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Its vs. It’s: Learn the Difference

Updated on November 9, 2022Grammar

Have you ever mixed up its and it’s and then realized you don’t actually know for certain when the apostrophe is needed and when it is not?

Don’t worry—you’re not alone. The reality of its and it’s is that these two tiny, three-letter constructions are among the most commonly confused words in the written English language, even for primary English speakers.

That’s because the two words are pronounced the same way and have the same base pronoun (it) at the root of their spellings. But the simple addition of an apostrophe between the final letters changes the meaning of the word entirely.

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The difference between its and it’s

So what is the difference between its and it’s? Distinguishing the two words comes down to determining which one is a possessive noun and which is a contraction. Once you’ve identified this, you can easily recognize which version you should be using and ensure you never mix up the two again.

Here’s the rub: its (without an apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun, like his or her, for nouns that don’t have a defined gender. In contrast, it’s (with an apostrophe) is the shortened form, or contraction, of it is or it has.

If you can substitute either it is or it has for it’s in a sentence, then you are on the right track. Otherwise, the correct word is its, as long as it signals ownership of whatever noun comes after it.

What does its mean?

Its is the possessive form of it and denotes ownership of or belonging to.

The word its is often used in reference to something owned by a person or thing previously mentioned in the sentence, such as:

  • The video game challenges its players to beat the Ice Queen.

In this case, its is a stand-in for video game.

The word its can also be used in reference to a noun without a defined gender, such as:

  • The cat hissed when the dog stole its catnip.

The rule to remember is that if you’re describing ownership, you use its rather than it’s. Keep in mind that a noun (the thing that’s owned by it) must follow its, such as: its color palette or its charging station.

What does it’s mean?

It’s is a contraction meaning it is or it has.

Just like in where’s or there’s (contractions of where is and there is), the apostrophe signals that two words have been combined. Remember, any time you use it’s, you must be able to substitute either it is or it has in the word’s place.

The rule to remember is that the apostrophe in it’s means that part of a word has been removed (in the case of it’s, the i in is or the ha in has have been dropped).

When to use its vs. it’s

The choice between its and it’s comes down to the apostrophe.

The apostrophe is the main cause of confusion between the two words. Usually, the presence of an apostrophe indicates possession, such as: Kyle’s car broke down last week. But English does not use apostrophes when denoting possession in personal pronouns like our, her, his, their, and its.

Choose its when you want to ascribe ownership to something, such as:

  • The laptop was too large for its case.

In this example, the word its indicates that the case belongs to the laptop. (You could also correctly say, “The laptop was too large for the laptop’s case,” but this sounds a little clunky and repetitive.)

In contrast, opt for it’s as a shorter version of it is or it has, as in:

  • It’s been five years since I started my freelancing business.

In this example, you could readily use It has instead of It’s without altering the meaning. Using it’s rather than it is / it has also lends a less formal, more conversational tone to writing and conversation.

Its vs. it’s examples

Let’s take a look at some examples of its and it’s.

Examples of its: 

  • A car is no good without its wheels.
  • The bride-to-be loved the fit of the dress but not its texture.
  • Even though the house was run-down, it still had its charms.
  • The dragon destroyed the village with its fire-breathing ferocity.

Examples of it’s:

  • It’s not your fault if she doesn’t show up to the meeting in time.
  • He misplaced the dog’s leash, but he thinks it’s in his car.
  • Mom doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Loren to spend all his money on sneakers.
  • It’s been almost three months since Martha saw Fred.

Its vs. it’s FAQs

What does its mean?

Its is the possessive form of it and denotes ownership of or belonging to. Similar to his or her, its is often used in reference to something owned by a noun previously mentioned in the sentence.

What does it’s mean?

It’s is a contraction meaning it is or it has. Similar to there’s or where’s, the apostrophe in it’s signals that two words have been combined into a shortened version.

When should you use its vs. it’s?

When you want to ascribe ownership of something, use its with no apostrophe, like in this example: The diary was concealed in its hiding place. Use it’s with an apostrophe in place of it is or it has, like in this example: It’s unfair to assume she’s bad at cooking.

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