Thursday, March 4, 2010

English teacher: how to use its and it's

A few weeks ago I revealed the fact that I was trained as an English teacher. My friends' and readers' reactions were mixed: some were delighted; others, horrified. Some couldn't care less.

To be honest, English grammar is a subject about which many people couldn't care less. And quite frankly, in a world where most communication is spoken, grammar doesn't really matter all that much. But as bloggers, we're now living in a world in which much of our communication is written. . . and in the world of writing, grammar is important.

Do you know why grammar is important? Did you ever have an English teacher explain to you the purpose behind the rules? Or did you suffer at the hands of seemingly uncaring teachers who sought only to cover your papers with red marks?

Well, if I'd been your English teacher, the first thing I would have explained is that grammar is not important in and of itself. It's part of a larger package: the package of language. Language is a gift from God, and the purpose of language is communication. Who cares if you know the rules of grammar? Honestly--who really cares?

Here's a better question: who cares if you can use the language adeptly? Who cares if you can make yourself understood? Who cares if you can avoid being misunderstood? I'd like to suggest that we should all care about that.

So I'm going to try something here. I'm going to offer a little lesson on grammar. If y'all like it and think it's helpful, I'll do it once a week.

I'll start today by explaining how to use the words "its" and "it's."

You probably already know that it is a pronoun. And you know that a noun is a word that names something--a person, place, thing, or idea. We don't usually have any problems using nouns. A pronoun is a word that can take the place of a noun. Personal pronouns are some of the niftiest, most useful words in our language. Imagine having to communicate without ever using the words I, me, you, he, she, or it. Yikes! It would be nearly impossible.

But there's something you need to know about pronouns. Personal pronouns are not ever spelled with apostrophes, not even when you write the possessive form of them. This confuses people, who are accustomed to adding an apostrophe + s to a word to form a possessive. That is the rule for forming the possessive of a singular noun, but not for a pronoun. So if you want to say that something belongs to it, the word you want is its. No apostrophe.

Now here's the tricky part. Pronouns can be used to form contractions. You remember contractions: handy little words that are actually the combination of two words, with some letters left out. The left-out letters are represented by an apostrophe. For instance: don't is a contraction of the words do and not. An apostrophe replaces the missing "o" when the two words are combined.

So here's your rule: Use an apostrophe in the word "its" ONLY when you mean to use the contraction of "it is."

It's = it is
Its = belonging to it

If you're ever unsure, stop and ask yourself: Can I replace the word "it's" with the words "it is"?


It's a beautiful day today. It is a beautiful day today. Yes!
The cat licked it's foot. The cat licked it is foot? No way! The word needed here is "its."

So what do you think? Should I put on my English teacher hat once a week? Would it be helpful to you? Or are you grateful that you're out of high school and don't ever have to think about English grammar again? Please let me know what you think!


linda said...

Please put on your teacher hat once a week. I'd love to "hear" what you have to teach! I knew the little "trick" for the lesson this week..... anxious to learn more! Blessings!

southerninspiration said...

I'd say go for it....we can all use reminders of what we should be doing! It's bound to be helpful! :D


Kendra @ Domestic Princess in Training said...

Yes please! I need all the help I can get. The sad thing is that I actually trained for a month in China to become an ESL teacher (in China). I was in school from 8am to 10pm learning noting but grammar and sentence formation. Tricky stuff! I passed and have my TEFL certification but I still have the worst grammar uh.....and spelling. Thank the lord for spell check. Even with spell check I make mistakes.My poor readers, I did apologize to them in advance if that makes a difference.

Kendra "Domestic Princess in Training"

Katie said...

I'm sad to say it, but a resounding yes! Please post these kind of grammatical tid bits. I actually needed that clarification and I'm 30! I'm always painfully aware when I hit publish for my posts that they are so not perfect grammatically. I look forward to your next lesson.

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous idea!

I learned the its/it's trick while reading an interview with Stephen King, of all people. He said that was the only way he could remember which one to use.

I don't have very happy memories of my grammar lessons. I still have nightmares about diagramming sentences!

Our local paper, especially the online edition, is notorious for using the wrong word or spelling something incorrectly. Not that I'm the grammar/spelling cop, but I believe that if you make your living by the written word, you should make sure you're doing so correctly.

