Welcome to the first installment of the weekly category, “Mangled Monday.” Here, each week, we will address some kind of commonly misused rule–spelling, punctuation, basic courtesy–whatever, as the whim strikes.
Today, it’s all about “its.” A simple little word that seems to cause lots of confusion.
Really, it’s very simple.
“It’s” is a contraction of two words, “It is.”
“Its” is the possessive form, used for things like, “The table lost its leg.”
I grant you that the apostrophe followed by an “S” is commonly used to denote possession, as in, “The table’s leg.” However, this is one of the many little quirks of the English language we’ve all come to know and love, because an apostrophe-S is also used to abbreviate the verb “to be,” as in, “He’s coming to the door right now.”
The simple rule of thumb?
If you are trying to say “it is,” you’re combining two words and must use the apostrophe. It helps hold them together, taking the place of the “i.” If you squint a little, it almost looks like a short, little “i,” don’t you think? (Okay, maybe not, but work with me here.)
If you are trying to express possession, you do not use the apostrophe, any more than you would when saying “hers” or “his.” Those three–his, hers, its–are like family and share the same spelling rule.