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Teaching Tips on It's and Its

August 21, 2014

How much difference does an apostrophe make?

The apostrophe is a tricky punctuation mark in English—it’s difficult to remember all of its uses! One of the more challenging instances is knowing when to use it with the words it’ and its. As an editor, I see native speakers making mistakes with it’s and its all the time, so it’s no wonder our students make errors with the apostrophe in this case! I’ve found that reviewing the rules with my students (frequently, if need be) goes a long way toward helping them keep these words straight. Try presenting these words using the suggestions below and watch for their “aha” moment!

1. It’s

Meaning

It’s is short for it is or it has.

Structure

It’s is used as the subject of a sentence or clause, so it is usually found at the beginning of a sentence or clause. It’s is usually followed by an object (noun) or an adjective. Because ’s can stand for is or has, it can also be followed by an ‑ing verb (present progressive tense) or the past participle of a verb (passive or present perfect tense).

Tips

Tip #1

At the beginning of a sentence, we almost alway use it’s (but see “Its” tip #2).

Tip #2

If followed by a singular count noun, look for an article (a, an, the). If there is an article, you must use it’s.

Tip #3

If followed by an adjective, use it’s.

Tip #4

If followed by an ‑ing verb or a past participle, use it’s.

Examples

  • It’s a beautiful day today. (beginning of a sentence, followed by a)
  • It’s the way she smiles that first captivated me. (beginning of a sentence, followed by the)
  • The crowd is getting restless, so it’s time to get started. (subject of a clause)
  • It’s incredible to see his artwork in person. (beginning of a sentence, followed by an adjective)
  • I wonder if it’s possible to finish on time. (subject of a clause, followed by an adjective)
  • It’s beginning to get cooler. (beginning of a sentence, followed by an ‑ing verb)
  • Do you realize it’s been six months since I’ve seen them? (subject of a clause, followed by the past participle)

2. Its

Meaning

Its is the possessive form of the third person singular pronoun it. It is used for objects, animals, and sometimes for babies when we don’t know the gender. Its means that something belongs to something else.

Structure

Its is always followed by a noun. Because possessive adjectives like my, your, her, its, etc. already make a noun specific, we don’t need articles like a, an, or the.

Tips

Tip #1

Its must come before a noun. Look for an article (a, an, the). If there is no article, you almost always use its.

Tip #2

Its is most common in the object position (near the end of the sentence). It is also possible, though less common, in the subject position.

Examples

  • Give the dog its bowl. (object position, before a noun with no article)
  • Check out my new phone. Have you seen all its features? (object position, before a noun with no article)
  • Its color is what makes it distinctive. (subject position, before a noun with no article)

More Commonly Confused Words

Are your students struggling with other commonly confused words? Here are some more resources that can help:

Find 100 more grammar, teaching, and language articles in 100 Days of Grammar!

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