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Should You Use Its, It’s, or Its’?

Its, it’s, or its’? Knowing when and how to use these words can cause some confusion and errors for writers. Let’s explore the differences as well as English grammar rules for their proper usage.

How Do You Use Its, It’s, and Its’?

  1. Its is the possessive form of the word it. Its is used to shows ownership the same way Javier’s or Jenny’s does.
    • Example: The radio station has lost its license.
  2. It’s is the contraction of “it is” and “it has.” It’s has no other meanings–only “it is” and “it has.” Contractions are the shortened form of a word.  While  contractions are generally accepted in informal writing, be mindful of how you use them in business or academic writing.
    • Example: It’s raining outside today.
    • Example: It’s been said that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
  3. Its’ is never correct. Your grammar checker and spellchecker should flag it for you. Always change it to one of the two forms above.

Graphic illustrating whether to use "Its" "It's" or "Its'". "Its" shows possession and ownership. "It's" is an abbreviated form of "it is" or "it has". "Its'" is never correct and should not be used.

Using Its With Apostrophe Rules

The tricky part of the its question is this: if we write “Javier’s license” with an apostrophe, why do we write “its license” without an apostrophe?

Here is the explanation: Its is like hers, his, ours, theirs, and yours. These are all pronouns. Possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes. That is because their spelling already indicates a possessive.

For example, the possessive form of she is hers. The possessive form of we is ours. These are known as personal pronouns. Because we change the spelling, there is no need to add an apostrophe to show possession. Its follows that pattern.

More examples:

  • You can recognize Rene’s music by its abrupt tempo changes.
  • The golden retriever is known for its gentle personality.
  • The octopus uses its tentacles to move through the ocean floor.
  • Golfing has lost its appeal for Gene because of his arthritis.

Summary 

It’s is a contraction and means “it is” or “it has.

Its is a possessive form that is used to show possession or ownership, meaning the belonging of something to it. 

Its’ is never correct to use in your writing. Most proofreading software will flag it as a grammatical error. 

A simple rule to make sure you’re using its and it’s correctly is to read a sentence out loud and determine if “it is” is what you’re trying to say.  If so, use an apostrophe. If not, its (no apostrophe) is likely the correct choice.

Example: I don’t want to go outside because it’s raining.

In this case, “because it is raining” is correct, which is a sign that you you are correctly using an apostrophe. 

Test Yourself 

  1. Its / It’s easy to get to the ballpark by car or bus.
  2. This restaurant is known for its / it’s emphasis on regional cooking.
  3. Its / It’s become very difficult to find parking near the library since it moved from its / it’s Maple Street location.

Correct Answers

  1. The word is a contraction in this sentence, so the correct form is it’s. 
  2. The phrase “it is” doesn’t make sense in this sentence, which needs a possessive form: its.
  3. The sentence begins with a contraction of “it has” (it’s) and then needs a possessive form(its).
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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

73 comments on “Should You Use Its, It’s, or Its’?”

  • Thank you for this! For some reason, “its” is rarely used correctly. In fact, I just had to show my (know-it-all) 10-year-old daughter that “it’s” really is ONLY a contraction (by showing her what you wrote).

  • Thanks for this clarification! It’s great to find your website via a google search for its’. I’ve bookmarked your site for further exploration and reference. Cheers.

  • It should be noted that the original possessive form was “it’s”, WITH an apostrophe, formed in the same way as “one’s”, and that removing the apostrophe in the 1800s was highly illogical. No wonder so many people have trouble with it.

  • Thank you for posting that. Good, concise grammatical information is important to communication in both bussiness and science.

  • I thought that Its’ was the possesive form :-belonging to it. I know it’s is the abbreviation of it is.

  • I thoroughly respect your position.
    But, I completely refuse to relinquish my Its’ as incorrect.
    I am post-graduate educated and no stranger to academic monograph or incredibly boring peer-reviewed text in highest formal English.
    Yet, if one compares English to its’ mother German- we have many conflicting rules that have neve been resolved nor standardized. Typical Engilsh arse-ing about- and no that’s not considered a swear-word in UK [although the former presented singularly, is]. Spelling is one example and lexography/orthography another.

