Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grammar-Nazi Count-Down Episode 9: it's vs. its

This is another homonym, but the confusion lies not in the spelling but in the apostrophe, which brings us to the question: is this a grammar post or a punctuation post?

The solution to the its-it's conundrum is easy:

ITS is a possessive pronoun.  It goes with his, her, my, your, and their.  If you can replace its in your sentence with any other possessive pronoun, stick with its.  

Read this example:

Nerdvark's handsomest feature is his nose.  Its sheer magnitude is enough to impress anyone, but put that together with its glorious sheen and silken hairy covering, and you know you're looking at the world's most extraordinary proboscis.
Nardvark is proud of his prominent proboscis.

If Nerdvark's nose was a thinking being, you would see that second sentence written thus:

His sheer magnitude is enough to impress anyone, but put that together with his glorious sheen and silken hairy covering, and you know you're looking at the world's most extraordinary proboscis.
He is a fantastic nose.


From this example, you can see how its functions as a possessive pronoun.  The sheer magnitude, glorious sheen, and silken hairy covering all belong to (or describe) the nose.

For more on possessive pronouns, check out The OWL.

Squash together it is to get it's.
IT'S, on the other hand, is an abbreviation.   It actually consists of two words shoved together so hard that one letter has flown out and been replaced by an apostrophe.  Other words in this situation include isn't, don't, what's, you're, and how's.  

An easy way to figure out if it's belongs in your sentence is to grab it by both ends and stretch it back out to its original two words, 'it' and 'is.'  If it is fits in your sentence, then you can use it's.
Stretch out it's to get it is.


Here's an example, again using Nerdvark's nose:
(ahem)

Nerdvark's nose is a delight to all who encounter it.  It's long, it's shaggy, and it's brown.  What more could one want in a snout?

After stretching out the it's, we have:

It is long, it is shaggy, and it is brown.

For more irritating homonyms like this, once again, check out The OWL.

As you can see, Nerdvark is very proud of his nasal features.  And you can be proud of your correct use of its vs it's.

Thank you for reading.  If you enjoy my blog, please recommend it on your favourite websites or check out my site, www.kiborrowman.net.  See you next time for the last episode of the Grammar-Nazi count-down, once again featuring kittens!