Denise said...

I'd love it if you put your teacher hat on once a week :) I left school at 16 (it's the norm in England!) and that was over 30 years ago! I can't even remember hearing about a 'contraction' until my daughter told me about them last year!!! I do know the difference between 'your' and 'you're' and get a little irked when I see other people use it wrong, and also 'to' instead of 'too'!! !

Anonymous said...

Oh I just want to reach right through the internet and HUG you! I too trained as an English teacher, and I will admit to being a bit of a grammar snob. Of course, now that I said that, people who read my blog are going to be thinking, "who does she think she's kidding? Her grammar is AWFUL!" But at least I know the rules I'm breaking, right? ;)

Anyway, all this to say, Kudos to you for using your training, and if you ever need a guest poster I'll be glad to help. Just please don't look at my comma usage in that last sentence, please. :)

Talia said...

Please do! I live in a very rural area where goog grammar is hard to come by! I was raised by an English teacher and thank God daily for my Mom! It is wonderful to be able to be in any situation and know that I speak well!

You would be doing America a great service - really!

Rebekah said...

I love it. I picked up a copy of "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" at GW a couple of weeks ago. Punctuation errors make me laugh. I majored in English, too, but my emphasis was creative writing. I thought I wanted to be a poet! Ha! :)

Anonymous said...

Absolutely! I love the thought of honing my grammar skills. Where I went to school, English teachers were so slack! The art of the English language fascinates me. I love reading old texts and trying to grasp an understanding of the way people used to speak. I love learning new words (it's retaining them that's the biggest problem for me), and I love writing. So I say go for it, absolutely. :D

ckm. said...

Please do! I grew up with parents who insisted on appropriate grammar in speech and writing, and while I love reading blogs, grammatical and spelling errors always make me wince. Might I recommend a lesson on when it's appropriate to use "me" or "I" in a sentence? Even the newscasters seem to have issues with that these days.

Em said...

Yes, please! I have a degree in English Language and Literature but I did not take grammar in college at all. Commas are my downfall (see above where I have probably used it incorrectly). I'm excited for more!

Cindy said...

Oh my goodness, yes please. God said we should share our talents, and grammar is definately not mine :)

Kristi said...

Great lesson! I agree. Doing my best for the Lord without being obsessed about what my best really looks like compared to the next person should be my goal though it is not always in practice. But we can always seek improvement. However, Christians are often viewed as ignorant in today's society. When we use poor grammar we are giving credence to this view, unfortunately. As you may have noticed, punctuation is NOT my thing. Any and all posts on punctuation would be greatly appreciated. :) Thanks again, Richella!

Amanda @ Serenity Now said...

Yes, and please make the next lesson about the proper usage of "their" vs. "they're." :)

Here's the thing--I love to write and read...but I did NOT pay attention to the grammar portion of English studies in school. I used to have nervous fits over sentence diagrams. To this day, they give me hives. I think the only reason I wrote A papers in college was because I read so much. Certain punctuation rules are just beyond me, and now that I can write in a stream of consciousness on my blog, I've lost touch with the finer points of writing. ;)

June said...

I would love to either learn something new or enforce something that I already knew. Please continue.

Rebecca said...

Yes please! I would love to learn more on english grammar since "it's" my second language.


Acting Balanced Mom said...

Love the idea of grammar day! I think it's probably a good check in for all of us who write and read to remember that there are rules for the written word... One of my favorite books is Eats Shoots and Leaves or Eats, Shoots and Leaves.... depending on your expectations :)
Found you on SITS and now a follower :)

Susie from Bienvenue said... I'm really scared. I bet you just cringe when you read my post. I'm all over the place. Sorry~ I would love your weekly lesson!
ps...I bought my grass seeds from Wal Mart. They have them in the garden center. Thanks~

Cecelia said...

I would love weekly grammar lessons. :) I like to think that I have a fairly good grasp on the English language, but I'm sure that I have plenty to learn.

Tracy Hall said...

Yes, yes, yes! Teach us some grammar!

Sue said...

