In fall 2011, I took a writing techniques class at Montreal’s McGill University. I remember receiving and reading a list of rules for writers and writing techniques. One of the rules read as follows:
“Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.”
The rules were meant to be humorous and, of course, useful for writers (and other language professionals. Sure, why not!). If you paid close attention to the above rule, you likely noticed that it’s and its are written incorrectly. Unfortunately, examples of incorrect use abound in every day writing. Below is an example from a Facebook page:
Pita Pit is making it’s mark on daytime tv in ottawa!
Did you notice the above mistake (or should that be mistakes)? Yep, the author of this page has used the wrong “its,” and names of places are always capitalized.
If you have difficulty with it’s and its, I will attempt to give a crash course in the following paragraphs.
It’s is the contraction of “it is” or “it has.” You often use this contraction in sentences or first lines such as “It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood (or is that neighborhood?), won’t you be mine?” You’ve got to love Fred Rogers. *grin* Sorry for the editorial comment.
You can also write it’s in expressions like “It’s about time!” Example: The plane arrives in Vancouver at 5:00 p.m. Well, it’s about time!
Unlike it’s, its is a possessive pronoun. In other words, this type of pronoun shows ownership; it may be used alone, or it may describe a noun. Its never takes an apostrophe.
Example: The St. Lambert Choral Society celebrated its 95th anniversary last year.
The above Facebook message should have read: “Pita Pit is making its mark on daytime tv in Ottawa!”
I trust these explanations have been helpful. If you have difficulty deciding which “its” to use, try asking yourself this question: “Am I showing ownership of something or someone, or am I using a contraction?” The answer to this question should help you determine if its or it’s is appropriate in your context.
Now, dear public, mind your “it’ses” and “itses,” please! If you’re not sure which to use, feel free to get a second opinion from professional editors, proofreaders, or writers. They’ll tell you which “its” fits the bill for your texts. Heck, even I can tell you. *smile*