Writing tip: Its or it's?

Its and it's belong to two different families.

One family has no apostrophes: his, hers, its.

The other family all has apostrophes: he's, she's, it's.

To check whether its has an apostrophe, substitute another member of the family:

  • He's amazing, she's amazing, it's amazing (need for an apostrophe is obvious).
  • His hat, her hat, its hat (an apostrophe would be wrong).

This sort of error is hideously obvious in web content. Some readers (me included) always notice an its/it's error. Instant credibility crash as we subconsciously assume, 'Typo, ignorance, alarm bells, out of here!'

Some people half-learned a perfectly good old rule (an apostrophe replaces a missing letter). Unfortunately that half-knowing can torture the writer into dithering and questioning and delaying. If that's you, learn the family rule instead and start afresh.


Dec 08, 2006 • Posted by Matt Sach

You can of course use the really REALLY simple rule:

If you replace whatever you’ve written with “it is”, and it no longer makes sense, DO NOT use an apostrophe.

Example: “The cat put on it’s hat” becomes “The cat put on it is hat”. Doesn’t make sense, therefore apostrophe not needed.

Simple as that =)

Dec 08, 2006 • Posted by rachel

Absolutely. There’s no best rule – just the one rule that works for you. One rule, not two – otherwise they cancel each other out. I have noticed in my own anarchic mind that over time a rule sometimes slides into the opposite. Then I need a new rule, grrr.

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