    Our rules for colons, commas and apostrophes are a dog’s breakfast.
    Secondly my argument is the inconsistency of breaking with the attribution quality of the apostrophe.
    The apostrophe clarifies attribution and possession well-as you’ve described.
    However, I argue it’s more clear to retain its’ as an identifier of attribution/possession than if one omitted the “its'” apostrophe.

    I borrow your examples:
    You can recognize Rene’s music by its abrupt tempo changes.
    [the inamanimate]
    The golden retriever is known for ITS’ gentle personality.
    [animate]
    Gene’s enthusiasm for golfing has been lost.
    animate possessive.
    Thus, it’s perfectly clear than when possession requires clarification- the its’ does a wonderful job without breaking with apostrophic convention
    Cringe as you might, but being educated with the “rules”, or more accurately the mass consensus [sic: logical fallacy] of “conventions” of English grammar (being a dogs’ breakfast as I described] I choose to break with the rules in order to be more consistent.
    I shall be that brushfire of the minds that cries “Never! I refuse to yield to ridiculous, contradictory, arbitrary English grammar rules contrived after the fact!”
    Its’ has a place in my heart and I argue a legitimate place on academic literature, as much as Jefferson’s “its” when he meant “it’s”.
    PS- I know this particular comment must be driving you mad. It’s’ meant to.

  • In that case, D, you must agree with these incorrect constructions:

    hers’
    his’
    theirs’
    ours’
    yours’

    I hope your insistence on following your own punctuation path does not get in the way of your success.

    Lynn

  • Thank you so much for this. I’m sitting here writing an essay, and kept stumbling over this issue. Thank you for clarifying it!

  • Oh well, my educated relative began her Master’s thesis with Charles Town and its people spelled wrongly and that is usually checked before printing. As it has had seven reprints already this shows how prevalent this mistake is.

  • Hello, David Dean. “Charles Town and Its People” is correct without the apostrophe.

    Lynn

  • Hi, Karan. I cover many of the basic rules of grammar on this blog. Just type what you are looking for in the search box at top right. Or click on the category at right called Grammar and Usage to scroll through all my posts on grammar.

    Lynn

  • Dear Lynn,

    It’s been a true pleasure reading your blog on ‘its, it’s & its”.

    Talking about it, its’ becomes a real reference, though lacking a grammatical correctness, it’s possible to refer to it.
    Its use, now:

    Its”s is used correctly if you are contracting the sentence: “its’ is never correct.”.

    …and further

    It’s’s is used correctly if you are contracting the sentence: “It’s is the contraction of “it is” and “it has”.

    Its’s is the form to use if you’re contracting: “Its is the form to use in all other instances when you want a form of i-t-s but you are not sure which one. ”

    Its”s’s is used correctly if you are contracting the sentence: ‘its”s is used correctly’

    I am confident we can create ever larger systems of ”s and s”’ by contraction and its ungrammaticality.

    Sincerely Yours’
    Wendell K. Turbo

  • Hi, Wendell. Thanks for your detailed comment. Despite your interesting examples, I never want to use the forms you covered. They are too confusing. Business writing is too filled with opportunities for miscommunication to pile contractions upon contractions and upon misused words.

    I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I opt for simpler structures.

    Lynn

  • I would say this has become the common usage but it’s is still correct because it follows Early Modern English usage. Most people do not know the reason why we use the possessive contraction the way we do. In fact, from a 16th and 17th century point of view we can never use a feminine possessive contraction.
    The contraction (correctly used in the masculine) is from “his”. Thus, father’s is actually contracting the phrase father his, as in “This is my father, his house.”

  • Hello, Buddy. Thank you for commenting. I am afraid “it’s” is not correct as a possessive form, at least not in U.S. English. Things that were correct in Early Modern English usage are not necessarily correct today.

    I apologize if I have misunderstood your point.

