Here are two parts of the US Constitution that would today be treated as having spelling errors:

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws. (Art. I, Sec. 10, Cl. 2)

...no State, without it's Consent, shall be deprived of it's equal Suffrage in the Senate. (Art. V)

When did prescriptive grammar specifically begin to target the preposed possessive pronoun it's as a bad spelling, and recommend exclusively its?

See related question on SE.

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    About the mid-18th century, in England of course. There was little enough peevage in the Americas then because the nobility and gentry had largely stayed home. All possessives used the apostrophe in writing then, pronouns and nouns. It turns out that /ɪts/ meaning it is and /ɪts/ meaning its can't be distinguished in spoken English (showing that this is not a significant difference in English because it doesn't matter enough to notice). However, some of the more sensitive writers began to feel that, nevertheless, that distinction should be made in writing by all right-thinking people. – John Lawler Mar 26 '17 at 15:12
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  • @JohnLawler Pronouns did not generally use apostrophes back then. Some were common enough with (her’s, their’s) but still more common without; and mi’ne (thi’ne) and hi’s have been pretty much nonexistent throughout. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 27 '17 at 17:54
  • Then as now, silent jots and tittles were difficult to place correctly when writing. There is no standard punctuation that works outside very strictly demarcated publishing lines. And this is doubly true for apostrophe's, as any green'grocer shop shows. – John Lawler Mar 27 '17 at 19:30

The original spelling ( it's) with the apostrophe was used until the beginning of the 19th century as explained in the following extract from Etymonline:


  • neuter possessive pronoun; late 16c., from it + genitive/possessive ending 's (q.v.). "[A]t first commonly written it's, a spelling retained by some to the beginning of the 19c."[OED].

  • The apostrophe came to be omitted, perhaps because it's already was established as a contraction of it is, or by general habit of omitting apostrophes in personal pronouns (hers, yours, theirs, etc.).

Before the use of the neuter possessive pronoun "it's" was introduced, "his" was used in its place:

  • The neuter genitive pronoun in Middle English was his, but the clash between grammatical gender and sexual gender, or else the application of the word to both human and non-human subjects, evidently made users uncomfortable.

  • Restriction of his to the masculine and avoidance of it as a neuter pronoun is evidenced in Middle English, and of it and thereof (as in KJV) were used for the neuter possessive. In literary use, his as a neuter pronoun continued into the 17c. In Middle English, simple it sometimes was used as a neuter possessive pronoun (c. 1300).


Early usage samples:

1603, Michel de Montaigne; John Florio, transl., Essayes, London: Edward Blount, I.43: - The manner wherewith our Lawes assay to moderate the foolish and vaine expences of table-cheare and apparell, seemeth contrarie to it's end.

1751, G. Burnett, trans. Thomas More, Utopia: - since I have been at the Pains to write it, if he consents to it's being published I will follow my Friend's Advice, and chiefly yours.

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