The apostrophe is one of the more complicated punctuation marks to use in the English language. When grading, reading posts from other bloggers, or perusing social media content, it often stands out to me that many people struggle with this particular bit of grammar. Today, we’re tackling an apostrophe issue that frequently trips people up: it’s vs. its.
About Pop Culture Grammar Bytes
What does pop culture (cartoons, manga, comics, anime, videogames, books, TV shows, movies, etc.) have in common with grammar? A lot more than you might think! Every story, be it visual or text-based, is composed of written content. The writers of your favorite shows and comics have to have an understanding of grammar in order to create entertaining content that communicates what they want to say to the audience. But they had to learn it somewhere…
Anyone who has ever spent time studying English grammar rules knows that grammar textbooks tend to be a bit dry. They’re not much fun to learn from. As a general rule about learning, learning works a lot better when we are fully engaged and interested in the materials we are using.
Pop Culture Grammar Bytes is a series intended to make learning grammar a little more engaging by teaching grammar using examples from games, TV, comics, film, and other pop culture mediums.
I’m Not (Going to be) a Writer, so Why is Grammar Important for me?
I’m glad you asked! Writing is a useful skill that benefits people regardless of career choice or interests. You don’t have to be a writer to use grammar to your advantage. Knowing grammar rules can enhance your resume, boost your written-communication skills (important for getting jobs, communicating with friends/family, and for sending messages at work), help you write entrance essays for college or tech school applications, and help you pass classes in said higher ed programs. At the absolute least, knowing your grammar rules can save you from nasty encounters with overly enthusiastic, self-righteous grammar jerks in online spaces.
There are virtually no limits to the number of ways that having good grammar skills will benefit you no matter where you see yourself in the future. Although you should never feel so paralyzed by grammar that it stops you from writing at all, good grammar can really help your readers understand what you’re trying to say (I strongly advocate not worrying too much about grammar as you write, and only fretting worrying about it during the editing stages). Having said that, let’s get started!
That’s What It’s All About
The rules for it’s vs. its are difficult to remember because of the rules that dictate possessive and plural grammar. When you want to write that something belongs to Tuxedo Mask, you’ll write something like this:
Tuxedo Mask‘s red roses are sooooo coooooool!
In this case, the ‘s (apostrophe “s”) marks possession. The cool roses belong to Tuxedo Mask.
It’s is tricky because it doesn’t follow rules quite the way it seems like it should. It looks possessive because of the ‘s, but actually, it’s is a contraction!
You see, the tricky thing is that apostrophes can be used for possessives AND contractions. Any time you shorten do not to don’t, you are to you’re, or was not to wasn’t, you use an apostrophe to mark the contraction, or point where extra letters are removed.
It’s is a short version of it is. Whenever you write it’s, you’re just writing it is. Let’s (hey look! That word follows this same contraction rule!) take a look at some examples:
What time is it? It’s Adventure Time! (It is Adventure Time)
It’s time to d-d-d-d-d-dddd-d-duel! (It is time to d-d-d-d-d-dddd-d-duel)
(It is a trap)
I just think it’s about more than presents and bobbles… (I just think it is about more than presents and bobbles)
Remember that it’s important to use this contraction ONLY when you want to shorten it is. Otherwise, your readers might be confused about your meaning, or might lose interest in what you are trying to say.
Taking Ownership of Its Things
Earlier, I mentioned that regular possessive rules don’t apply when you’re looking at it’s vs. its. The first it’s looks possessive but isn’t. Now for the curve ball– its looks plural (meaning that it represents more than one item or person), but is actually possessive! That’s right, you’re looking at the biggest exception to possessive punctuation in the English language. Thanks English, you’re
fun a jerk.
When you’re wanting to talk about an it that has ownership of something, just write its. No apostrophe, nothing. Your reader will automatically understand that you’re talking about ownership. Let’s take a look at a few pop culture examples:
Enemy SQUIRTLE whipped its tail at you! It wasn’t very effective… (The tail belongs to Enemy SQUIRTLE)
The moon crashed its horrifying face into the Earth, killing everybody. (The face belongs to the moon)
The car angrily slammed its doors, opened its damaged trunk, ejected Ron and Harry’s luggage, and drove off into the woods. (The doors and trunk belong to the enchanted car)
Most of my examples seem to apply to living and animated things, but keep in mind that you can use the possessive its for non living and inanimate things as well.
The Payload is approaching its destination (The destination kind of belongs to the Payload…)
Now Go Forth and Write!
I hope that the above examples help you remember the difference between the possessive, its, and the contraction, it’s (it is). The best way to remember grammar rules like this is to challenge yourself to practice them. The next time you write anything (a blog post, an essay, a comment on your friend’s silly cat video), mark any use of its or it’s in a bold or underlined font as you write. Don’t worry too much about the grammar while you write (don’t mess up your funky flow!).
After you’re done writing, go back through and ask yourself “was this supposed to be possessive, or is it a contraction of it is?” You should be able to catch the difference right away by asking yourself this. Read the sentence with it is in place of either its or it’s. If you wrote “The bus lost it’s wheel,” test the contraction to make sure it makes sense. You’ll notice that “The bus lost it is wheel” doesn’t really make sense, and realize that you actually meant to write “The bus lost its wheel.”
And as always, if you have a literary device or grammar rule you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!