    Can you please cite your source or sources?

    Lynn

  • Thank you for your explanation. I was taught in school to use It’s and Its’ but now that I know my teacher was wrong and Its’ is never correct you’ve cleared up quite a lot.

  • “Its’ is never correct.”

    If this is true can you help me understand why this is what I was taught in Grammar School in the 1950s? Thanks.

  • Hi, Jerry. I don’t have a definitive answer for you. Even now, people in my business writing classes tell me they learned things in college–recently–that are not correct. Sometimes teachers are misinformed. I myself have shared a couple of ideas that turned out to be wrong–or at least not completely correct. It happens.

    On the other hand, sometimes people interpret what a teacher has said in a way that the teacher did not intend. So the lesson is learned the wrong way.

    Let’s look to the future! I believe you will be fine if you eliminate ITS’ from your writing toolbox.

    Lynn

  • Hi,

    I understand that ” its’ ” is never used but now grammar check in word is telling me that it is a reflexive pronoun and wants me to revise the wording. The sentence is “This success has not happened on its own…”. What to do?

  • Hi, Karen. Your sentence is correct. In that context, “its” is a possessive pronoun used as an adjective, or simply a possessive adjective.

    Stand firm no matter what your grammar check suggests!

    Lynn

  • While I accept that the possessive form of “it” is “its”, your explanation on the rationale seems to be somewhat in error. “Its”, as commonly used, is a normally a possessive adjective, not a possessive pronoun. Used in the same common grammatical context, “its” is not a parallel to “hers”, “ours”, “theirs”, or “yours”.

    For example, for the following sentence structure, I could write “He saw its shadow”, but I would never write “He saw hers shadow”. The correct form would be “He saw her shadow”, or “He saw your shadow”, or “He saw their shadows”. To use the other form, I would have to rewrite the sentence as “The shadow he saw was hers” or “The shadows he saw were theirs” so that there was an antecedent to reference.

    The only one which is a direct parallel is “his”, where you can indeed do a direct substitution to form “He saw his shadow”, because the possessive adjective and possessive pronoun forms are the same.

    While I could use “its” as a possessive pronoun (as in, “His shadow was long. Its was short.”), it’s far less common than its usage as a possessive adjective, which is where more mistakes are made.

  • Hello, “Anonymous.” Thanks for your comment. I use the “his, hers, ours, yours, theirs” examples because they make it easy for people to understand how “its” can be correct as a possessive.

    I may add a clarifying sentence about parts of speech to the post above, but I do not want to detract from the simple memory device.

    Lynn

  • Hi Lynn,

    I guess I am a bit confused about the “it’s” vs “its” usage. I am looking at this sentence: “This restaurant is known for its / it’s emphasis on regional cooking.” I know the correct usage is its, but I don’t understand the reasoning. If you were to replace its with Javier, as in your example, Javier still indicates a possessive, it indicates that whatever we’re saying is going to be about Javier. I guess I am just confused about how its indicates a possessive but Javier doesn’t.

  • The answer, Mary, is that possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes: my, mine, our, ours, your, yours, his, her, hers, their, theirs–and its.

    Forget about Javier, and think of it this way:

    He lost his license.
    The shop lost its license.

    I hope that helps.

    Lynn

  • But “hers,” “ours,” and “yours” are not the same as its. In my mind the possessive “its” should be “it’s” because it is claiming something.

    Ex. The tiger’s mouth was open.
    It’s (the tiger’s) mouth was open.

  • Hi, Brett. To be correct, you will need to change your mind.

    Use this comparison:

    He lost his license.
    The shop lost its license.

    The expression IT’S is only correct as the contraction of “it is” or “it has.”

    Lynn

  • Yes, technically you’re correct. But logically it doesn’t make sense.

    In many other languages you might say, “I don’t know nothing,” and it’s technically correct. But at the same time, it’s pretty silly.

  • It seems to me that your comparison of the word “its” to “his”, “hers”, “ours” etc. utilizes a convenient inconsistency for your argument. In fact, your trick only works for the word “his” because it happens to end in ‘s’.

