A lesson in it’s and its use to help you look more professional

I debuted my first writing lesson post a couple of weeks ago on apostrophe use. As I explained in that post, my goal is to examine errors found on actual blog posts and websites, without naming the URL of the blog or site it came from.

My goal is to not to point fingers at the author, but to point out the error. And I’ll explain what the error is and what you can do to fix it if it shows up in your own writing. If you apply these lessons to your writing, you’ll elevate your blog to a more professional level, and your readers will see you as more credible.

Let’s move on to today’s error!

Today’s error: Getting it’s and its mixed up

It's-and-its-use

It’s and its are not interchangeable. Don’t automatically add an apostrophe without thinking about whether you’re using the contraction or possessive form.

If I had a dollar for every time I saw it’s and its misused, I wouldn’t need to run this blog anymore because I could retire rich. Even though this error is a misuse of the apostrophe, which relates to my last lesson, it is so pervasive that it deserves a lesson of its own. (Note that I used its properly in that sentence!)

It’s is a contraction, and its is possessive. It’s that simple (there I go again!), and yet, so many writers get it wrong.

Since this error is so pervasive, we’re going to look at three examples.

Example 1: Facebook is rolling out a brand new look for it’s Facebook pages.

This example came from a graphics company website, which is trying to sell marketing and graphics web services. It was written by an author who calls herself a marketing professional.

The error: This sentence uses the contraction instead of the possessive.

The fix: Here’s a trick to remember: Mentally read “it is” into a sentence to see if it makes sense. If it does, use it’s. If it doesn’t, use its.

Applying that trick to the example: Facebook is rolling out a brand new look for it is Facebook pages.

No, that doesn’t work. It needs to be fixed.

The correct sentence: Facebook is rolling out a brand new look for its Facebook pages.

Example 2: This, on it’s face is a fine thing to do. … The concept of a sabbatical is common in academia and not so common elsewhere. So on it’s face, asking isn’t so bad.

This example came from a major news network website by a guest columnist. With two it’s/its errors in the same column, I wondered if anyone had edited it before they put it online.

The error: The author repeats the phrase “on it’s face” twice (Redundancy is a separate error, so I won’t address it here.), and both times, uses the contraction when it should be possessive.

The fix: Let’s apply our “it is” trick to these sentences: This, on it is face is a fine thing to do … So on it is face, asking isn’t so bad.

Make sense? No. Once again, these sentences fail the “it is” test and need to be corrected to use its.

The correct sentences: This, on its face is a fine thing to do … The concept of a sabbatical is common in academia and not so common elsewhere. So on its face, asking isn’t so bad.

Example 3: Its one thing to be a creative genius; its another to be a successful business person.

This example came from an entrepreneur advice site.

The error: This example has the its/it’s error the other way, which is less common. I usually see it’s used instead of its. But here, the possessive form is used instead of the contraction.

The fix: Let’s apply the it’s/its test: It is one thing to be a creative genius; it is another to be a successful business person.

That one makes sense! So the author should use it’s.

The correct sentence: It’s one thing to be a creative genius; it’s another to be a successful business person. (The sentence would also be correct using it is in both places.)

The lesson: It’s is a contraction for it is. Its is the possessive form. Treat it the same as his, hers, yours and theirs. The two forms are not interchangeable. They each have specific uses.

With this trick, it’s easy to keep from making it’s/its errors. Think about whether you need that apostrophe instead of just carelessly adding it. This can make a difference in your writing being more professional.

Readers, do you know the difference between it’s and its? Do you cringe when you see one used wrong? Or do you even notice? Will you notice this error more now that you’ve read this lesson? Let us know!

Comments

A lesson in it’s and its use to help you look more professional — 21 Comments

  1. It’s a common mistake people make. I am I do too but you have explained it so well that in future,I will read my work and check that it’s correct.

  2. I get very annoyed when people make this mistake but honestly, I do it as well. Sometimes it can be very hard to remember when in the heat of a sentence or paragraph. Thanks for this interesting guide.

  3. Yes I know the difference and oh yes I cringe! My biggest peeve is getting a personal pronoun wrong. Me vs. I….It’s so easy to test it too, just like with it’s and its. Maybe that could be a possible future post? Why are people so grammatically lazy? I know of people who know it’s wrong to say something a certain way, and they don’t care and continue to do so. What is that??! I’m glad you’re here for lessons!

  4. Hi Jennifer,
    You make a valid point, but most rules also have an exception.
    There are times when replacing “it is” with “it’s” is improper. For example, “So it is with those who…” or at the end of a sentence, affirming a point… “so it is.”

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

    • True, but there is no rule that says you should always use a contraction or never use a contraction. Choosing to use a contraction or not should suit the formality and emphasis of what you’re writing. This post is about the rules that most people don’t follow when writing either the possessive its or the contraction it’s. I’d be happy to get online writers past the basics of knowing the difference between the possession and the contraction. Then I’ll talk about the more advanced choice of using a contraction or the fully spelled out words.

  5. Being dyslexic makes seeing errors like this difficult. I understand them, but I miss them nonetheless. The way I’m able to overcome this is with a very good proof reader. She is a god send for me. :-)

    • That’s great, Susan. Having weaknesses and making mistakes is only human. But finding a way to overcome and correct them before your work goes public is what’s important. I’m glad you have someone to help you.

  6. It’s one of my pet peeves. Right up there with their, there and they’re. I hope a lot of people see this article and take note.

  7. Hello; As a blind computer user I don’t notice the difference when used. My screen reader pronounces them both as “its”. The only way I can tell is to go character by character something I don’t usually do when reading a document. This post has made me more aware of it, and I will be checking all my its and it’s uses from now on. I look forward to future lessons, max

    • Max, that makes perfect sense in your case. As a sighted person, I don’t think about what it’s like to not be able to see apostrophes (or anything) on a computer screen.

      So I’m going to use you to issue a challenge: If Max The Blind Blogger, who can’t see apostrophes on his computer screen, can promise to watch his it’s/its use, then can you, my sighted readers, do any less?

  8. This one drives me CRAZY!!!! Sometimes I think it is spell check, but in all cases it’s plain lazy:) Thanks for reminding folks… it really does come off as terribly unprofessional

  9. Jennifer – you’ve got to be talking directly to me. That is one I do all the time and not because I don’t know better. It’s just laziness and that’s silly. I don’t leave the apostrophe of other words – like you’ve, don’t, and that’s, so I don’t know why I do it, but I definitely will stop. Thanks for pointing this out.
    Lenie

  10. I think this one is a symptom of laziness as it is so easy to get it right. If the sentence reads “it is” then this = it’s. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t. That said we can all mess up now and then.

  11. It really grates when I see it’s and its used incorrectly. The other words I’ve seen otherwise intelligent, literate people misuse are their, there, and they’re.

  12. I like how you stress being professional in this post. So many bloggers and writers have no idea how such simple errors hurt their overall messages. Thank you for sharing your gift and tone.