EDITING KNOWHOW Its and it's - with Claire Watts


We all know how important it is to impress agents with super-perfect grammar, punctuation and spelling - so how can we get better at proofing? Starting with tricky tricksters its and it's, SCBWI's Claire Watts helps us out.

Part one: The difference between its and it's


If you’re anything like me, every single time autocorrect asks you whether you really want whichever of its or it’s you’ve just written, you have a fleeting moment of doubt. And so, for those moments, and for those of you who really aren’t sure which to use when, here’s a handy guide.


Why do people have trouble with the difference between its and it’s?

Apostrophes serve two purposes and these appear to be relevant in both cases.


• CONTRACTION We use apostrophes to indicate when two words have been joined together and letters are missing. 

Claire is putting her coat on ⇨ Claire’s putting her coat on 

It is a windy day ⇨ it’s a windy day


• POSSESSION we use an apostrophe and ‘s’ after a noun to show that something belongs to that person or thing. 

The book belonging to Claire ⇨ Claire’s book


But here’s the key thing: it is not a noun. It’s a pronoun, like him or her or me. You don’t show possession with any of those by adding an apostrophe and s, do you?


The book belonging to him ⇨ His book

The book belonging to her ⇨ Her book

The book belonging to me ⇨ My book

The book belonging to it ⇨ Its book


Myyourhisherits, our and their are possessive adjectives.

If you can replace the it’s/its in your sentence with it is, then it’s is correct 


And what about when you want to show possession but the word isn’t right next to the noun it’s referring to?


We use an apostrophe with a noun in this case:


The book is Claire’s


But for pronouns, we use possessive pronouns:


The book is mine

The book is ours

The book is its



So that’s the explanation, but you don’t have to remember all that. All you need to remember is this:

If you can replace the it’s/its in your sentence with it is, then it’s is correct. 

If not, then you should be using its.


Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash


Claire Watts is a writer and editor of fiction and nonfiction for children. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @evangelinecluck.



Jo E. Verrill is an enthusiastic writer of humorous books for children, an advertising and broadcasting standards consultant and Words & Pictures’ KnowHow editor. 

Got an idea for KnowHow, or a subject you’d like to hear more on? Let us know at knowhow@britishscbwi.org.

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