English Grammar Guidelines: Understanding the Differences Between “It’s” and “Its” in Written English

In spoken English, there is no difference at all between the pronunciation of “it’s” vs “its”. In written English, however, you are always faced with a decision between these two forms. Although the grammatical differences between the two forms are quite straightforward, learners of English and native speakers alike can sometimes make mistakes when using them. Here is a guide to choosing the correct form whenever you come across “it’s” or “its”.


“It’s” is always a shortened version of the phrases: “it is” or “it has.” These phrases both consist of a subject (“it”) and the correct form of a verb (“is” or “has”). “It’s” is often used in spoken or informal English.

If you can replace “it’s” with “it is” or “it has” without changing the meaning of the sentence, then “it’s” is the correct form to use. Here are some examples:

  • It’s sunny now but it might rain later.
  • “Where is my book?” asked Jack. “It’s over there on the coffee table,” replied Linda.

In both of these examples, “it is” could be used instead of “it’s” without the meaning being changed at all.

  • “Where is the dog?” asked Julie. “It’s left the park now,” replied Janice.
  • “Is the news still on TV?” asked Mark. “No, it’s finished now,” said David.

In both of these sentences, “it has” could be substituted for “it’s” without changing the meaning.


“Its” is a possessive adjective that indicates possession or ownership. It is used in all other cases, i.e. when the word cannot be replaced by “it is” or “it has.” For example:

  • The cat played with its toy mouse.
  • The company has set up its first website.
  • The government changed its immigration policies.

Often confusion arises because other forms indicating possession (such as “Luke’s coat,” “the book’s cover”) are written with an apostrophe. This may lead you to assume incorrectly that “its” also carries an apostrophe.

Questions to Help You Decide Whether to Use “It’s” or “Its”

Whenever you are deciding whether to use “it’s” or “its” in a written sentence, ask yourself the following three questions in this order:

  1. Could the word be replaced by the phrase “it is” without changing the meaning of the sentence? If so, use “it’s”.
  2. Could you say “it has” instead of the word in question without altering the meaning of the sentence? If so, write “it’s”.
  3. Is the word describing something that is possessed by something? If so, “its” should be used.

Sentences Using “It’s” and “Its”

Here are some examples that demonstrate the correct usage of both “it’s” and “its”.

  • The dog lost its collar. It’s over there on the grass.

In the first sentence above, “its” is a possessive adjective which refers to the fact that the collar belongs to the dog. In the second sentence, “it’s” is short for the subject + verb form, “it is.”

  • Did you send me the parcel? Yes, it’s on its way to you.

In the second sentence above, “it’s” is a contracted form of “it is” and “its” is a possessive adjective that refers to the parcel.

  • It’s a rose. Its petals are pink.

In first sentence above, “it’s” is short for “it is”. At the beginning of the second sentence, “its” refers to the fact that the petals belong to the rose.

Once you have learned the differences between “it’s” and “its” and have practiced using both forms, it should be easy to decide which form to use whenever you are writing.

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