Fribble It's a Crying Shame

By caveman2
Monday, February 7, 2000

In the words of a cartoon sailor man with a fondness for spinach, "I had all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!"

The English major in me is, of course, talking about the continual deplorable misusage of "it's" and "its" on the message boards.

Now, I know that, in the fervor of typing, keys can get mistakenly hit and spelling can go right down the toilet. However, the "its vs. it's" debacle is such a disturbingly common occurrence that I feel I can no longer bite my tongue. For crying out loud, even professional ad agencies are messing it up (and don't even get me started on Apple's grammatically aberrant "Think different" campaign). God help me, I've become a grammar prude.

OK, now listen up, because I'm only going to go through this once (or twice):

"It's" is a contraction of "it is." You use the apostrophe when you feel too lazy to say "it is" and would prefer to make it into one word (it works the same way for "do not/don't," "does not/doesn't," "would not/wouldn't," "are not/aren't," "should have/should've," and the largely archaic "shall not/shan't"). If you use the apostrophe, you MUST be able to break the contraction into two separately functional words.

On the other hand, "its" implies OWNERSHIP, and cannot (er, can't) be broken up into two words. "Its" is the equivalent of "his" or "hers" or "theirs." And we don't put apostrophes in "hi's," "her's," or "their's," do we?

Any time you feel compelled to slap that apostrophe on after an "it" and before an "s," ask yourself, "Can I turn this "it's" into "it is?" If you can't, then don't. For example:

"It's very hard to keep these grammar rules straight," translates as:
"It is very hard to keep these grammar rules straight."
Correct? Yes! Great, then keep the apostrophe. In this case, "it's" can be changed to "it is," and the sentence still makes good sense.

On the other hand:

"I like the post based on it's own merits," does NOT translate as:
"I liked the post on it is own merits."
Sounds kind of stupid, doesn't it? Moronic even? Dare I say, uneducated? That's because, in this case, "its" implies ownership (the merits are contained by the post), and not a contraction of "it is."

Other examples of incorrect usage:

"Its unclear to me what the heck this guy is talking about."
"I think its time to ignore him."
"It's meaning is not very clear to me."
Well, that's [that is] all; I don't [do not] have anything to say about this topic. I've [I have] talked about its [it is? NO! ownership] importance enough. Mrs. Fischer from second grade can rest easier now.

Next lesson: the difference between "to" and "too."