Of course you can’t tell the difference if you are listening to an audio book, but this is one of the most common mistakes that we all come across in the printed world every single day that we pick up a newspaper, magazine, etc. Of course this mistake is not evident when we speak, or when we listen to a downloaded audio book, for the simple reason that phonetically there is no difference between the two: the pronunciation is the same and therefore the actual mistake is undetectable.

And yet, in print, the mistake itself is a surefire proof that the writer does not know his/her grammar. Make this mistake when writing your CV, a job application, a newspaper or magazine article, and you immediately expose your ignorance of English grammar to the full glare of your judges who could be your future employers.

However, if there is some consolation for you here, it is (it’s) that the vast majority of people (even the highly educated ones) DO make this mistake — including copy writers in internet marketing who can charge anything between $1,000 and $20,000 for a sales letter.) So you are not entirely alone when you are in the company of such august writers.

The question is: why is it that so many people make this mistake? The answer has already been alluded to above — ignorance of how the English language works. The fact that these days grammar per se isn’t taught in many schools is not exactly conducive to achieving proper knowledge of the workings (and intricacies) of the English language.

So here we go: the difference between IT’S and ITS is really simple:

First, IT’S is in fact TWO words, the first one being IT; the second word is ‘S which is simply a shortened version of another word: IS. So IT’S actually stands for IT IS.

So whenever you want to say IT IS (it is warm, it is interesting, it is relevant), you write IT’S (it’s warm, it’s interesting, it’s relevant)

On the other hand, ITS is one word, and expresses possession (ownership). Something is owned (as in belonging to.) Example: if we talk about the tail of a dog (the tail belongs to the dog, we say: ITS tail. — Not “it’s” tail, as that would mean IT IS tail, which wouldn’t make sense. Here is (Here’s)another example: talking about a bicycle, you could say: its chain is broken (the chain that belongs to the bicycle is broken.)

On the other hand, hopefully without confusing you too much, I could say (talking about the chain): it’s broken (which stands for: IT IS broken)

Here are now a couple of examples that embody both versions:

Talking (or rather writing) about a car with rusted doors, you could say:

It’s a shame that its doors are rusted.

Talking (or rather writing) about an article that has a misleading conclusion, you could say:

I am of the opinion that it’s (= IT IS) badly written because its conclusion is unsound.

To recap:

1. IT’S stands for IT IS
2. ITS expresses ownership (something that belongs to IT)
3. ‘S stands for IS, the “‘” symbol just before the “S” is called an apostrophe and is used in front of a shortened word (the word “IS” in this case)

I hope the explanation of the difference between “its” and “it’s” is clear enough for you to make your writing that little bit more accurate, and that you will not be wasting your time asking yourself the question: now, is it: its or it’s?

Look out for other articles in this series: Do You Make This Mistake?

Bou Allem
And if you want to relax listening to an audio book or a language lesson, or if you want to download all kinds of audio books just go to: http://www.spoken-books.com