It happens everywhere: blogs, forums, newspapers, ...


“Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians, was time he did not spend focussing on Russia’s aggressive behaviour, including its interference in American and European elections, it’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea,” he said.

It is so prevalent that even being 100% certain that it should be spelled its, I (as a non native speaker) start to think that it's is an accepted variant.

  1. Am I wrong in thinking that the only correct spelling for the possessive is its? Is it's an accepted spelling somewhere in the Anglosphere?
  2. Are people not aware of this, or they do not care? Very often people make this error repeatedly in a single article.
  3. Is it simply a very widespread typo? (really, so widespread??)
  4. Should I correct people in forums / comments about this?
  • 3
    1. Don't correct users' spellings or use of the apostrophe in forums or in blogs unless your English is impeccable, because you're only inviting abuse from online users. I seen this happening so often, it's become a clichè. 2. Why do people forget to use the apostrophe in its? Because it's very easy to forget, and the contracted form it's is used much more frequently, so it becomes a habit to add an apostrophe. This is more likely to happen with native speakers then with careful learners (in my experience).
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 17, 2017 at 8:24
  • 2
    Some natives must of been lazy ;)
    – mplungjan
    May 17, 2017 at 8:27
  • 2
    People are taught that possessives are usually formed by adding 's. So it's natural to fix up "its" and make it look "right".
    – Xanne
    May 17, 2017 at 8:54
  • 1
    "It's" is the original, correct spelling, and was taught in e.g. American schools as recently as a few decades ago. Given that fact, if anything it should be way more popular. But it's actually not any more widespread than any number of other things like "should of" or "their/there". So what is your reason for singling out this particular word and not any of the thousands of others, where the popular misspelling has actually always been a misspelling? Your collection of rhetorical questions strikes me as pure clickbait and very thinly disguised peeving, which is off-topic here.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 17, 2017 at 13:07
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA While the marked duplicate is useful, I don't see how this question is an exact duplicate of that.
    – NVZ
    May 18, 2017 at 11:50

2 Answers 2


"Why" do so many native speakers add an extraneous apostrophe in its, is an almost impossible question to answer in a couple of sentences. Below is a selection of excerpts, taken from the Internet, which attempt to shed some light on the matter.

According to the Grammarist

  • Most English speakers are comfortable with the difference between its and it’s, yet even the most careful writers mix them up in careless moments. Such errors are typos, not grammar mistakes (there is a difference), and can usually be stamped out with a quick proofread. None of us is immune to these mistakes, so let’s not be too hard on people who make the occasional its/it’s slip-up.

Merriam-Webster explains that it's, with its apostrophe, is the older spelling; it replaced the once gender neutral pronoun, his.

  • Long ago, English was like many other languages in that every noun had a gender: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Pronouns — those efficient little words we use to stand in for nouns, like I, you, he, she, we, they, and it — also had gender; the gender of a pronoun was determined by the gender of the noun it referred to. The possessive pronoun for neuter nouns was his: "April with his sweet showers." But when English began to link his and her only to actual males and females, his for objects seemed increasingly wrong, and it — with no s — began to be used: "April with it sweet showers." Around 1600 it's began to be used: "April with it's sweet showers." The it's had an apostrophe, just like a possessive noun like April's would.

  • This apostrophe form of the possessive remained extremely common throughout the 17th century. The version without the apostrophe only became dominant in the 18th century — probably because it's was taking on a new role, replacing the contraction 'tis. It's here had arrived and 'tis here was fading away.

  • We still see the possessive it's in dashed-off tweets and in flyers from local mattress stores, but the fact that it was right 300 years ago doesn't make it correct today. For those of us who live — and write — in the here and now, use it's only when you mean it is or it has. And drop that apostrophe everywhere else.

Better@English offers some invaluable insight as to why so many native speakers make this seemingly elementary mistake, the answer lies in the "sound" they hear in their heads.

  • Some grammar mistakes are surprisingly frequent even among educated native speakers of English. When it comes to written English, a lot of these mistakes involve words or phrases that sound the same but are spelled differently. Usually these mistakes are obvious when someone points them out to you, but when you are busy focusing on what you’re trying to say rather than worrying about grammatical accuracy, it’s easy to let the sound you hear in your head trick you into writing the wrong form. Unfortunately, if you make this kind of mistake, you run the risk of making a really bad impression with your writing. But luckily, some of these mistakes are really easy to fix if you just know what to look for.

  • One of the most notorious of these grammatical pet peeves is when people write the wrong form of its/it’s [...].

