Tuesday, October 2, 2012

31 Days to Better Grammar: Day 2 — It's confusing, isn't it?

Well, hello! I'm so glad you came back for Day 2! This will be quick and painless, since it's (hint, hint) along the lines of yesterday's lesson.

But first, if you missed Day 1, you really should read it first. Go ahead; we'll wait for you.

Now that we're all on the same page, let's get down to the lesson du jour.

(But first I need to point out one little thing. Sorry—there's just so much to learn! Notice that du jour is italicized? That's because it's a foreign phrase. We always italicize them. Sometimes I italicize words or sentences for emphasis as in the examples below, and sometimes I use bold font. But foreign phrases are always italicized.)

Okay, now back to the subject at hand.

Have you ever stopped in mid-stroke and wondered, do I put an apostrophe in its or not? Here's the foolproof way to tell.

Can you replace its with it is (or it has) in the sentence? If you answer yes, then yes, add the apostrophe.

Say you're (hey, it's our friend the contraction that means you are!) (Mercy. I'm so easily sidetracked.)

So you're writing that classic sentence The dog was chasing its tail when you wonder whether to use an apostrophe in its because, after all, that's how you make a possessive, right? And it is the tail that belongs to the dog that we're talking about, right? So you add apostrophe + s, right? Dog's tail, Mary's iPod, the pencil's point. Right?

No. Aren't you glad you're not learning English as a second language?

In the case of the dog chasing its tail, yes, the tail belongs to the dog, but the million-dollar question is can I replace its with it is (or it has)? And the million-dollar answer is NO. Would you say The dog was chasing it is tail? Obviously not. Then don't use an apostrophe.

Now look at this example from a church website. These people are celebrating the moving of the original steeple to the new building. They write: Honoring it's place in our history.

To find out whether or not they are right, we ask the million-dollar question: can we replace it's with it is (or it has)? The answer is no. No apostrophe, even though the place in history belongs to it. There is possession, but it doesn't mean there should be an apostrophe. In the case of its and it's, possession is not nine-tenths of the law. They should have written: Honoring its place in our history.


Its indicates possession.  

The monkey licked its fingers. 
(Fingers belong to the monkey, but they're not it is fingers.)

It's is a contraction of it and is (or it and has).

It's been raining, but now it's sunny outside.
(It has been raining, but now it is sunny outside.)

Now go forth and write correctly.

Be thankful ~

1 comment:

Anita said...

Great reminder today. I've actually seen people omitting the apostrophe when it's obviously it is or it has. Thanks for your practical examples too.