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
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!