On "it's" vs. "its"

For the discussion of language mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, trends, and other such linguistic topics, in english and other languages.

Moderators: gmalivuk, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
wst
Posts: 2613
Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2007 10:06 am UTC

On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby wst » Sat Jun 09, 2012 3:04 pm UTC

Simple one really.

My friend said, about a puppet, "The hand is up it's arse.", and I said that I thought the apostrophe was misplaces, and the phrase should be "The hand is up its arse."

Then my friend said, "So it's up Wills arse, then?" (me being the Will in question), which looks wrong to me...

Anyway, to settle this debate, can someone break it down for me? Because I haven't studied grammar in a long time and I've avoided typing things like "The thing is up James'/James/whatever's arse" for ages just because of that bloody apostrophe. Lynn Truss put the fear of a misplaced ' in me and now I've even forgotten the actual placement of the ' anyway!
Anything I said pre-2014 that you want to quote me on, just run it past me to check I still agree with myself.

User avatar
Deva
Has suggestions for the murderers out there.
Posts: 2041
Joined: Sat Feb 26, 2011 5:18 am UTC

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby Deva » Sat Jun 09, 2012 3:34 pm UTC

It's: Short for "it is". Works like "can't" and "cannot", in terms of apostrophe usage. Example: "It's nice of you to visit." (See also: "It is nice of you to visit.")

Its: Shows possession. Works like "her" or "his". Example: "Grab its collar." (Refers to <animal>'s collar. May use "Grab his/her collar" with a gender.)

Recommends substituting in "it is" for any unclear situation. Using the sentence in question, does "The hand is up it is backside" sound correct? Should not. Use "its". May write the correct sentence as "The hand is up its backside" or "The hand is up the puppet's backside".

Does that help?
Changes its form depending on the observer.

User avatar
wst
Posts: 2613
Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2007 10:06 am UTC

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby wst » Sat Jun 09, 2012 4:38 pm UTC

Good, that means I was right about the it's/its.

What if you had a pronoun there instead of "it"? Like "Will" or "James"? Would "Wills" and "James'" be correct for the (otherwise left intact) sentence?
Anything I said pre-2014 that you want to quote me on, just run it past me to check I still agree with myself.

User avatar
Gigano
Posts: 143
Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:38 pm UTC
Location: Groningen, The Netherlands

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby Gigano » Sat Jun 09, 2012 4:47 pm UTC

In the case of the puppet, "its" can refer to either the puppet or the hand (or the owner of the hand, i.e. you). Logic should tell you that a hand doesn't haven an arse (the owner does, but he's irrelevant), so "its" should refer to the puppet.

Using it's rather than its doesn't take away the confusion your friend brings up. But present the following sentence to him and it's obvious that using a different way to (by the way, as said by Deva, incorrectly) spell "its" does not resolve the confusion:

"He greeted his father."

Whose father? The father of the "he" in the sentence, or someone else's father? Both are acceptable, and there is no real way in English to distinguish between the two objectively. In Latin for instance, it's different because nouns have different declensions depending on their subject:

"Suum patrem interrogavit." - He asked his (own) father.

"Eius patrem interrogavit." - He asked his (someone else's) father

As for the possessive forms of Will and James, they would respectively be Will's and James'. In the later case, adding an extra s isn't deemed necessary.
Omne ignotum pro magnifico.

User avatar
eSOANEM
:D
Posts: 3652
Joined: Sun Apr 12, 2009 9:39 pm UTC
Location: Grantabrycge

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Jun 10, 2012 3:50 pm UTC

wst wrote:What if you had a pronoun there instead of "it"? Like "Will" or "James"? Would "Wills" and "James'" be correct for the (otherwise left intact) sentence?


Got the use of pronoun the wrong way round there (i.e. I, you, it, he, that etc. are all pronouns; Will, James, America, Thames etc. are proper nouns or names). Pronouns are the only ones where the possessive takes irregular forms.

So for everything else, the possessive take the regular 's (or ' if it ends in s or z).

Pronouns do irregular things and exactly what depends on the pronoun e.g.

