Don’t EVER Write “It’s”

Probably the most complained-against writing error in English is the mistake of writing of it’s for the possessive adjective its.

Nothing turns a potential customer off more quickly than seeing it’s where its is called for.

For example, I just received a request to publicize a new ebook site. I was on the brink of complying with the request when I came to this sentence:

The [NAME] LIBRARY has it’s own search engine with cross reference capabilities by author’s name, by topic and by age group where student’s work will be stored and easily viewed with just a click of a mouse.

Typographical errors are easy to make, but when an error of this elementary nature crops up in a press release promoting a publishing site, all credibility goes out the window.

Here’s a review of the possessive adjectives.

The possessive adjectives (often incorrectly called “possessive pronouns”) are:
my, your, his, her, our, and their. Possessive adjectives are placed before nouns and show possession:

My house stands on a corner.
His wife studies law.
Her job is very dangerous.
Its tail has been docked.
Our favorite tale is “Puss in Boots”.
Your time is up.
Their tickets cost $300.

The spelling it’s is a contraction that stands for the words it is.

Writing it is as a contraction saves very little time and space.

Teachers can do much to reduce the incidence of the it’s for its error by requiring their students to write out it is in all written work.

Adults can train themselves to write it is when it is is what they mean.

The only justification to write the contraction it’s for it is would be for stylistic reasons. Stylistic changes can be made during the revision process.

Bottom line: For first drafts, the best rule is NEVER write it’s for it is. That way you’ll never embarrass yourself or lose a client by sticking an apostrophe in the possessive adjective its.

More about it’s at

4 Responses

  1. Tony,
    I’m aware of changes in the terminology that linguists now use in discussing grammar. If a teacher wants to use the word “determiner,” then “possessive determiner” for what I call “possessive adjective” is a valid choice.

    In my work with older students who have failed to understand basic English grammar concepts after several years of formal education, I find that reteaching grammar in terms of the old eight parts of speech is effective.

    As for the term “possessive pronoun,” in my view, this term is best reserved for actual pronouns such as “mine” and “theirs.”

  2. I am afraid that in Modern English it is the exact opposite! It is incorrect to call these pronouns “possessive adjectives” as this was the term used in older grammars and dictionaries; the best term now is “possessive pronouns” or ” possessive determiners”

  3. I’m glad you popped the ‘stylistic’ reason in there. I like to write like I speak (except for the part where I go back and clean it up). There’s a smile in there, Ms. Maddox.

  4. Lawrence,
    OK. I’ll try to oblige. In fact, I’ll address one of your suggestions right now: anyway or “anyways.”

    I’m not as much of a prescriptivist as some, but the usage “anyways” is one that creates what I call a blackboard moment. (You know, fingernail scraping down the chalkboard.) AmEngDr says, NEVER say “anyways.”

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