When to Use Its vs. It’s | Examples, Meaning & Quiz

Though they’re pronounced the same, there’s a big difference in meaning between its and it’s.

  • Its (without an apostrophe) is the possessive form of it, so it means “belonging to it.”
  • Its’ (apostrophe after the “s”) is not actually a word, even though people sometimes mistakenly use it in place of its.
Examples: Its in a sentence Examples: It’s in a sentence
The dog chased its tail. It’s almost two o’clock.
The article contradicted its own argument. It’s best to do some research before deciding on a topic.

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Its: Possessive determiner

Its is a possessive determiner like “his” or “her.” It is formed from the neuter singular pronoun “it.” While possession is usually indicated by adding ’s to the end of the word, possessive determiners formed from personal pronouns don’t use an apostrophe in the possessive form: I/my, he/his, she/her, it/its.

Be extra careful when typing “its.” Spell checkers will sometimes mistake your meaning and insert an apostrophe where none is needed, so make sure to check yourself.

Examples: Possessive determiner its
The house used to be nice, but it lost its charm when it was renovated.

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It’s: Contraction

It’s can be used as a contraction of it is or it has. It’s never used in place of it was, though.

Example: It is or it has
It’s (it is) about quality, not quantity.

It’s (it has) been two months since I applied for the research grant.

Although contractions are fine in informal writing, you should avoid contractions in formal or academic writing. So you’ll never write it’s in an academic text.

Tip
If you’re unsure whether you’re using it’s correctly, replace it with it is or it has:

  • If the sentence makes sense with one of these substitutions, then it’s is the correct word to use.
  • If not, you probably mean its.

Worksheet: It’s vs. its

Want to test your knowledge of the difference between “its” and “it’s”? Download our practice worksheet with the buttons below. Fill in either “its” or “it’s” in the gaps in the sentences.

  1. The guitar is useless without ______ strings.
  2. ______ important to cite your sources.
  3. ______ been more than two hundred years since the Boston Tea Party.
  4. She started to feel better as the medicine did ______ work.
  5. ______ not a stray dog. I can see ______ collar.
  1. The guitar is useless without its strings.
    • “Its” is the possessive form of “it.” When you use “its,” you refer to something belonging to the third-person singular neuter “it” (here meaning “the guitar”).
  1. It’s important to cite your sources.
    • “It’s” can be used as a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” In this instance, “it’s” is a contraction of “it is.”
  1. It’s been more than 200 years since the Boston Tea Party.
    • In this instance, “it’s” is a contraction of “it has.”
  1. She started to feel better as the medicine did its work.
    • Here, the possessive determiner “its” refers back to the medicine.
  1. It’s not a stray dog. I can see its collar.
    • Here, both “it’s” and “its” are used. “It’s” here means “it is.” The possessive determiner “its” refers to the earlier noun (“dog”).

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Frequently asked questions

When do you use its vs. it’s?

Though they’re pronounced the same, there’s a big difference in meaning between its and it’s.

  • Its (without an apostrophe) is the possessive form of it, so it means “belonging to it.”
    • “The cat ate its food.”
  • It’s (with an apostrophe) is a contraction (shortened form) of it is or it has.
    • “It’s almost Christmas.”

 

Is its or it’s possessive?

Its and it’s are often confused, but its (without apostrophe) is the possessive form of “it” (e.g., its tail, its argument, its wing). You use “its” instead of “his” and “her” for neuter, inanimate nouns.

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Ryan, E. (2023, October 17). When to Use Its vs. It’s | Examples, Meaning & Quiz. Scribbr. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/commonly-confused-words/its-vs-its/

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has a lot of experience with theses and dissertations at bachelor's, MA, and PhD level. He has taught university English courses, helping students to improve their research and writing.