In the phrase "My dog wiggles it's butt" there seems to be a division of opinion as to whether the use of the apostrophe is grammatically correct.

I suggest that as the dog in question is the owner of the butt in question and that said dog is an animate object replaced by the use of the word it then the apostrophe is a correct. Just as we use the apostrophe to show possession in the phrase "Mary's head."

  • Lee, please include your research with your question so our users know where you've looked already to try and answer the question. – Kristina Lopez Jun 11 '15 at 21:35
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    It's definitely NOT correct. Its is the correct possessive of it, whilst it's means it is. I realise it is paradoxical, but it has been the convention for a very long time on both sides of the Atlantic. – WS2 Jun 11 '15 at 21:37
  • @WS2 it's not exactly paradoxical, since it follows the usage for hers and theirs (and ours...), although there might now be some confusion starting over those examples. You don't often see hi's though. – Margana Jun 11 '15 at 21:44
  • The best way to explain how to choose between its and it's is to use random choice; this is the national norm. Since this distinction serves no purpose whatsoever (spoken English doesn't make this distinction, and we never miss it in speech, because it isn't there -- apostrophes are entirely silent), unless someone is paying you to do it their way, do it your own way. Also do it the official way if you're looking for a job and you think your prospective employer may be an ignorant jerk. But for no other reason. Who needs extra morphology just for show? – John Lawler Jun 12 '15 at 0:27

Simply put:

It's = it is.

Its = possessive of it.

In your sentence, you mean the tail of the dog, so you use its. "It is" would not make sense in that sentence.

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Not in this century, it isn't.

Just as we use the apostrophe to show possession in the phrase "Mary's head."

There are some pronouns that use the apostrophe for possession:

one's, everyone's, nobody's

But we do not do so with the personal pronouns. The following would all be considered incorrect as possessives:

*me's, *us's, *you's, *him's, *her's, *it's, *them's

Instead each of these have their own possessive pronoun that can be used independently:

mine, ours, yours, his, hers, its, theirs.

And that can be used with a noun:

my, our, your, his, her, its, their.

(Note that his and its are in both sets).

Historically we would once have found cases of her's, it's and their's here ("Their's not to reason why, Their's not to make reply, Their's but to do and die.") but that was for a brief period in the 19th century and wasn't that common even then. Such cases are long gone.

The only use of it's now generally considered is as a contraction of "it is".

So if you find the cases where Alfred, Lord Tennyson or Abraham Lincoln made use of it such apostrophes, they weren't incorrect, but unless an excitable chap turns up in a materialising police box and asks if you'd want to go on an adventure you shouldn't do so yourself.

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No! Saying my dog wiggles it's butt is pretty much saying my dog wiggles it is butt which, logically, makes no sense.

Whereas, if you use "its" (without the apostrophe) you are using a possessive:

My dog wiggles its butt.

Of which the best translation would probably be my dog wiggles the butt belonging to itself.

Summary: "it's" = contraction of "it is"; "its" = possessive (of it/belonging to it)

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