I was a journalism major and I cringe at the abuse of the English language, both in written and spoken forms. Aarrgghh.... When I hear or see incorrect grammar, I go nutso! LOL
I guess that I culd be considered a grammar snob. My son keeps reminding me that I am no longer in the classroom and that I should not tell him that he used the wrong tense or object of the preposition. Always the teacher, right? I say to you- give a few lessons! :-) Sue

Paula @ Ooo LaLa said...

Yes, please do continue! Lay and lie is always a challenge for me. It seems like I remember something about hearing that "only hens can lay, people can't", but I can't remember for sure.

Thank you! I look forward to your weekly lessons.

ALVN of WhisperWood Cottage and Junkologie said...

I have to admit that I love grammar! I loved having to label the parts of the sentences in English class. I still love learning about the rules of language. Keep it coming!!

Rachelle said...

Grammar and spelling are my downfall, it's true.

You started this post because you read one of my posts and it made you shake your head, didn't you?



Anita said...

Hi, you were above me in Friday's SITS blog roll. I find this post mildly amusing, because some grammatical errors drive me wild, the its/it's thing is one such item.
Commas and their usage would be a great topic to tackle, and the semi colon too.
Glad I found your blog.

Southern Gal said...

Love this idea. I have such a hard time reading posts where your and you're are always used incorrectly. And its and it's. I never knew people got then and than mixed up until I started reading blogs! Grammar police!

Bee said...

Thank you! I'd love to see you teach the use of objective vs subjective pronouns. I hate to hear someone say, "They brought a gift to John and I." Or,"Here is a picture of Bee and I."

And while I'd like to think I'm perfect, I could use the help, too.

Amanda@Imperfectly Beautiful said...

Oh my goodness...I love you even more! I was raised by a father who has his doctorate in writing and english! We were always properly drilled in such matters, and quickly corrected when using poor grammar. How dare we you have a "pin" I can write with? No, no, is "pen"...pronounce it corrrectly! hahahahahahahaha

It was always so bothersome to us as children, but now we truly appreciate it! I am a stickler for such words as its and it's. Just one of those silly things I always notice, especially when used incorrectly!


Piper said...

Yes, I think the grammar refreshers are wonderful!


HeathahLee said...


Seriously, this post made my heart pitter patter. I am THE Grammar Police at my house. Much to my husband's and son's dismay.

I don't claim to know everything about grammar (I still struggle with ending sentences with a preposition), but what I do know I want EVERYONE to know! LOL!

I can't wait to read what you teach us! Even though I know these rules about "it's" and "its" you explained it far better than I did when I was teaching Kiddo about it. : )

LadyG said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Please teach away. "Its a delight to no your out their."
...Who cares? Indeed :)!
Interesting that we have returned to so much written communication in the technological age through blogging, etc. BTW, a few years ago, we thought classic language was going the way of the dinosaur to make way for Ebonics and email shortcuts. Who knew?!?

Angie said...

I'm chiming in late, since I know you've already decided to go for it, but YES! Please teach us!! Grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes are pet peeves of mine. That said, I don't always know what's right or wrong.

BTW, my hubby thought I'd gone crazy a few years ago when I put Strunk & White's book on my Christmas list. :)

Shannon said...

This is SUCH a great idea!!! I love to write and feel like it is part of God's blessing in my life. At the same time, whenever I sit down to write, I feel paralyzed by worry about grammar. I'm really looking forward to these lessons!

Terri said...

I LOVE how many comments this post generated!!! I would say you are definitely onto something. We all need reminders and the ability to proof-read. I have been proofreading my husband's writing all of our marriage. Because he didn't grow up reading (for pleasure), and came from a bilingual home, he always leaves off the -ed or -s/-es from his verbs! Now he asks me to proof everything he writes. I spent a year teaching remedial English at DeVry several years back. My undergrad was in Liberal Studies and I practically had a minor in English. Teaching was not my gift, however! I look forward to seeing your inner English teacher come out!!! Blessings!

melissa * 320 Sycamore said...

I am going to love this! I would love a comma lesson, and anything you see commonly in blog posts that drives you crazy...such a great idea.

Anonymous said...

I will be faithfully following :)

Lstover said...

I am a Speech Language Pathologist, so I appreciate all that you have to share! Thank you!

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