The apostrophe is one of the most confusing punctuation marks in English. What makes it even more confusing is that there are lots of exceptions to how it is used.
These are rules about individual words, and the only way to learn them is one at a time. Don’t worry though, because there are only a few of them in English!
The difference between it’s and its is a tricky one. Let’s start by looking at basic rules about apostrophes:
Some Apostrophe Basics
1. It is used to show ownership
“This is Bob’s ball.”
2. It’s used to show the shortening of a word
“Sorry, I can’t come to the party”
instead of can not – the letters ‘n’ and ‘o’ have been replaced with an apostrophe
3. If a word ends in ‘S’, the apostrophe goes after the ‘S’.
Usually for plurals – “The teachers’ cars are all parked in the parking lot.”
4. It is NOT used to show plurals, even of abbreviations unless it’s ALSO showing possession.
Incorrect: CD’s, TV’s and ID’s
Correct: We bought 3 CDs.
The CD’s cover is blue. (because the cover is a possession of the CD)
Those four rules will work for most times when you need an apostrophe. As with any English rule, there are words that break the rules! One of the most common is the difference between it’s and its.
For “its” and “it’s”, the rule changes! When you are showing possession, it does not get an apostrophe. “Its” only has an apostrophe if it is short for “it is”, “it was” or “it has”.
If you get confused, just remember this one Golden Rule:
If you can say “it is”, “it was” or “it has” instead of “it’s”, then it needs an apostrophe.
How to Use It
Use “its” when you are showing ownership.
“The rabbit was eating its food.” – you wouldn’t say “The rabbit was eating it is food.”
How to Use It
We use “it’s” only when it is short for “it is”, “it was” or “it has”.
“It’s going to be a hot summer” – you could say “It is going to be a hot summer.”
You’ll learn about these kinds of exceptions and advanced rules in one of our Intensive English Courses, which are great if you want to get a job that needs a high level of English!