Practical Grammar: that pesky its and it’s

This would have to be one of the biggest bugbears for writers – which one to use? But two simple tests will help you every time.

1. It’s is a contraction of it is. In your sentence, read it out loud and substitute it is for the it’s. Does it work? If not, use its.

e.g. The dog scratched it’s fleas – if you read this aloud as The dog scratched it is fleas, you can tell immediately the apostrophe is wrong.

2. It’s is never used as a possessive. People get confused because they associate this with the noun, e.g. The vet examined the dog’s flea problem. So they figure it should be The vet examined the dog carefully for it’s flea problem.

But if you apply the it is test, you can see the apostrophe is wrong. It is The vet examined the dog carefully for its flea problem.

It’s the same for yours and ours – no apostrophe. Everyone struggles with its/it’s – I saw it used wrongly in a national newspaper the other day, and often see the error in advertisements! But if you apply the it is read aloud test, you’ll get it right every time.

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