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Why is there a distinction between "it's" and "its"?

You can write "The cat's walking." where "cat's" might ambiguously be either "cat is" or "cat (possessive)", and I don't think anyone considers this to be a major problem of usage. What's different with its/it's?

Perhaps it is better to compare with other pronouns.

Its is substantially different in form than other genitive pronouns, in that it appears to be a relatively modern construction (OED has the earliest attested use in the 15th century) which in fact generalizes from the apostrophe possessive, or is a result of the same transformation that produced the apostrophe from OE strong|singular|masc./neut. -es. "Him"->"his" definitely isn't generalized from a widely attested grammatical rule; they've been in the language from old english essentially unchanged. By the logic that "its" operates similarly to other pronouns one would expect its (its' ?) modern form to be something like "his" which was its' original genitive form.

So my question is, who decided that its doesn't get an apostrophe, and why?

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Jan 10 '14 at 13:07

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    You should be looking at other pronouns rather than nouns. His vs. he's, her vs. she's, their vs. they're and so on and so forth — its vs. it's is the norm, not the exception. – RegDwigнt Jan 10 '14 at 11:11
  • Thank you for the update, though the question is a duplicate now. (Alas, I don't think we ever found a truly satisfying answer to the original, but if anyone can provide new insight, they're welcome to do it there.) – RegDwigнt Jan 10 '14 at 13:10
  • @colinro - Is "It is substantially different in form..." a quote/paraphrase from somewhere? Can you give the source please? – nxx Jan 10 '14 at 13:25
  • @nxx no, that was a claim of my own making, based on the etymological fact from my post and the similarity between it and its which is not present between him -> his. Although yes between her -> hers, so that is...factor – colinro Jan 10 '14 at 21:53
  • @RegDwigнt can you link to the original discussion? – colinro Jan 10 '14 at 21:54

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