\ ˈits How to pronounce its (audio) , əts \

Definition of its

: of or relating to it or itself especially as possessor, agent, or object of an action going to its kennel a suite with its own private bathroom its final enactment into law

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Keeping It's and Its in Their Places

It's and its. They're ubiquitous, and ubiquitously confused.

In theory, the rule that distinguishes the two is simple: it's means it is or it has. The apostrophe signals that something has been removed:

It's raining. [=It is raining.]

It's been raining since last night. [=It has been raining since last night.]

Meanwhile, its means "of or relating to it or itself":

Let the medicine do its job.

The door shuts on its own.

But this rule wouldn't have worked a few centuries ago. When it appeared with an s in the early 1600s, an apostrophe was involved, and the resulting it's meant "of or relating to itself," as in "a house with it's own little garden."

This apostrophe form of the possessive remained extremely common throughout the 17th century and was used by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Jane Austen. The version without the apostrophe only became dominant in the 18th century—probably because it's was taking on a new role, replacing the contraction 'tis.

It would be simpler, of course, if there were only one form in use, and there's an argument to be made for using it's in all cases; 's serves both purposes just fine for nouns. In the cat's bowl it signals possession, and in the cat's sleeping it represents the contracted verb is.

But in current established English there is indeed a distinction between the two, and we recommend that you follow it: use it's only when you mean it is or it has, and drop the apostrophe everywhere else.

Examples of its in a Sentence

the dog in its kennel The landscape is beautiful in its own unique way. Each region has its own customs. The company is hoping to increase its sales.
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Recent Examples on the Web Walls covered with sticky post-its with to-dos and goals. Ann Killion, SFChronicle.com, "Piscotty family’s fight for an ALS cure continues, even in shadow of coronavirus," 17 Sep. 2020 EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE Provide bins, shelving and storage that children can reach to take out and put away their things, White said. Melissa Kossler Dutton, chicagotribune.com, "Kids' bedroom oases should reflect their personalities," 8 Aug. 2017 The nationalists took 56 out of Scotland’s 59 electoral districts in 2015 and the Tories are aiming to win some of them on June 8 after the Labour Party’s widespread loss of support in what used to be one of its heartlands. Lukanyo Mnyanda, Bloomberg.com, "The SNP Says It's the Only Party That Can Stand Up to the Conservatives," 29 May 2017 The center is funded mostly by the Chicago Department of Public Health, said its executive director, Christine Haley. Marwa Eltagouri, chicagotribune.com, "Chicago's new center for police-torture victims is first of its kind in U.S.," 26 May 2017 The concept of a free press has been integral to the American idea since its inception. Scott Shane, New York Times, "Leaks: A Uniquely American Way of Annoying the Authorities," 25 May 2017 Lyons International Film Festival, June 9-11 This event from Jake Fink’s Colorado Festival Productions, now in its third year, features a global selection of small, independent films and plenty of local offerings. John Wenzel, The Know, "7 small but filling Colorado film fests to tide you over until fall," 13 Apr. 2017 Two senators are complaining that Yahoo isn’t being candid enough about its massive data breaches. Levi Sumagaysay, SiliconBeat, "Senators want answers after Yahoo cancels meeting about data breaches," 13 Feb. 2017 At issue is a proposal floated this week by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper that would raise the special sales tax on recreational marijuana products to 12 percent on the date it was scheduled to drop to 8 percent from its current 10 percent. Alicia Wallace, The Cannabist, "Tax hike: What it could mean for consumers, industry in Colorado," 19 Jan. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'its.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of its

1577, in the meaning defined above

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Learn More about its

Statistics for its

Last Updated

23 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Its.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/its. Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for its

How to pronounce its (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of its

: relating to or belonging to a certain thing, animal, etc. : made or done by a certain thing, animal, etc.
\ ˈits How to pronounce its (audio) \

Kids Definition of its

: relating to or belonging to it or itself The fox licked its sore paw.

More from Merriam-Webster on its

Nglish: Translation of its for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of its for Arabic Speakers

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