Tag Archives: it’s vs. its

Who’s or Whose?

People seem to have a love affair for apostrophes. If a family’s name ends in a vowel, an apostrophe will surely appear: the Martino’s. There is no such entity as “the Martino,” so no ownership exists. The family is simply the Martinos. Easy.

It’s and its is a constant problem. It’s means it is or it has. That’s it. Its indicates possession: The dog wagged its tail. Also easy.

And there are who’s and whose. The apostrophe tells you who’s means who is. Whose is a pronoun indicating ownership: Whose shoes are these? Ricardo is one of three people whose paintings were accepted for publication. Again, easy.

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Frequently Confused Words

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To my eyes, the words its and it’s cause the greatest confusion. I know I have written about this before, but in case you need a quick refresher, here goes:

Its is a possessive pronoun: The dog wagged its tail. The tail belongs to the dog. No possessive pronoun ever has an apostrophe: hers, his, our, theirs—see? No apostrophes. Its is a possessive pronoun; therefore, no apostrophe, ever.

It’s is a contraction. It means either it is or it has:

It’s expected to rain later today. (Substitute it is.)
It’s been a long time since Southern California had a good rain. (Substitute it has.)

When you are thinking about using it’s, the one with the apostrophe, see if you can substitute it is or it has. If you can’t, you want the possessive form, its.

Two other words that cause serious problems are who’s and whose. This distinction is just as easy:

Who’s is a contraction, meaning who is or who has:

Who’s going to run for committee treasurer? (Substitute who is.)
“Who’s been sleeping in my bed,” growled Daddy Bear. (He means who has.)

Whose is a pronoun showing ownership: Whose pen is this? If you can’t substitute who is or who has, you want the possessive form, whose.

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WHO’S vs. WHOSE (with a little IT’S vs. ITS thrown in)

When I am asked what is the most prevalent mistake I see, I don’t have to stop and think about it: without doubt, it is ITS vs. IT’S. If you can’t substitute IT IS or IT HAS, you want the possessive ITS (as in “The kitten took its first steps today”).

You should apply the same test to WHOSE and WHO’S: if you can’t substitute WHO IS or WHO HAS, you need the possessive WHOSE.

Test yourself:

1.     Papa Bear roared, “WHOSE/WHO’S been sitting in my chair?”

2.     Priority seating will be given to those WHO’S/WHOSE applications were received first.

3.     I would like to know WHOSE/WHO’S read a good book recently.

4.     My Aunt Irene is a person WHO’S/WHOSE advice I value.

5.     ITS/IT’S been humid on the East Coast recently.

6.     The Yorkshire terrier yanked IT’S/ITS leash out of IT’S/ITS owner’s hand and ran to the neighbors’ house.

 

How did you do? Was this difficult for you? In each sentence, the correct answer is the second option.

 

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