Is It "It's" or "Its"?

Clarifying confusing homonyms

 

Let's start with "it." Let's get it out of the way.


The pronoun "it" can stand in for inanimate subjects or objects as well as act as a "surrogate" subject when there would otherwise be none:


It is a very strange situation.


It isn't the right cap for the bottle.


Who is it? (in response to a knock on the door)


Among major world languages, the use of a "surrogate subject" is rare and rather unique to English. "It" isn't necessary in many languages.


Native English speakers don't have any difficulty knowing when to use it, and most English language learners master the use of "it" fairly easily.


However, the words "it's" and "its" confuse English language learners and native speakers almost equally.

These one-syllable word words sound exactly the same, but their meanings and uses are quite different.

 

IT'S


It's means either it is or it has (has as a modal or "helping" verb usually with "been")

To know whether the 's means is or has, pay attention to the context.


Examples:

('s = is)

It's easy.

It's in the cabinet on the top shelf.


( 's = has )

It's been too easy.

It's been a long time since the pandemic.


It's

"Its," on the other hand, is a "possessive pronoun."

 

ITS


"Its" is the possessive form for "it" like "his" and "her" are the possessive forms of "he" and "she." This is confusing for some learners because of the lack of an apostrophe ('s) but notice that "his" also has no apostrophe. Possessive pronouns do not have apostrophes.


Examples:

I'm reading a book by Charles Dickens. Its title is Great Expectations.


I think I will buy that car because its price is so reasonable.


Because you wouldn't say, "It is title is Great Expectations" or "It is price is reasonable," you can be sure these are contexts which require "its" without an apostrophe.


Bonus:

Can "it's" and "its" be used in the same sentence? Of course, they can.


Examples:


I like this game because it's easy to understand its instructions. ( 's = is )


This storm is going to be great for the garden. It's rained all day on its plants. ( 's = has )


Photo: @jeshoots