Avoid This Common Grammar Mistake With This Simple Trick

    common grammar mistake - banana skin

    I love how the conversational style of blogs helps us connect, almost like we’re sitting around, drinking coffee, having a friendly chat.

    But suppose one of your buddies talked about taking his ‘dig’ for a walk. Silence would briefly descend as your coffee mates figured out what he means. They would quickly realize he’s referring to his dog. But damage would have been done.

    The brief pause would throw off the rhythm of the conversation. The topic would shift to cats.

    The woman he’s trying to impress would suddenly remember an urgent meeting. The rest of the gang would be left wondering why he was confused. Is he stupid? Is the coffee drugged? Is he having a stroke?

    I feel much the same every time someone makes the baddest, most common grammar mistake:

    confusing it’s (it is) with its (belonging to it).

    People make this mistake because they remember the rule about using an apostrophe with a possessive. Trouble is they forget this hulking exception.

    Some people go further, writing (cringe) its’, to indicate a possessive. Its’ is not a word. Sadly, even spell-check seems to be unaware of this.

    You’re probably thinking I’m one of those grammar Nazis out to spoil your writing fun. Actually, I’m a recovered grammar Nazi.

    I no longer fight for grammatical purity. Now I lay down my weapons when I think a purpose is no longer served by a rule, such as the prohibition of dangling prepositions or the insistence on serial commas. But I stand tall in defending the distinctions that help us understand each other.

    In addition to the incompletely remembered apostrophes-and-possessives rule, which also affects its twin cousins you’re and your and they’re and their, people make this mistake because the words sound the same.

    Don’t get me started about the long list of sound-alike words otherwise smart people routinely abuse. Spell-check won’t catch them; it can only lull you into a false sense of complacency.

    It may be human nature to go back to what sounds right when you’re uncertain. But in cases like these, this usually reliable technique can lead you horribly astray.

    The worst example I can remember was the executive I was editing who wrote about ‘dissimulating’ information, the opposite of his intended purpose, to ‘disseminate’ information. I am not making this up.

    Although everyone from TV news crawl writers to school teachers makes this all-too-common mistake, bloggers are among the most frequent offenders. I attribute this to the conversational style of blogs, the disdain for time-sucking revisions and the automatic default to what sounds correct.

    Let me stress that this fat exception to the rule matters.
    Ignore it and some people you’d like to get to know better will abandon you or question your intelligence. The flow may be disrupted while readers consider what you mean. What’s more, this mistake is the kind of detail that can prevent you from standing out in our competitive world.

    The fix does not require a return to boring high school grammar classes. All it takes is a commitment to learning one rule: it’s means it is; its means belong to it. That’s all you have to remember.

    Most of you remember the exception i before e except after c because it rhymes. So try this:

    It’s, apostrophe, means it is
    Its is possessive, just like his

    Recite that enough times and you will never fall into this trap again.

    One small rule: one giant leap for everyone who writes. Pass the soy milk, please.

    About the author

      Barb Sawyers

      Barb Sawyers writes about writing and communication. She will soon publish an interactive e-book called Write like you talk - only better, 3 steps to turn good talkers into great writers.

    • sam says:

      Thank you. I enjoyed this article and learned that I was not alone. I am not really a Grammar Nazi, but the prevalence of these mistakes really irritate me.this problem can be rub if regular reading or writing is their..do appreciate the time and effort you put into your blog. thanks eor nice one..

    • Phil says:

      Great Post. I appreciate this article.

    • Whilst I seem to be able to write comprehensively I am certainly not the best with this grammar malarkey.

      As a recent convert to the blogging world I have already been appalled at my own spelling and grammar mistakes. I certainly agree that poor grammar undermines authority.

      After reading this I will be paying a little extra attention to grammar.

    • GilliAllan says:

      When getting down ideas onto the page/screen it is very possible to type the wrong version of your/you’re, its/it’s, there/they’re/their. They’re typos. And, to my shame, I know that it’s possible to miss the blighters when proof reading.

      My pet hate is just plain wrong in any circumstances. ‘Could of’ or ‘should of’, ‘would of’.


    • erin says:

      I think I love you.
      This post is incredible.
      It’s my pet peeve when people confuse things like their/they’re/there and too/to/two and it’s/its. Annoys the heck out of me. Where were all these people in elementary school?

      Oh, and what about—
      should of/could of/would of? That makes me violently ill.
      It’s should HAVE/could HAVE/would HAVE, people!!!!

      you’re so much nicer than I about it, though.

    • Mike says:

      mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation and active passive are common in these days and this article is nice one….i will take care but i think if i can explain what i want to say in short without much strength on grammar, thats good for me instead using heavy words and text

    • Incorrect grammar, spelling and punctuation undermine a writer’s authority, which is why magazines, newspapers and book publishers used to employ people specifically to sort it out!

