Confused Words: Its, It’s, and the Apostrophe

Its Tiny But It’s Impact Changes What You Write

by Owen Fourie

What’s the problem? Face red. Gasping for breath. Clutching your chest. About to explode.

Good! You have seen the problem with the subtitle. Yes. You are absolutely right. It should be,

It’s Tiny But Its Impact Changes What You Write.

Now, inhale and exhale deeply and slowly and relax.

If you had none of these initial reactions, you seriously need to read this post.

The impact of the apostrophe

The apostrophe is a tiny mark that can change your writing. Used incorrectly, it can give it a meaning that you did not intend.

Take the uncorrected subtitle, for instance. It is referring to the apostrophe, but it is saying,

Its Tiny But It Is Impact Changes What You Write,

which, of course, is nonsense.

The corrected version is saying,

It Is Tiny But Its Impact Changes What You Write,

which is precisely what the apostrophe is and does. It is a tiny superscript sign that has several uses.

Uses of the apostrophe

  1. It indicates a contraction of two words.
  2. It indicates possession.
  3. It indicates the plural of abbreviations, letters, and numbers, but not of decades.


  • it’s for “it is” or “it has”;
  • don’t for “do not”;
  • isn’t for “is not”;
  • can’t for “cannot”;
  • you’re for “you are”;
  • weren’t for “were not”

Possession by a single person, animal, or thing

  • my sister’s cat;
  • my brother’s dog;
  • her cat’s tail;
  • his dog’s muzzle;
  • my car’s rear window;
  • the woman’s dress

Possession by two or more persons, animals, or things

  • the lions’ den;
  • the canaries’ cages;
  • the students’ lockers;
  • the men’s restroom;
  • the women’s dresses

Note that men and women are plural forms without -s being added to them.


  • There are four Ph.D.’s on their board of directors.
  • There are three i’s, two e’s, and two s’s in universities.
  • There are four 6’s in my telephone number.
  • There are four 6s in my telephone number is also correct.
  • He was born in the 1960s (not 1960’s).

Errors to avoid like the plague

There seems to be a growing tendency to use apostrophes for the plural forms of words. Don’t do this! It is wrong.

  • One cat, two cats, not cat’s;
  • One dog, two dogs, not dog’s;
  • One heck of a fight, two fights, not fight’s

You can write, “There are too many and’s in your essay.”

Apart from its, there are other words indicating possession that end in s. They are the possessive pronouns: ours, yours, his, hers, theirs. They, too, do not take an apostrophe, so you do not write our’s, your’s, hi’s (which would be ridiculous), her’s, or their’s.

Its possessive use does not take an apostrophe

The confusion of its and it’s possibly stems from the association of the apostrophe with the possessive case more than contractions.

If you keep the following points in mind when it comes to using its and it’s, you should not fall into the common error:

  • Accept that apostrophes indicate more than possession.
  • Associate it’s with contraction. It means “it is” or “it has”: it’s wet; it’s rained.
  • Accept the exception that its, without an apostrophe, is actually indicating possession: its tail; its muzzle; its rear window. If you can replace its with his or her, no apostrophe is required.

Do this and it’s guaranteed that you will have no further problems with its and it’s. Its’ (with an apostrophe after the s) is not a word, so don’t even consider it.


Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are you struggling with confused words or apostrophes or any other aspect of grammar and correct usage? Ask here for clarification.

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