    For example:
    …station lost its license.
    …dog lost his license.

    but not:
    ….girl lost hers license.

    Happy coincidence that it works on “his” but in the case of your other 4 out of five pronouns, you conveniently omitted the ending ‘s’.

    This is a bit like devising some wacky theory on stock market behavior and finding a specific day to cite as evidence.

    You may be correct in your usage but your reasoning is totally flawed. Sorry..there it is.

  • CD, the point is that possessive pronouns do not use an apostrophe:

    I lost my license
    You lost your licence.
    He lost his license.
    She lost her license.
    It lost its license.
    We lost our license.
    They lost their license.

    Those examples illustrate the point. If you do not find the point or the illustrations helpful, then please create your own.

    Lynn

  • One thing here. You compare “its” to forms like his hers or theirs. But “its” is not used in the same context. It is more similar to words like her or their.

  • Examples:
    The _____ is hers.
    The _____ is its. (Strange, if not completely incorrect.)
    Her _____ is blue.
    Its _____ is green.

  • Thank you, Ryan. My point was to show that possessive pronouns and adjectives do not have apostrophes. I was trying to explain why “its” does not have an apostrophe but “Ryan’s” does, to help people who struggle with that difference.

    Why not compare “its” to “his”? That approach should work perfectly.

    Lynn

  • This was very concise and helpful. I will never again have trouble deciding which form of its/it’s to use. Thank you very much!

  • And I sincerely hope people aren’t trolling your blog just to “slam” you with their own misguided opinions. Sometimes ego can present itself in quite an infantile fashion. I can’t see how your explanation could be any simpler to understand, and every other reference I check agrees implicitly. But I also see how once you respond to their catty comments, the other party is not heard from again. Imagine that… 🙂 Thanks again. This was GREAT!

  • I have no problem with who and whom. I use the verb lie and lay correctly, nor do I replace well with good. Yet the simple its, has left me discombobulated, until today.
    Your site is enlightening. I appreciates your simple and concise explanation. I enjoy learning grammar even at my age.
    I too have a know-it-all daughter. I tell her speaking well and being learned is worth its weight in gold. Thank you.

  • Hi Jeff,

    I believe you are asking me why I used a colon after certain expressions. A colon says “here it is” or “here they are.”

    Blogs–including this one–often use a breezy style. If I had wanted to be more formal in this blog post, I might have used more complete introductions, such as “Here are the correct answers” and
    “Here are the rules.” A colon would be correct after those introductory statements, just as it is correct after my casual ones.

    Lynn

  • I woke up in a picky mood this morning. I was also confronted early in the day with (yet another) Google look-up on the correct use of its/it’s.

    Being picky is referring to the use of “:” when introducing a list.

    From your explanation:

    choice becomes simple. Here goes:
    Its used correctly:
    is correct in these sentences.
    Correct answers:

    Please enlighten,

    Jeff

  • It was the inconsistency. As I wrote, I was being picky. Often I see a list with colons but one (or more) list items with no colon. “is correct in these sentences.”
    Jeff

  • Although I always get it correct when I use its/it’s, I tend to worry that I am about to use the incorrect form for the situation.
    The basic rules that you outlined in this article should (I hope) prove useful in allaying my fear of looking stupid by accidentally selecting the incorrect form of the word.

    I know this was written a long while ago, but the advice is still sound. I found this page by searching on Google.

    Thank you for writing this.

  • You are very welcome.

    Lynn
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: http://www.researchandwritinglawblog.com/archives/general-legal-writing-75-.html
    URL: http://www.researchandwritinglawblog.com/archives/general-legal-writing-75-.html
    IP: 64.207.133.176
    BLOG NAME: Research and Writing Blog
    DATE: 06/01/2006 03:28:22 AM
    Lynn Gaertner-Johnston at businesswritingblog addresses one of my biggest pet peeves – the use of “its” and “it’s.” How many times have I seen these words misused in very public writings such as billboards, form business documents and advertisements?….

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