I understand that it shows that there is a contraction. This is helpful for understanding for neologism-like contractions, but the contraction of "it is" is so common you just read it the same as its and don't have any problem. I know this because when it's written as "its" in passages (like my notes) I understand it without a hitch and don't even notice it, until I go back through for editing.

  • Like any punctuation, its use is a matter of convention and consistency. If you want to write English using the Cyrillic alphabet and Russian punctuation rules, you can do so. But very few other English speakers will be able to read what you wrote. One minor change in punctuation convention is just a very small step in that direction.
    – The Photon
    Apr 24, 2020 at 15:58
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    I have to say that I find the confusing of it's and its to be particularly grating, and I know many other English speakers who feel the same way. The two are completely different in meaning, and the distinction between them is not difficult to understand. If we drop the apostrophe in "it's", does that mean that we should drop it in "don't", "there's", and every other contraction? Apr 24, 2020 at 16:56
  • @ThePhoton The ' in "it's" isn't punctuation, it's part of that word's spelling.
    – Rosie F
    Apr 24, 2020 at 18:27
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    @RosieF, why can't punctuation be part of a word?
    – The Photon
    Apr 24, 2020 at 19:42
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    It is indeed part of the word. But it isn't punctuation. Punctuation goes before and after words, and is supposed to help readers understand text by showing them how words in a text relate to one another. For example, to show where parenthetical remarks or quoted texts begin and end, and to show where sentences end. To some extent writers have some freedom in whether to punctuate heavily or lightly. But to write it's when you mean its, or vice versa, is to write a different word from the word you need; a word which expresses a different meaning from your intended meaning.
    – Rosie F
    Apr 25, 2020 at 6:47

1 Answer 1


This is a problem for many English writers, even those born into the language. The 's suffix is used for two different things, as a contraction for "is", and to denote ownership. So "Fred's" could mean "Fred is", or it could mean "belonging to Fred".

This ambiguity is not too confusing in most contexts, but with "it" it gets a bit weird. So some years back (to my knowledge in the 1950s, but maybe earlier) it became "standard" (ie, approved by "authorities" at Oxford and Cambridge, et al) to render the possessive "it" as "its", and reserve "it's" as the contraction of "it is". This practice has become fairly common, and so the use of "it's" to denote "the thing belonging to it" would now be considered erroneous by most reasonably educated readers.

There are a few other words where this practice is followed, though I'm not sure which ones have achieved the same degree of standardization as with "it".

  • Two? He's been scrumping again. Fo'c's'le is a hard word to spell. His two ex's were there at both do's. May 24, 2020 at 18:26
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    it became "standard" (ie, approved by "authorities" at Oxford and Cambridge, et al) Seriously?. There are no "authorities".at Oxford and Cambridge, et al. The earlier form of "it's" was also 'tis (now obsolete.) It's was last used for "its" somewhere back in the 17th century, but because of the of primitive printing, it is commoner to see "its" for "it's" - 1650 A. Weldon Court & Char. King James , 122 Its verily beleeved..it was intended the Law should run in its proper channell. The genitive never has shown ownership, it shows "association."
    – Greybeard
    May 24, 2020 at 20:26

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