‘Its’ is a possessive pronoun, just as ‘his’ and ‘hers’ are. If you add an apostrophe to its it is no longer a possessive pronoun. It’s means it is or it has. Always. Adding an apostrophe to its is no different to adding an apostrophe to any other pronoun. Apostrophes are always there for a practical reason, not to decorate the page. Many people laugh at the ‘grocer’s apostrophe’, which is frequently seen on signs at the front of all types of stores but sometimes even on major signs by professional sign writers. I’m talking about the use of apostrophes seemingly thrown in at random, usually before an ‘s’ at the end of a word. Most readers and writers know better than that but there are very many who don’t get their ‘its’ right!
While I’m ranting about apostrophes and pronouns I’d better give ‘their’ a mention. Their is a possessive pronoun too and is probably next in line for causing the maximum error rate. They’re means they are. Always. Not a possessive pronoun. There means not here, but over there, and I’m including the reference to ‘here’ because the similarity makes it an easy one to remember. If you add ‘t’ to ‘here’ it becomes ‘there’, right? Easy.
I’m not sure about the veracity of this, but if a university lecturer is a good enough source–an apostrophe always takes the place of something else; it indicates something is missing. Once upon a time people spoke and wrote English quite differently and they would say, or write, ‘the dog, his bone’, rather than ‘the dog’s bone,’ as we do now. The apostrophe was introduced in place of ‘his’ in this example. If we move the apostrophe across, as in ‘the dogs’ bone’, we know there’s more than one dog sharing the bone. Of course when using a pronoun there’s no need for the apostrophe because it makes no sense to say ‘It, its bone’ or ‘Him, his bone.’
That’s the end of my rant for the day–please feel free to pass this on. It’s a small thing, an apostrophe, but whether you’re a signwriter, a book writer or just have a facebook account, please don’t use the poor little misunderstood mark to decorate your page.
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