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Is it its’, it’s, or its?

By Judy Vorfeld

Have you ever been con­fused about when to use an apos­tro­phe with pos­ses­sives? And where the apos­tro­phe goes?

Unfortunately, not all pos­ses­sives use apos­tro­phes. This includes the per­sonal pro­nouns “its,” “theirs,” and “yours.” Since they are the most fre­quently mis­un­der­stood, let’s tackle them.

The won­der­ful but mis­un­der­stood apos­tro­phe pro­duces one of the biggest prob­lems fac­ing writ­ers, as is evi­denced on many Web sites and in all types of busi­ness doc­u­ments. Let’s see if I can help.

Its or It’s?
The pos­ses­sive form of the pro­noun “it” is never writ­ten with an apos­tro­phe, e.g., “Its start date is …” “What is its pro­duc­tion record?” “Look at its nose!”

You only use an apos­tro­phe when com­bin­ing “it is” and “it has,” e.g., “It’s (it is) deli­cious,” or “It’s (it has) been wonderful.”

The chil­dren insisted the idea was theirs (not theirs’). Theirs isn’t abused that often, but it’s some­thing to remember.

Your or You’re?
Your is a pos­ses­sive form of the per­sonal pro­noun, e.g., “I like your Web site…” or “Thanks for giv­ing so much money to this project.” Both in the same sen­tence: “Your knowl­edge of your prod­uct shows that you’re a ded­i­cated salesperson.”

You’re is a con­trac­tion of the words “you” and “are,” e.g., “You’re up for an award. Someone said you’re leaving.”

Bottom line: No apos­tro­phe for these pos­ses­sive pro­nouns:
Its His Ours Theirs

Whose Hers Yours

Test your­self: write a sen­tence like, “I want to inves­ti­gate its poten­tial.” If you’re tempted to use an apos­tro­phe, write it out as a con­trac­tion, and see if it makes sense, e.g., “I want to inves­ti­gate it is poten­tial.” Works every time.

More help at:


Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition (University of Chicago Press).

A Writer’s Reference, Fourth Edition (Hacker).


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