I suppose I never thought it was necessary to do this post before, but after seeing so many of my students not knowing that “its” actually exists and after seeing how many people look up the difference between the two words, it became clear that this is a necessary post. I can see how these two words are confusing, and they will most likely be a bit difficult to remember. However, this should be a pretty easy explanation, so let’s get started.
“It’s” is a contraction, which means it is a combination of two words that are made into one with an apostrophe (think “can’t” or “won’t”). In this particular case, it stands for “it is.” The apostrophe takes the place of the “i” in “is” and forms one word. “It’s” with an apostrophe will always and only mean “it is.”
“Its” is not a contraction. It’s the possessive form of “it.” You know how we say “Kelly’s hat” with an apostrophe-s attached to the noun to show possession (i.e. the hat belongs to Kelly)? Same here, only to reduce confusion with the contraction form, the apostrophe is eliminated.
“It’s raining today.” = It is raining today.
“The book is 300 years old; its cover is made of leather.” = The cover that belongs to the 300 year old book is made of leather.
“Its the best thing I’ve seen in years” = WRONG. “Best thing” does not belong to “it.” We are saying “it is.” Therefore, we should use “it’s”: “It’s the best thing I’ve seen in years.”
“It’s audience is primarily young adults.” = WRONG. The audience belongs to “it” (most likely a movie or something), and thus we do not use the apostrophe: “Its audience is primarily young adults.”
A great way to check if you are using “its” correctly is by saying “it is.” Look back at the examples and try to replace every one with “it is.” You’ll notice this works with the contractions but not the possessives. By using this method, you’ll be able to easily tell if you are using the correct form. Good luck! 😀