Grandma's Tales

October 1, 2006

Grammar 3 – It’s a pain!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Geeta Padmanabhan @ 11:12 am

A couple of days ago, CNN-IBN had splashed this line across the screen.
Bangalore loses it’s lungs! Someone obviously pointed out the gaffe and the offending apostrophe was withdrawn the next day when the same story was aired.

In Sabrina Buckwalter’s Earn While You Blog in TOI, I found this sentence. For ‘Nilu’, who hosts a site called Recursive Hypocrisy, a collection of critical views on current events, the money is on it’s way.

It’s time we put an end to our totally uncalled for cruelty to this defenseless little punctuation mark – the apostrophe. We will start with its use in this common, three-lettered word. When do we use “its” and where do we use “it’s”?

“Its” shows possession. (Did you take a good look? The word has no apostrophe in sight.) It is in the same league as my, your, his, her, their, our. It gives you the sense of “belongs to”. Its tail, the length of its nose, what is its speed?, its capacity is small and it will stay that way!” In all these examples, our victim “its” is followed by a noun (tail, nose, speed, capacity).

Yeah, that is the clue!If “its” is followed by a noun (or a word that is used as a noun), there is no apostrophe. The word “its” tells you the noun belongs to someone or something. Whose tail? The monkey’s tail. “Monkey’s tail” is now its tail. Whose nose? The statue’s nose. Statue’s nose is now its nose. So you know why “it’s lungs” is wrong and had to be quickly changed.

How did the apostrophe wiggle itself into “it’s”? Some smarties of the 16th century discovered that apostrophe meant “turning away” or “omission”. The printers went “hurray!” and began to use this elegant symbol to mark dropped letters. Remember Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d?

There. Drop a letter (or letters) and use the apostrophe to fill the gap. Just becuase I said this, don’t go dropping letters whenever you have a spelling problem and try to fill the gap with a convenient apostrophe. It will only be as good as the material used to hastily fill the potholes on our roads.

Back to “it’s”. This word has been created by omission. Remove the apostrophe and fill the gap and you have two words: it is or it has. Examples: It’s your turn (it is your turn). It’s been there forever (It has been there for ever).

Here are the rules: You add the apostrophe and write “it’s” when you want to say “it is or it has. If you are not looking for “it is” or “it has”, you just write “its”. That’s easy to remember, isn’t it?

People think the apostrophe rule for “its” disappears when they e-mail. No, it does not. Do not write “Its for this reason we have inserted the rule“. Take that fraction of a second to insert the symbol and write correctly, “It’s (it is) for this reason we have inserted the rule”.

Try filling these blanks: It’s or its?
This is entertainment at _____ best.
_______ best that we leave it like this.
I can hear you sigh: Thank God it’s over. No, it isn’t.
In the next one, we’ll attack the itch that makes you jab an apostrophe the minute you see an “s”. Itch # 1 – Yours


  1. Geetaji, thanks for being so direct. This is probably among the most common errors, but among the least admitted ones. We definitely need more such posts.

    Comment by Rajesh — October 2, 2006 @ 10:33 am | Reply

  2. God, Rajesh, do I now sound like a school teacher? I guess I do. But to me this is a serious error. “Its” and “it’s” are not interchangeable! The habit of a life time, I admit. Please bear with me!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 2, 2006 @ 10:59 am | Reply

  3. Hello Mrs Padmanabhan,Congralutions on starting your grammar lessons. Your initial lessons have been quite helpful. Hope to catch on more of these in the coming days. And, I will also send my queries soon.

    Comment received by email

    Comment by Rajesh Parishwad — October 3, 2006 @ 2:35 pm | Reply

  4. 1. this is entertainment at its best.
    2. It’s best that we leave it like this.

    Comment by Bhargavi Ravi — October 9, 2006 @ 8:54 pm | Reply

  5. Hi Bhargavi,
    Bingo! You got them both right! Great!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 9, 2006 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  6. What an embarrassing mistake. I must say that I do know better and feel very bad for making such an asinine error. Thank you for pointing it out.

    Comment by Sabrina Buckwalter — October 12, 2006 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

  7. Hi Sabrina,
    In a world where people defend errors with “So what, everyone makes mistakes” or “Hey, the greatest writers didn’t know better”, yours is truly a wonderful note. It takes courage to do this, Sabrina. Hats off to you. You do write very well and I shall look forward to your stories.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 12, 2006 @ 6:22 pm | Reply

  8. Got to love your brother. Happy New Year all. Take Care.

    Comment by Peter — January 6, 2007 @ 5:17 am | Reply

  9. Hi Peter,
    A very happy new year to you! Appreciate the thought.

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — January 6, 2007 @ 6:13 pm | Reply

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