“It’s” or “Its”: That Is the Question.

Grammar mistakes leave clients and friends with the wrong impression about you. Ask your language questions, discuss issues, and resolve written communication problems.

“’This embarrasses you and I’: Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter” had over 600 comments a few hours after it was published in The Wall Street Journal online. The URL is below.  Simple mistakes make a bad impression.  Let's fix the problem.

I will save you from the kind of error that hurts your image.  I won’t grade your question or your work, and I will cheerfully accept your corrections to my writing although I may disagree.  You will have the simple answer and then the explanation because often you need the answer and can wait for the reason.

Let’s start with a very basic issue: the difference between it’s and its.  If you understand the information in two bullets below, you will not make a mistake.

  • “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.”  The word cannot be anything else, nada, zilch.  Examples:  It’s time to take grammar seriously. It’s been too long since we talked.
  • In "wouldn’t," the contraction for would not, the apostrophe takes the place of the letter o.  In “it’s,” the apostrophe is the missing letter i. 

The confusion arises, I think, because usually in English we use apostrophes for possession as in the “owner’s deed” for the “deed of the owner.” 

The problem comes with possessive words (they’re pronouns but we can talk about that later) like hers, its, theirs, yours, ours.  Examples: The dog is eating from its dish.  Yours is a story I want to hear.

The way to keep from making an it’s/its mistake in this example is to ask whether “from it is dish” makes any sense at all.  Remember, it's means it is and nothing else.

Yet to come: the difference between lie and lay, affect and effect, I and me, and anything else you would like to discuss including why the AP approves the lack of a comma after “Texting” in the first paragraph. 

Check out the WSJ article at this link.

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Wendy Schapiro July 02, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Save the Oxford comma! ;) Great piece, Rose- from one Grammar Goddess to another!
Rose A. Doherty July 02, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Wendy, were you aware of the tsunami that ensued when the Oxford comma was dropped by a University of Oxford style guide. Many people responded. We learned later that the style guide is for the University of Oxford PR department and has nothing to do with Oxford University Press. The URL is below. Commenters said they will use the Oxford comma until they die. What is the stylistic or grammatical issue that gets your goat? http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/oxford-comma-dropped-by-university-of-oxford_b33357
Kathy Butters July 03, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I think the worst offense is the use of me and I. I cringe when people use I instead of me.
Rose A. Doherty July 03, 2012 at 02:24 PM
"Cringe" is a good verb for this situation, and the speaker usually does not recognize the situation. The misuse occurs when there are multiple pronouns. No one would say "Me is going to the fireworks" but "Steve and me are going to the fireworks" is often heard. The other problem happens frequently after the verb or preposition as in "between you and I." Here is a primer for correct use. This explanation is quite simple, and I would like comments. Subject of a sentence Always use "I." There are no exceptions. Examples: Steve and I are going to the fireworks tonight. Correct Steve and me are going to the fireworks tonight. Incorrect. After a preposition Use me. Examples: Between you and me, I think Steve is a great guy. Correct Between you and I, I think Steve is a great guy. Incorrect Explanation: Pronouns like I/me, he/him, she/her and they/them have different forms according to use in the sentence. The relationship of pronouns to other parts of the sentence is called its case, and pronouns change their form when they change case. The cases are nominative, objective, and possessive. I am going to deal just with I/me now. The subject of the sentence is always in the nominative case; it is always "I." If the pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition, it is in the objective case and is "me."
Barry July 04, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Hi Rose, we need your articles to appear on the front of every newspaper in every English speaking country. Honestly I think we can all be a little sloppy at times, so a refresher on the rules we should be following is most welcomed.
Wendy Schapiro July 04, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Rose, as both a teacher and a writer, I have to say that they ALL get my goat! One of my personal bugaboos is the way people use "hopefully," as in "Hopefully the parade will still go on in spite of the rain." Apparently it is now acceptable to use (or misuse) this adverb in this fashion, but I will stick with, "I hope..." My completely unscientific, unsubstantiated opinion is that folks subconsciously do not want to invest themselves in their opinions by saying "I" so they use the adverbial phrase. We're emotional cowards, when all is said and done, I am sorry to say. Thank you for giving me a forum to vent my spleen ;)
Rose A. Doherty July 04, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Barry, the front page of every newspaper in every English-speaking country appeals to the empire builder in me! Thank you. What rules/issues would you like to have discussed?
Rose A. Doherty July 04, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Dear Spleen Venter, I agree. I just checked the OED online. The sentence in the first entry uses the word properly: "He set to work hopefully," in a hopeful manner. The second entry has the wonderful statement that hopefully is "avoided by many writers." The definition in the second entry is "It is hoped (that); let us hope." Here is one of my language peeves. The correct spelling is "all right." The two words function as an adjective, adverb, and noun. It means "as desired" and expresses agreement. The word "alright" is obsolete, last used around 1250 CE.


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