Is it ‘it’s’ or ‘its’?

Using apostrphe ‘s’ correctly

When to use ‘s’ as an apostrophe at the end of a word is something that seems to confuse many people including many who work in the media, people writing copy for web publishing and those producing books and other printed documents. What’s it all about? Let’s start with ‘its’ or it’s’.

Is it ‘its’ or ‘it’s’?

It’s a question that is not really confusing if you take the time to stop and think about the context of the sentence. Then it’s easy to work out.

If you can spell out ‘it is’, then use ‘it’s’ as in ‘It’s a fine day today.’ The apostrophe stands for the missing ‘i’.

All other ‘its’ have no apostrophe. ‘What’s its name?’ . In this case, ‘its’ has no apostrophe. ‘What’s’, on the other hand, is an abbreviation of ‘what is’ and does and should have an apostrophe.

This rule does appear to break the general rule about possessive expressions taking the apostrophe ‘s’ – – however, it’s just the way it is.

When else to use an apostrophe ‘s’

If the word ending in ‘s’ belongs to something and is attached to a noun as in ‘the tree’s branches’, the word ‘trees’ has an apostrophe.

If the word ‘trees’ is a plural as in ‘there is not one tree but many trees’ then trees here is not apostrophised – ever!

All these are apostrophe ‘s’: the government’s budget, today’s weather, a mother’s child.

Exception to the rule

There is usually an exception in English and, in this case, it’s when you want to write something like ‘cross the i’s and cross the t’s’. It is acceptable to use the apostrophe ‘s’ according to the Style Manual, Sixth Edition (2002), which is the style reference book for Australian print and web publications (in fact, all Australian written language). If you haven’t a copy in your office, it’s worth getting one.

However, even for crossing t’s, you can get around the situation by using typography such as ‘cross your ts’, which is readable without reverting to an apostrophe and breaking the rule that ‘if it’s plural, do not use an apostrophe’.