I -> my
you -> your
he -> his
she -> her
it -> its
we -> our
they -> their
those -> their

Almost all pronouns do not have an apostrophe in their possessive (the only exception I can think of off the top of my head being "one" -> "one's" and other pronouns which gain a "one's").
my pronouns are they

Magnanimous wrote:(fuck the macrons)

User avatar
Pez Dispens3r
is not a stick figure.
Posts: 2079
Joined: Thu Dec 04, 2008 3:08 am UTC
Location: Australia
Contact:

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:00 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:Pronouns are the only ones where the possessive takes irregular forms.

This is probably the most meaningful answer you'll find for your question. You wouldn't notice if I edit my work, but I regularly give 'its' the possessive apostrophe. The possessive apostrophe is just some weird convention which doesn't apply to pronouns for valid but ignoble reasons (like, we use the same apostrophe mark to shorten words so there's that confusion, and we don't tend to say his's even though a possessive apostrophe would require you say it with two 'esses').

It might be useful to consider that the English language was well-established before modern punctuation existed, so you get these weird things when you try to integrate a formal system into a dynamic one.
Mighty Jalapeno wrote:I feel like you're probably an ocelot, and I feel like I want to eat you. Feeling is fun!
this isn't my cow

User avatar
eSOANEM
:D
Posts: 3652
Joined: Sun Apr 12, 2009 9:39 pm UTC
Location: Grantabrycge

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:01 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:Pronouns are the only ones where the possessive takes irregular forms.

This is probably the most meaningful answer you'll find for your question. You wouldn't notice if I edit my work, but I regularly give 'its' the possessive apostrophe. The possessive apostrophe is just some weird convention which doesn't apply to pronouns for valid but ignoble reasons (like, we use the same apostrophe mark to shorten words so there's that confusion, and we don't tend to say his's even though a possessive apostrophe would require you say it with two 'esses').


No, no. If his used the regular form it would be he's not his. It's nothing special about the possessive either. Pronouns are generally weird (in lots of languages) because the commonly used words (such as pronouns and the verbs to be, to go and to have) are more likely to be irregular.

Nouns don't decline for case in English. Except pronouns do. 1[NOM]=I, 1[OBL]=me and 1[POS]=my.

So, whilst most nouns in English exist in a caseless system dependent on word order, prepositions and the clitic 's, pronouns exit in a 3-case system with a nominative, oblique and possessive case. IIRC this is a hang-over from when all nouns declined and not related to punctuation or our writing system at all really.

The regular possessive 's is also called the Saxon genitive because of its origin in the old English -es and so, the apostrophe does represent a contraction due to the drop of the "e" however the pronouns were still weird in old English.

some examples of how pronouns were weird before there was an apostrophe in the 's clitic:

ic (I) -> min
wit (we two) -> uncer
we (we) -> usic/us
þu (you) -> þec/þe
ge (you plural) -> eowic/eo

none of which use the regular -es, -a, -e, -an or -ena so clearly the possessive would have been just as weird, albeit perhaps less confusingly written to our Old English speaking ancestors.
my pronouns are they

Magnanimous wrote:(fuck the macrons)

User avatar
Pez Dispens3r
is not a stick figure.
Posts: 2079
Joined: Thu Dec 04, 2008 3:08 am UTC
Location: Australia
Contact:

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:22 pm UTC

Right, I'm with you. Thanks for the explanation.
Mighty Jalapeno wrote:I feel like you're probably an ocelot, and I feel like I want to eat you. Feeling is fun!
this isn't my cow

XopherHalftongue
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:43 pm UTC

Re: On "it's" vs. "its"

Postby XopherHalftongue » Sat Jun 16, 2012 8:55 pm UTC

Almost all pronouns do not have an apostrophe in their possessive (the only exception I can think of off the top of my head being "one" -> "one's" and other pronouns which gain a "one's").


No personal pronoun in English has an apostrophe in the possessive. Indefinite pronouns do, because they behave like nouns. The case of 'one' will seem less anomalous if you note its relationship to 'someone', 'anyone', and 'everyone'. Also 'everybody' etc. but those are less directly relevant. I was confused about this (chiefly about the fact that 'someone' and the rest are indefinite pronouns) until my recent reread of Karen Elizabeth Gordon's wonderful The Well-Tempered Sentence.

I personally have an aversion to 'one'. It's rarely used correctly ('One must keep his clothes clean' is jsut worng, for example), and even when one uses it correctly, it makes one's writing sound as if one is a pretentious git. IMNSHO. But that's aesthetics, not grammar.


Return to “Language/Linguistics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests