Word Usage: Its vs. It’s and Your vs. You’re

Research Triangle PublicationsA common confusion in writing is the distinction between the possessive adjectives its and your with the contractions it’s and you’re. The confusion arises because possessive nouns, acting as adjectives, use an apostrophe (John’s keys, the county’s tax base), but possessive adjectives do not (his keys, the dog is ours). The easiest way to keep the two straight is to ask yourself if the word you want to use is a substitute for two words; in that case, and only in that case, use the contractions.

Its vs. It’s

Its is a possessive adjective meaning “belonging to it”, while it’s replaces “it is”. If you can’t substitute “it is” when using it’s, take out the apostrophe. Consider these examples about a school that was just built.
Original SentenceSubstitutedDoes it work?
It's brand new. It is brand new.Yes, CORRECT
It's exterior is brick.It is exterior is brick.No, INCORRECT
The substituted sentence about the exterior has two verbs, and just sounds wrong, because the usage is possessive (the exterior belongs to the school), so you know it should be written without the apostrophe: The school was just built. Its exterior is brick. CORRECT.

Your vs. You’re

Your and you’re work the same way. Your is the possessive form of you, and you’re is the contracted form of “you are”. Only use you’re when you could substitute the words “you are”. Consider these two examples.
Original SentenceSubstitutedDoes it work?
You're my best friend. You are my best friend.Yes, CORRECT
You're dress is green.You are dress is green.No, INCORRECT
The green dress sentence is using your in a possessive sense (the dress belongs to you), so the substitution doesn’t work. Thus, the correct way to say it is without the apostrophe: Your dress is green. CORRECT. If you consistently use the substitution test when choosing between its and it’s or your and you’re, you will save yourself from these embarrassing errors.
Tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.