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Is it ‘its,’ ‘it's’ or ‘its’?

This is a common question. Here's the answer:

  1. It's is a contraction, meaning a shorter or "contracted" form of "it is" or "it has." (Example: It's going to rain.)
  2. Its is a possessive pronoun meaning, "belonging to it," or a "quality of it" (Example: The carrier lost its license) or (Example: Its color is red.)
  3. And there's absolutely, positively no such word as its'.

These rules seem simple, but sometimes cause pain. That's because when most English speakers want to show possession, they add an " ’s " as in "We took the pilot's license."

But guess what? If you write "it" and you want to show that "it" owns something, you don't write "it's," you write "its." Yikes. That's just one of many quirky rules in the English language.

And if that's not enough stress, try this---when you want to show that a group possesses something, the typical way to do that is to add an apostrophe to the end of the word. For example, if you go backstage to the place where performers get dressed, then you've gone to the " actors’ " dressing room.

No wonder then that many English speakers naturally want to use " its’ " to mean possession by a group. But that's wrong, so remember—there's absolutely, positively no such word as its’. If you mean singular or plural possession, just write "its."

For answers to other questions similar to this, refer to:

If you've got comments or questions about this, please contact:

Dr. Bruce V. Corsino
FAA Plain Language Program Manager
Phone: 202-493-4074

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