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Get to the Point

It’s the Word Most Often Used Incorrectly

By Theda C. Snyder

It’s the word most often used incorrectly. Confused about when to use an apostrophe in this word? Teddy Snyder makes it all crystal clear.

word most often used incorrectly

Its or it’s? Its, it’s the word that trips up many writers, the word that doesn’t follow the rules. The problem is the apostrophe. Apostrophes are most often used two ways: in a contraction or to show possession. Some names have apostrophes, too.

Contractions shorten up two words into one. Have, would, will, had, not and versions of “to be” (am, is, are) are often contracted. Use an apostrophe for the shortened version of a date. For example, you could write that this year is ’23. And use it when referencing plural letters such as when a person minds p’s and q’s or instructs that all the R’s in a phrase should be capitalized, like Righteous Rolling Rock.

English speakers are lucky to have a shortcut for showing possession. Rather than having to say “the injury of the plaintiff,” English speakers can say “the plaintiff’s injury.” Adding ’s to the end of a word indicates possession. If a noun already ends in s, maybe because it’s plural, show possession by adding the apostrophe after the s. Modern grammarians say you can also add ‘s so long as you’re consistent, though that may look weird to some readers.

Fairly simple, right? But people mix up when to use the apostrophe. For some, adding an s to the end of a noun to form the plural just cries out for an apostrophe. Businesses frequently make this mistake in their signageNo. When an s at the end of a noun indicates more than one person or thing and the noun is not followed by identification of a possession, use of an apostrophe is wrong.

And then there’s its.

Its is the possessive version of it. When talking about our country, you might say, “The importance of its constitution cannot be overstated.” The constitution possessed by the United States is what we’re talking about. There’s no apostrophe because the word it’s means something else.

There’s no regular plural of it as a pronoun, because the plural is they or them. So its can only be a possessive. A seldom seen exception might occur if the word is not working as a pronoun; it’s not substituting for a noun. There are a lot of “it”s in this post. Unless you’re writing a grammar column, you’ll probably never need to think about this.

It’s with the apostrophe is always a contraction meaning it is. According to the rules, it’s should be possessive. Sorry, it’s not. Its, the possessive of it, is just one of those exceptions that makes English English.

620 Illustration ©

Categories: Communications Skills, Get to the Point
Originally published April 25, 2022
Last updated June 28, 2023
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Teddy Snyder Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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