      Many organisations don’t give a toss, though. Two examples from signs on London transport: ‘Passengers: 40 seated, 15 standees’. Huh? Standee isn’t a word. It should be ‘standing’. If ‘standees’ existed it would mean a person being stood on.

      2nd example: ‘Shut the train door, save us time, save your time.’ Shouldn’t that be ‘save our time’? Or ‘save yourself time’?

      Sorry, just needed to get that off my chest. Thanks for the opportunity!

    • Marci says:

      What a creative article on a mundane topic.

    • Eric C says:

      Normally I dislike this type of hyperbole, liked this post though, It’s vs. its is so common. Sigh.

    • CherylK says:

      Great post! And a much needed nudge. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read is EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES by Lynn Truss. It’s a punctuation book with a twist and as enjoyable to read as any book I’ve read. She touches on many of these same observations.

    • Eddy says:

      Nice article!

      An apostrophe usually stands for one or more ommitted letters. If in doubt, it helps to put back in the missing letters and see if the sentence still makes sense.

      “The band and it’s leader” -> “The band and it is leader” — oops!

      “It’s a sunny day” -> “It is a sunny day” — all okay.

      This works for most other places you might use apostrophes too, such as “their” and “they’re”.

    • I’m impressed you were able to write an entire blog post (that’s fun to read) highlighting this rule. Very nice.

    • Lucia says:

      As soon as I read “baddest” it brought a memorable song to mind. So, according to Jim Croce, both “baddest” and “badder” are okay. 🙂

      And it’s bad, bad Leroy Brown
      The baddest man in the whole damned town
      Badder than old King Kong
      And meaner than a junkyard dog

    • chad holbrook says:

      Sorry, for the double post but I forgot this one:


    • chad holbrook says:

      Have you seen this?


      How about this?



    • The grammar bane of my existence. LOL Although I have to say I’ve improved exponentially since I first started writing and now more often than not remember to put you’re instead of your and it’s instead of its where appropriate. 🙂


    • Nancy says:

      I have to agree with you regarding possessive nouns and contractions. I have a problem with glaring grammar mistakes. The rest of the message can get lost before I manage to refocus. I have to admit that your substitution of baddest for worse did that for me. I do try not to be a grammar Nazi, but the educational process during my school years did that to me.
      I do appreciate the time and effort you put into your blog. I read it daily.

    • DiscoveredJoys says:

      It is (see what I did there?) strange how some mistakes (grammar or spelling) become personal hot buttons. For me it is ‘focussing’. It’s ‘focusing’, honest, look it up. However it’s such a common mistake that I expect that it will become accepted practice soon.

      But thanks for the memory aid, I admit that I’ve always had to think about it before.

    • Issa says:

      Can’t stop laughing as I read your post. Aren’t we all guilty of the crime? Still, writing quality content means proofreading your works as well. Being a freelance writer, I’d say your tips come in very handy. I just don’t rely too much on grammar editing apps/software out there. Thanks!

    • Its’ a catastrophe! Ha ha! Just kidding! I know. I’m not really that bad. But for a writer I’m far from perfect when it comes to grammar. My biggest problem? Commas. Oh well.

    • Bjornson says:

      Thanks for pointing this out.

      I’m glad to have never ever made this kind of mistake. I sometimes see this as very basic, very fundamental.

      Before, I used to laugh at this kind of mistakes when I read some blogs possessing this nature of sometimes unforgivable mistakes. But I’ve learned to understand because bloggers have different styles of delivery.

      I have to admit that I’ve committed grammar mistakes but have managed to correct them as much as possible and instantaneously.

      And no, I am not an English major. English is my second language. And I am no Nazi when it comes to grammar but I’m a bit strict when I am editing an article. That was when I had that job before.

    • Jo says:

      One of my biggest pet peeves! I remember when I was still in university studying English for my teaching degree, my English lecturer didn’t even realise that its (possessive) did not have an apostrophe. When I pointed it out, another student in the class argued with me that it must have an apostrophe because it’s possessive (no pun intended). The rest of the class were inclined to agree with her and this is in a class full of third year students studying to become teachers! I ended up at the front of the lecture explaining the difference between its and it’s (I had to compare it to his, hers and yours to get the point across). It makes you wonder how the next generation of kids can be expected to know the difference if even their teacher’s don’t.

      And Darryl – It has contracts to It’s with the apostrophe, the same as it is. Only omit the apostrophe if you are using the possessive. If it’s a contraction you need the apostrophe to show you have eliminated a letter/s.

    • Maxie says:

      Thank you. I enjoyed this article and learned that I was not alone. I am not really a Grammar Nazi, but the prevalence of these mistakes really irks me.

      I don’t know where the confusion comes from, but especially with “their” and “they’re” and “there” because the meanings are so different.

      This is a conundrum though: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/milk-if-for-all-its-worth.aspx

    • Darryl says:

      What about it has? For example: “It has become apparent to me that my grammar is bad”. Would that shorten to “It’s become apparent…” or “Its become apparent…”?

