Its vs It's
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Its vs. It’s: When to Use Contractions and When to Be Possessive

Here is a pet peeve: the 1970’s. Or, as abbreviated, the 70’s.

As the above example illustrates, the mistaken apostrophe is not a result of the decade itself. Instead, it is the result of an apostrophe mishap that happens a lot.

The punctuation actually comes from the Greek, apostrophē, which is loosely translated to mean “the act of turning away.” The apostrophe first surfaced as a grammatical device in the 1500s; by the 17th and 18th centuries, this tricky mark was used to indicate possession.

These days, the apostrophe has two uses in English grammar: It indicates possession or contraction.

the possession

The possession

Do you want to use a possession apostrophe? Consider whether something belongs to the noun of importance. In other words:

  • The man’s suit = suit of the man, or belonging to the man.
  • The dogs’ toys = toys of the dogs, or toys belonging to the dogs (lucky canines). Notice that when there is more than one person, place or thing—as is the case with plural nouns—the apostrophe is placed after that last “s.”

Interestingly enough, “its” is also used as a possessive, but WITHOUT an apostrophe. Same thing with “your.” These, and similar others, are possessive pronouns, versus regular nouns.

Welcome to the English language.

the contraction

The contraction

Apostrophes are also used to shorten words. The punctuation mark takes the place of deleted words, also called contractions.

For example:

  • Can’t for cannot
  • You’re for you are
  • Shouldn’t for should not

And finally . . . it’s for it is. In this particular case, the apostrophe IS used.

Apostrophes indicate possession and contractions. Returning to the opening paragraph of this article, the apostrophe is used only for a two-digit year, and only in front of the numerals.

Specifically: The ‘70s. Not the 70’s. Nor the 1970’s.

Yours, you're, it's, its, possessive, contraction? The tiny little apostrophe can get writers into a lot of grammatical trouble. To learn more about this punctuation mark's origins, and proper use, click here. Click To Tweet

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Amy Sorter

About Amy

Amy Sorter is an award-winning journalist, copywriter, and principal of The WordSorters. She focuses on creating custom, highly engageable content in a variety of formats for non-profit organizations, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies.

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