According to the writers over at Grammarphobia, the misspelling of its is a grammatical error.

  • On a superficial level, this qualifies as both a punctuation error and a spelling error.

  • But on a deeper level, it’s a grammatical error, because it represents a failure to distinguish between (1) the possessive pronoun and (2) the contraction.

  • The language blogger Jan Freeman argues that these “its”/“it’s” errors are merely typos, but comments from readers of our books, articles, and postings over the last 15 years suggest otherwise. Although a lot of the mistakes are undoubtedly typos, many, many people believe the presence of an apostrophe in “it’s” makes it a possessive. In fact, Pat’s first book, Woe Is I, was inspired by a publisher whose highly educated, adult children didn’t know the difference between these two words.

But for those who repeatedly misspell its, despite knowing full well the difference between it's and its, a BBC article provides some long awaited solace. It argues that typos and misspellings are in actual fact a sign of intelligence.

  • We should not get overly obsessed with making spelling mistakes or typos, because they are not what makes our writing good or bad, says author and Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway.

  • […] an article in Wired says we make typos not because we are dim, but because we are clever.

  • Writing is a sophisticated job and our brains focus on the structure, the sentences and the phrases, leaving the close-up work to be done on autopilot. Afterwards we are programmed to read only what we think we have written, not what we actually have. If that is the case, it is odd that we make such a phenomenal fuss about them.

Acknowledgements: @Josh

  • 1
    In case anyone's wondering, the post is a community wiki one, which means I don't earn any rep. The first three references were supplied by @josh whose answer is deleted but visible to users with 10K. Why did he delete his answer? Ask him. The OP expressed a vivid interest in the answer once it was deleted, I have only copied and formatted the excerpts (3) that were in Josh's post. The rest I found and cobbled together.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 17, 2017 at 20:34
  • 1
    Users are kindly invited to improve the answer by editing or supply further data. The post does not belong to me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 17, 2017 at 20:37
  • +1 Good effort. I think it could benefit from a consistent style for use-mention distinction as well.
    – NVZ
    May 18, 2017 at 11:53
  • Auto-correct might also deserve a mention here. At least I’m fairly confident that the vast majority of times that I end up adding an unwanted apostrophe come about by me typing its and my phone then unilaterally (and sometimes too quickly for me to notice if I’m already typing the next word) changing that to it’s. May 19, 2017 at 15:43
  • @JanusBahsJacquet please add, modify, or rearrange as you see fit. I don't consider this to be "my" answer. I only posted it because the OP expressed interest in Josh's answer, and I felt, in part, responsible for his deletion. He deleted it minutes after I had posted my second comment, so hard not to think it was my "fault". Anyway, go ahead and make this answer truly "community".
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 19, 2017 at 16:50

Possessive is usually denoted by apostrophe + s ("possessor's"), and its is an exception. Anyone who was never taught (or has forgotten) that it's an exception, will spell it it's instead of its. Though I haven't asked each and every person who misspells it if that is the case, I have come across this being the case, and I think it's a logical mistake.

As for your specific questions:

  1. Am I wrong in thinking that the only correct spelling for the possessive is its? Is it's an accepted spelling somewhere in the Anglosphere?

Proving that there is no one who spells a word differently (purposely) is not practical, so I assume this question is mainly part of your main one, you are offering a logical explanation as to why people would spell it differently. But since I think my answer above is logical, and since I haven't found any current dictionary (granted, my search was pretty cursory) saying otherwise, my answer would be: No. You are not wrong.

  1. Are people not aware of this, or they do not care?

Again, I didn't ask everyone, but those who I've corrected, were unaware. I doubt people who ensure their spelling of other words is correct, would have a case against one word.

  1. Is it simply a very widespread typo?

I think that the answer to No. 1 answers this too - this is unlikely (as you pointed out), and you are probably asking this only for lack of a better answer.

  1. Should I correct people in forums / comments about this?

Since this is a general question not specific to "its", and deserving a separate question, I am answering it in line with No. 1 again - Can you correct them or might it not be a correction at all? And as there - I think it is a correction, though, I don't know if correcting people's spelling mistakes is a good idea.

Side note: as mentioned in another answer here - it's actually was a correct spelling in the past.

  • Uh… this isn't a general question not specific to its. The full etymology is long and unusual, and spelling possessive its without an apostrophe is a deliberate distinction from it's as a contraction of either it is or it has. It's nothing like a mistake or error or typo… it's the correct spelling May 31, 2017 at 0:52

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