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Should I put an apostrophe in "for all its worth"? The meaning comes to about the same thing either way, as far as I can make out, and it seems like "it's" is more popular. But is there an accepted version? Or any reason for preferring one over the other, other than staying conventional?

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You found an answer to this question. –  SrJoven Aug 14 at 4:32
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Both could be correct depending on how you view all. If you view all as a predeterminer, then it would be its, but if all is a pronoun followed by a relative clause, then it would be it's. –  Jasper Locke Aug 14 at 4:34
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@brasshat Where does it answer my question? I understand the difference between it's and its - I'm not asking if they have the same meaning. I'm asking which is correct/accepted in for all it's worth. And why, if applicable. –  Daniel Aug 14 at 4:46
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@SrJoven That other question was the first thing I thought of when I saw this one. It's interesting that this works with "For all its worth"/"For all it's worth", but not with "For what its worth"/"For what it's worth". –  Joshua Taylor Aug 14 at 15:12
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Rule of thumb check should be, would you say "for all she's worth" or "for all her worth"? I realise this doesn't help if you don't have an answer to that question either, but I'd lean toward the former. Of course both are grammatically correct (in the right context) and mean so close to the same thing that I assume you aren't concerned about the difference, just about which is idiomatic. –  Steve Jessop Aug 16 at 11:36

6 Answers 6

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Apparently, the writer's intention was always to mean "it is," not "its." (A hasty conclusion and a sweeping statement, yes.)

Comparing "for all it's worth" and "for all its worth" with "for all it is worth," and considering that apostrophe use for the genitive was in fact an after thought.

nGram:

enter image description here

The arrival of the apostrophe as possessive indicator confused both the writer and the reader, so that today more often than not, authors do not know which is the "original idiom" and the reader is not sure what the author had meant to say.

The safest approach for writers would be to avoid the apostrophe altogether in this case and be specific, and for the reader to rely on context where needed and possible.

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Note that in the similar expression "for what it's worth", the genitive "its" doesn't work. That's a different case, but would also suggest that "all it is worth" would be more common. –  Joshua Taylor Aug 14 at 15:15
    
Where did you get the data? That chart looks amazing. –  r00fus Aug 14 at 22:52
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That seems to be Google's Ngram Viewer. It's a very commonly used tool for any basic question of documented language usage statistics and history. –  Novelocrat Aug 14 at 23:03
    
Yes! I always thought it was "for all it is worth", not "for all the worth belonging to it". Your graph seems to confirm that. –  Adeptus Aug 15 at 4:04
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@r00fus Added link to nGram. –  Kris Aug 15 at 13:12

Depending on whether there is an apostrophe, the phrase has two quite different meanings, and that is what needs to be explored further.

'For all it's worth' suggests the thing is not worth much. And what you are intending, 'for all it's worth', is a way of minimising the importance of the task.

When you 'use something for all its worth', the thing may well be, and probably is, worth a lot. For example if I am a politician and someone important says something nice about me, I might decide to refer to the matter as much as I possibly can and hence 'milk it for all its worth'.

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Do you have some references to validate the difference in meaning? To me, "milk it for all it's worth" is identical in meaning to "milk it for all its worth". –  talrnu Aug 14 at 14:22
    
@talrnu Yes I did think about this further. There is overlap here. You are right that those two are more or less identical in meaning. But 'it's worth' does mean 'it is worth', whereas 'its worth' is 'the worth of it'. So saying 'I would throw it away, for all it is worth' is different to saying 'I would hold on to it given the worth of it'. These sentences place quite a different value on the worth of the item in question. –  WS2 Aug 14 at 14:30
    
@WS2 Do you think that "for what it's worth" (where "its" is not an option) more clearly minimizes the importance of something? –  Joshua Taylor Aug 14 at 15:16
    
Your two contrasting examples, "I would throw it away" and "I would hold on to it," are different because of what you would do with it, not because of a distinction of "the worth it has" and "the value which it is worth." –  iamnotmaynard Aug 14 at 15:37
    
@iamnotmaynard I was just providing instances of where I would use 'it's worth' and 'its worth'. And that is how it turned out. I can't imagine using the former for something valuable nor the latter for something trivial. But that's just me. –  WS2 Aug 14 at 16:24

"For all it's worth" wins in my opinion as it is more adaptable to other sentences also.

"For what it's worth" for example doesn't make sense if changed to "For what its worth". That might make one wonder "For what, its worth?"

It ultimately depends on what "it" is. Does it own the worth? Or is it simply worth the worth?

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I think it depends on the context. If you're referring to specific attributes of the object and its value, then you use "its". Usually these values are not defined by units like money, and are subjective. However, if you're referring to the object's overall value - for example, its value on the market - then you use "it's". However, I really do not think there is a solid rule for apostrophe use in this case, and I suppose that it is arbitrary for most.

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True, but the question is what was it "actually," originally, historically, and "correctly." –  Kris Aug 14 at 5:29
    
Yes, I agree with that too. I actually tried to answer this question on a technical basis rather than a historical one, but I do understand the importance of tradition. However, I appreciate the information you provided, and I found your answer very informative as well. This is another reason I like this site; people could share opinions and knowledge. c: –  Emily Aug 14 at 5:32

This is mostly a matter of distinguishing between having worth ("all its worth") and being worth something ("all it's worth"). I can only find subjective arguments for the value of either case over the other.

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I neglected to mention that the it's form wouldn't make sense with "of". Possibly "which", though: for all which it's worth. But this feels clumsy. –  talrnu Aug 14 at 14:24
    
The answer you linked specifies that "of" is optional with "all", "half", or "both". Still, including it here would help distinguish the meaning from "for all it is worth". –  supercat Aug 14 at 20:02
    
@supercat I think you missed the last sentence in the answer I linked to: "But you can't leave out of before the pronouns us, you, them, and it." –  talrnu Aug 14 at 20:04
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The term "pronoun" is sometimes used to refer to things that aren't nouns but are associated with pronouns (especially adjectives such as "its"). The adjective "its" is not the same thing as the pronoun "it". When used with countable nouns, "all of its Xs" has a different shade of meaning from "all its Xs"; the former applies to Xs individually, and the latter collectively. –  supercat Aug 14 at 20:16
    
Ah, I see I've confused possessive pronouns with possessive determiners. I'll remove the second half of my answer, as this means it's clearly incorrect. –  talrnu Aug 14 at 20:33

As others have noted....it depends.

When you use the sentence, if you can insert the word "that" ("for all that it is worth") and have it still make sense in the way that you are using it, then you need an apostrophe to contract "it is" to "it's". If the word "that" makes no sense in the way you're using your sentence, then you need to leave out the apostrophe so that you are using the possessive "its".

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I agree, that's a good way to tell. And the its alternative would allow inserting the word "of", so depending on what you want to say: "for all that it is worth" (contract to it's) or "for all of its worth" (no apostrophe) –  DaveBoltman Aug 20 at 6:30

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