Another common issue I see when critiquing is mixing up it’s and its. The confusion is understandable, since apostrophes can be used both to show possession and to take the place of letters in a contraction. I’m not going to claim I never mix them up, especially when I’m typing quickly, but I do use a trick that helps keep me on track most of the time.
First the explanation:
Its = possessive
When thinking about possessives, apostrophes naturally come to mind like -
The man’s laugh made me cringe.
The girl’s freckled face peered through the window.
- therefore when using its as a possessive, some automatically think it should have an apostrophe: It’s fur was brown. But this is incorrect, since its is a possessive adjective like his, her, your, our, my, their, and whose. All these words demonstrate possessives WITHOUT an apostrophe, like –
His laugh made me cringe.
Her freckled face peered through the window.
Its fur was brown.
Since its is a possessive adjective, it does not need an apostrophe, just like his. If you’re tempted to use an apostrophe with its to show possession, think about how funny it would look if you tried that with his -> hi’s
It’s = contraction
It’s is a contraction for it is. In a contraction, the apostrophe takes the place of a letter(s) - in this case the letter i. And what better symbol to stand in for an i than an apostrophe? If you squint a little, an apostrophe looks like a mutated i. Try it: ’ The circle part looks like the dot above an i, and the dangling part looks like a small, withered version of the base of an i. So when I’m trying to remember the correct usage, I always think about the apostrophe like a shrunken substitute i when it and is get smushed together.
Now the trick:
Every time I write/edit the letters i-t-s, I immediately read it in the sentences as it is. If it is makes sense in the sentence, then I add in the shrunken substitute i - the apostrophe - since that means i-t-s is the contraction (it’s). If it is sounds funny in the sentence, then I leave out the apostrophe since that mean i-t-s is the possessive (its). This keeps me straight every time. So if you have trouble with it’s versus its, then get in the habit of reading every single instance of i-t-s as it is to help you decide whether it needs that substitute shrunken i (’) or not.
Does this help clear up potential it’s versus its issues? Do you have any tips/tricks for keeping them straight? How Irresistible is Molly with her letter I?
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