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During the course of the last 6-12 months (approx.) online I've seen more and more the mistake of using "it's" in place of "its" and the other way around.

While my habits might have slightly changed, I'm talking about a huge difference here: a few years ago I knew it was supposed to be a "standard mistake", now I notice it almost daily! Even by native speakers!

Assuming it's not "just me", did you notice that? Have any idea of what could be the cause? The only logical thing that comes to my mind is that the Internet is now more cheaper and worldwide, so (no offence intended) we have more non-native speakers and more uneducated people. With "uneducated" I do not only mean they might not know proper grammar: I mean they might not care to write correctly.

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Instead of "Even by native speakers!", I would say "Mainly by native speakers." Because they first learned these phrases by listening to other people (and the phrases are pronounced the same way), not by reading a book. –  b.roth Jan 13 '11 at 16:42
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There are also a great many immigrants to English-speaking countries who don't get the chance to read a lot. Then there is the huge number of speakers of English in countries like India, some of whom probably speak it a lot but weren't educated in grammar so much. At any rate, I haven't noticed any huge difference over the past 10 years. But such a thing is incredibly hard to prove or disprove. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 16:54
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No offence taken, but do feel free to leave us non-native speakers out of the equation anyway. (^_^) As has been argued elsewhere, non-native speakers might actually have less trouble differentiating between it's and its, than and then, their and there. –  RegDwigнt Jan 13 '11 at 17:09
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I think what happened in the last 6-12 months is that you went online, or your reading habits changed, or something. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Jan 13 '11 at 17:37
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A classic example of the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recency_illusion –  nohat Jan 13 '11 at 23:01
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3 Answers

I doubt that the average person makes significantly more apostrophe-related errors today than they did five years ago. However, you may be noticing an uptick in such errors due to some combination of the following reasons:

  • The proliferation of informal online content. I think it's safe to say that today there are more blogs, discussion boards, and other websites created and maintained by non-professional writers than there were 5 years ago. Consequently, a a random page on the Internet today vs. one from 5 years ago is more likely to contain grammatical errors.

  • Confirmation bias. Once you get the germ of a particular grammatical error in your head, you are sensitive to it, seeing and remembering it more often than you otherwise would.

  • Texting norms. People text a lot more today than 5 years ago. When texting, adding an apostrophe usually requires a couple button presses, thereby slowing down the user. Consequently, texting often forgoes punctuation marks, including apostrophes. One can assume this behavior would translate onto the web.

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+1 for confirmation bias –  Andy F Jan 13 '11 at 18:19
    
1: I disagree, because I feel the opposite, and I think the proliferation of content, bad quality or good (especially Wikipedia on the good side) has made people, especially childs/teens read more, something that schools make them hate to do. 2: That varies from person to person. I remember an error very clearly when I realise I was wrong all the time, due to shame. 3: I agree, but I take that extra time because honestly it's horrible to see myself doing that... –  Camilo Martin Feb 6 '12 at 18:59
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My iPhone offers me "it's" in all circumstances: I have to reject that to get "its". Assuming other iPhones behave likewise (and perhaps other devices too) that would seem likely to account for the proliferation.

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Run for the hills! Apple has taken over the world! --an iPhone user :) –  morganpdx Jan 13 '11 at 17:54
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I don't think that it has gotten significantly worse in just the last few years. The vast majority of people writing today were also writing 5 years ago. That said, it has almost certainly gotten worse over time, as book-reading has declined and grammar has been de-emphasized in primary education.

Apostrophes are notoriously confusing for people, and the default seems to be, "When in doubt, stick it in there." I see things like CD's and DVD's all the time, for example.

I think in your case, you have become more sensitive to the error as you have become more aware of it.

Another component may be the proliferation of weblogs and other informal outlets, so although writers have not gotten materially worse, we have been consuming an increasingly large volume of informal writing, thus encountering the error with greater frequency.

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An apostrophe means "look out, here comes an s ". Thus "apple's", "monkey's", "dog's", "it's", etc. –  ShreevatsaR Jan 13 '11 at 17:39
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@ShreevatsaR: ab'solutely. After all, they dont 'serve any other purpo'se! –  Colin Fine Jan 13 '11 at 17:44
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Since nobody has linked to Bob the Angry Flower just yet, I might as well do it myself. –  RegDwigнt Jan 13 '11 at 17:46
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@Reg: He has stolen my heart already. Reminds me of Donnie from You Suck at Photoshop, really the best way to learn Photoshop and be entertained at the same time. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 17:57
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@Morganpdx: One of the problems is that there are exceptions to this rule, such as the possessive 's versus "it's / its". Another problem are the entirely different rules about the same issue in other languages. The apostrophe is an equally common problem in Dutch. –  Cerberus Jan 13 '11 at 18:02
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