Perhaps the most misunderstood word in English

When you were working you way through school, sooner or later your English teacher would have stopped what they were doing and had a little discussion about the confusion between “its, it’s, and its’.” The concept is a simple one. No doubt, your teacher may have thrown around words like possessive case, contraction, plural, and singular.

This was unnecessary.

The difference is very simple. Easy, even.

Here we go –

It’s – this is a contraction, that’s true. Simply put, this only means that we have two words, “it” and “is,” stuck together to make them (marginally) shorter. Just remember, if you can substitute “it is” and the sentence still makes sense, using “it’s” is correct.

It’s a really nice day today. It is a really nice day today –> CORRECT

My dog ate it’s dinner quickly. My dog ate it is dinner quickly –> NOT CORRECT

Its – this is a possessive, meaning it is used to show ownership.

Its a really nice day today – this is not a valid sentence because there is no verb (action). There is no “is.”

My dog ate its dinner quickly. Here, the word “its” refers to the dog which owns or has possession of the dinner, so it is CORRECT

Its’ – This last one is sometimes used to show that more than one thing has possession. This is because we can sometimes do this in English in such sentences as “The students’ grades were posted on the board” or “The dogs’ dinners were eaten quickly.”
You cannot do this with the word, “it.” Ever.

So, you have a choice of two words, not three.

It’s or its are valid English words. Its’ is not.

Simon Brown, B.A., B.Ed., TESL

If you have any other grammar questions or questions of correct usage, please e-mail me at I’ll be happy to give you my reply.