      I’ve always thought that it would be it’s as you’re joining two words.

      On a side note I’d like to add that it’s easy to judge people based on grammar and spelling but I would encourage you to try and -help- first. After all, there was a time when you didn’t know the difference between it’s and its either, someone had to tell you. If no one ever takes the time to point it out, how can we expect anything different?

      Then again, some people just suck.

      • You are right in using “it’s” in your example not “its.”

        Before I was a recovered grammar Nazi, I would roll my eyes at people who make these kinds of mistakes. Now I try to extend the same kind of understanding I expect from people correcting my errors on other topics.

    • Floorsander says:

      Must admit the word “baddest,” jarred me a bit, but I know it’s legit. Just want to cheer you on. Being on line is no excuse for lazy, sloppy communication. Lousy grammar and poor spelling make the writer look careless or ignorant or both. Often it’s true.

      • You were correct in thinking “baddest” is not a word. But once you understand the rules, you have more freedom to break them when it serves a purpose, in this case complementing “biggest” and emphasizing “bad” in a way that “worst” could not.

        • Sorry, Barb. You’re not breaking any rules there.

          “Baddest” is slang, a superlative of “bad” and though worse than “badder” by a long shot, they are both considered ‘words’ by the dictionaries I’ve referenced.

          I’m not much for relying on dictionaries to define what is or isn’t a ‘word’. In the english language, a word consists of a collection of letters and punctuation intended to convey a meaning or act as a syntactical element in a sentence.

          As for breaking rules, the only rule of writing that should never be broken is, “Coalesce letters, white space and punctuation in such a form that the reader enjoys, is moved by, learns from or is otherwise changed by the experience of reading them.”

          • Good to know. Though I’m sure my high school English teacher would not have allowed me to write “baddest.”

          • [grin]


            Your high school english teacher was teaching english.

            You are writing it.

            Some rules are broken at your own peril.
            Some rules are meant to be broken.
            Some rules are just plain broken.

            Some rules are no more than the narrow-minded obsessions of a self-appointed authority. Break these with the gleeful impugnity of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.


    • Siddhartha says:

      I’m glad you brought this up. Its always been frustrating to me when people get this wrong.

    • I can forgive the it’s vs its, as I had trouble with that one for many years. I can almost forgive there vs their vs they’re, but only barely. What annoys the hell out of me is your vs you’re. Reading “your invited” drives me absolutely crazy (even typing it makes me feel uncomfortable), and “you’re dog is barking” would cause the end of a friendship.

      • Mikayla says:

        LOL, I was just about to make the same comment – the confusion people seem to have with “your” and “you’re” drives me nuts too!

        I had a friend who used to always say, “That’s just as worse!” when something crazy would happen that they compared to something else. This drove me nuts and I tried a million times (literally) to explain how that statement makes no sense at all! It’s either “just as bad” or “worse” but you can’t have it both ways! ARGH!

        • Lisa Reeve says:

          I quite like “that’s just as worse” — it’s unusual enough to be charming. I may need to adopt it. 😀

    • Steve Hall says:

      Pronoun possessives never have an apostrophe. “It” is a pronoun. Now how simple is that? 🙂


    • Jack Rodenhi says:

      Someone told me a long time ago to just remember that there are no possessive pronouns that require an apostrophe. So, just like it’s not his’ or her’s or their’s it’s not it’s.

      Actually, the biggest error I see along this line is using your for you’re, like “your invited!”.

    • It’s definitely a problem, but its problem is relatively small in blogland compared the the ‘their’ issue. You know who I’m talking about, of course, their constantly applying a word that sounds right, but is grammatically the equivalent to multiple strikes of a sledge hammer to the temple until your knocked unconscious…which brings up another issue…

      …never mind the inappropriate use of ellipses!


    • Katie Page says:

      Great article! It still amazes me how many people miss this rule. I’d been offered an interview to join a company whose homepage stated “Its a fun place to work.”

      Needless to say, I did not take the interview offer. I’m surprised the mistake didn’t hurt their business as they’re a marketing firm. I don’t think that companies realize how important it is to uphold the basics of grammar- for their reputation, future employees and potential customers.

      Again, great article! A fun read!

      • Michael E. Cantone says:

        I pulled out the Business Writer’s Handbook-third edition after reading your comment.

        Its is a possessive Pronoun.

        Example: It’s important that the factory meet its quota.

    • Barb,

      This is an excellent article. You have a gift for turning potentially dull content into fun reading.

      Keep up the excellent work!

    • I totally agree. I find that, in the case of the “dig” -dog example, if most bloggers would simply proof read twice they would catch this example. Most common mistakes I think may come from lack of proof reading.

    • Thank you for the wonderful article! I know I used to be a grammar Nazi of sorts myself, but even I would sometimes use the wrong its or it’s. I will remember to use the correct one now though.

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