Of all the instances of grammatical errors that occur both online and offline, the misuse of its and it’s is probably the single most prevalent example of poor English usage that I have encountered. Interestingly, it is also one of the easiest kinds of mistakes to avoid. If you’re (not your) confused about which word to use, the rule is actually quite simple.
Use it’s (with the apostrophe) whenever you would logically use “it is” or “it has” in the sentence; it’s (not its) a contraction of two separate words. Otherwise, use its (without the apostrophe), which is the possessive adjective form of the pronoun it. This word is used in a similar fashion to other possessive adjectives such as my, your, their, his, her, and our.
Although its usage is less common than the other variants, I should point out that its’ (with the apostrophe after the s) is simply invalid syntax and should never be used in a proper English sentence unless you have some strange desire to look like an ignorant fool. Now let us look at some examples of correct and incorrect usage:
The sign reads: KEEP SOURCES OF IGNITION INCLUDING ALL VEHICLES, AT LEAST 1.5 m (5 FEET) FROM THE TANK, IT’S ACCESSORIES, AND IT’S ENCLOSURE
Correct: KEEP ALL SOURCES OF IGNITION (INCLUDING VEHICLES) AT LEAST 1.5 m (5 FEET) FROM THE TANK, ITS ACCESSORIES, AND ITS ENCLOSURE
The sign reads: ITS THE LAW
PLEASE LEASH, CURB AND CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG!
Correct: IT’S THE LAW
PLEASE LEASH, CURB, AND CLEAN UP AFTER YOUR DOG!
Finally, here is an example of the its’ abomination:
Incorrect: A society abandons its citizens, And Its’ citizens abandon its’ society — J. Ray Rice at blog.itsallaboutabandonment.com
Correct: When a society abandons its citizens, the citizens will abandon their society.
For next week, if we continue with the current trend of covering the most commonly confused groups of homonyms, I will probably address the to vs. too vs. two issue. However, I am open to alternatives if there are other grammar-related issues that you would like to see addressed first.