It is name is sloppiness

This is about as basic as errors in usage get, but it (its?) pops up again and again in news stories,  books, blogs and, as in this case, advertisements.


Partly because the choice between “its” and “it’s” is counterintuitive. From an early age, we learn that an apostrophe turns a noun into a possessive: Rover’s collar, the president’s entourage, the student’s book. With personal pronouns, though, that rule doesn’t apply. Instead of adding an apostrophe and an “s,” we simply add “s”: The coat is hers. She is its new owner. How can it be both his and theirs?

Adding to the problem is the formation of contractions, those vernacular haircuts we give to verb phrases to keep us from sounding (looking?) too formal. For instance, It is stuffy in this room becomes It’s stuffy in here. We crowd it is together and substitute an apostrophe for the exorcised “i.”

In formal writing, we often avoid contractions. Some people will even tell you to avoid them in any type of writing, as if contractions somehow carry an illiteracy virus. I’m not one of those people. In fact, much of the time, I think contractions lend an air of accessibility to writing. In some cases, contractions even add a poetic cadence. Imagine how different The Association’s classic song “Windy” would be without contractions:

Who’s peekin’ out from under a stairway
Calling a name that’s lighter than air
Who’s bending down to give me a rainbow
Everyone knows it’s Windy

As confusing as “its” and “it’s” can be, most students seem to understand the difference. When I ask them to choose between the words on a quiz, nearly all choose the right answer. When they write, they sometimes get them wrong, though.

So what is the problem? Haste and inattention. When we drive inattentively, we crash. When we write inattentively, we crash. One type of crash can damage our bodies, the other our credibility.

So what can you do? Pay attention. Slow down. And if you are unsure about something, use a dictionary. It’s that simple.

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