Dina Friedman's Monthly Writing Advice

Vol. 2 # 1, July 2002 - Its vs. It's

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CONTENTS
* This Month's Tip: Its vs. It's
* New at FrugalFun.com & FrugalMarketing.com
* Subscriber Discounts on Shel's Books
* About This Tipsheet (with sub/unsub/archive info)

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THIS MONTH'S TIP: Its vs. It's

Dear Dina,

Could you please, once and for all, clarify the difference between "its" and "it's". Of what use are these darn apostrophes anyway?

Signed,
Speaking Simply

Dear Speaking Simply,

Apostrophes have two purposes. The first is to show possession: Jane's book, the store's annual sale, etc. The second purpose is to show one or more missing letters in a contraction: I can't do that (cannot), She's going to the store (She is).

"It's" with an apostrophe stands for "it is." "Its" without the apostrophe means belonging to someone or thing, in other words, a possessive. You might rationalize from the above, that you would need an apostrophe in a possessive sentence-for example, "The dog shed its hair all over my new carpet." But the reason that you don't use the apostrophe is because "its" is a possessive pronoun, like hers, his, yours and theirs, none of which take an apostrophe. So there is some method to this madness, and yes, differentiating between "its" and "it's" can easily drive one mad.

The fool-proof test. You can check on whether you need apostrophe by substituting the words "it is" in place of "its". If the sentence still makes sense, then add the apostrophe. Otherwise, leave well enough alone.

Good luck,
Dina

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Dina Friedman, M.S.W., has worked with individuals and groups on issues for thirteen years. A published fiction writer, poet, playwright, and journalist and winner of several awards and honors, she coordinates academic writing workshops for Mount Holyoke College. She has taught rhetoric, English Comp, and creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Holyoke Community College, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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