Hello, it’s me

I was wondering if after all these years, you’d like to hear how I explain the difference between it’s and its to people who misuse it.

Well, that didn’t go where you were expecting it to, now did it?

Look, I’m well aware that the vast majority of English-speaking folks on this planet do not give one damn about whether they make grammar mistakes when writing. They figure that’s what spellcheck and grammar checkers in word-processing software are there for. They’re not wrong; those programs are designed to help those who inadvertently make errors. However, there are venues where those tools are not available to us, and the writing we do on social media sites is increasingly used by others (including employers, acquaintances, friends and business contacts) to build out a fuller picture of a person, including their skills, personality and employability.

In short, spelling and grammar do matter on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and so forth, if you want to present a professional, polished face to the world. Mistakes like using “its” when you mean “it’s” might make the reader pause and wonder about your credibility, if you can’t be bothered to get those things right.

Fortunately, there’s an easy trick to help you remember. Just imagine, if you will, that the apostrophe in “it’s” is the dot of an imaginary i, which if written out would turn into “it is.” Then say the sentence aloud, replacing the word “it’s” with the words “it is.” Enunciate this very loudly and clearly. If you’re a native English speaker or at least reasonably fluent, you’ll probably know right away whether or not the sentence remains correct, or whether you need to switch to “its” with no apostrophe.

For example: The rhino was huge – I could see it’s horn from fifty feet away. Hmmm.

Say it aloud: The rhino was huge – I could see it is horn from fifty feet away. Whoops.

Try again: The rhino was huge – I could see its horn from fifty feet away. Perfect.

It’s not a lot of trouble to take a moment to consider these things. After all, the English language has its quirks, and we need to be aware of them in order to become better writers. Tricks like these help raise our awareness of common errors and – this is the great part – actually do make us smarter. So it’s not really a trick. Rather, it’s its own reward.

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