take a possessive s)
    Smith becomes Smith's
    Jones becomes Jones's (names ending in s take a possessive s)
    Jesus becomes Jesus's (ancient names still take a possessive s)
    Euripides becomes Euripides's (even if they end in eez sound)

    For plural nouns ending in s, add apostrophe only
    boys becomes boys'
    singers becomes singers'
    Joneses becomes Joneses'
    BUT children becomes children's

    If two people possess one thing, they get one apostrophe: Mom and Dad's driveway
    If two people possess two things, they get two apostrophes: Mom's and Dad's clothes

    Pronouns, in contrast, do not take an apostrophe in the possessive (hence the confusion with the possessive form its). So this balloon is hers, the building's paint is peeling from its walls, and the flowers are theirs, but his opinion remains unchanged.

    Remember also the converse: when a noun is not possessive, but only plural, it should not have an apostrophe. So several people named Mary are Marys, not Mary's.
    Last edited by per se; March 21st, 2017 at 03:56 PM.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by per se View Post
    For singular nouns, add apostrophe+s
    dog becomes dog's
    canvas becomes canvas's (words ending in s take a possessive s)
    Smith becomes Smith's
    Jones becomes Jones's (names ending in s take a possessive s)
    Jesus becomes Jesus's (ancient names still take a possessive s)
    Euripides becomes Euripides's (even if they end in eez sound)
    The Chicago Manual of Style is wrong.

    The singular of a noun does not require an apostrophe when it becomes plural.

    The dogs are barking; not the dog's are barking.

    The Joneses are a weird bunch; not the Jones's are a weird bunch.

    To write those any other way is demonstrably wrong.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Sam View Post
    The Chicago Manual of Style is wrong.

    The singular of a noun does not require an apostrophe when it becomes plural.

    The dogs are barking; not the dog's are barking.

    The Joneses are a weird bunch; not the Jones's are a weird bunch.

    To write those any other way is demonstrably wrong.
    Sam, I think you may have missed the context (from earlier in the thread) i.e. making singulars into possessives (rather than into plurals).


  8. #8
    Iris' dog or Iris's dog?
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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by C.Gholy View Post
    Iris' dog or Iris's dog?
    Iris's. At least according to the Elements of Style. It's easily done either way, and some would argue for the former, but the latter is technically correct.
    It all starts with a name and flows from there. A ridiculous moniker springs to mind and it launches like a multi-lubed slippery-sloop down chutes made of buttery-floops. Down, down, down. We watch, spellbound. Rapturous. Glockenspiel. We do our due diligence with penitence and penicillin. Do what’s due, then dew drops on your moon-pops.


  10. #10
    It's bullshit that a contraction has precedence over an otherwise universally standard possessive rule. English, this is on you.
    You can never hate something so thoroughly as that which destroys what you love, and who is more guilty of this crime than the stranger who was once a lover?

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