Friday, December 4, 2009

Cage Match #1 - It's vs. Its

Today, though all grammar slips make me want to hit someone over the head with a cast iron griddle, I'm picking on "it's" vs. "its." Not because it's a particularly annoying mistake, but because it's a mistake I have been known to make during a first pass when I'm not thinking.

It's an easy error to make because the "it's vs. its" debacle, well, it's counter-intuitive. Why? Because most of the time, when you're showing possession, you use an apostrophe.

Examples: Fred's dog, Sharon's glass eye, Mom's secret stash of two-bite Dove bars and Devil Dogs she stumbles to when doped up on sleeping pills, the mistress's excuses (and her obviously enhanced bosom), you get the picture.

So, it would stand to reason that when you’re referring to something that belongs to “it,” the possessive should be “it’s,” right? But it isn’t. It’s “its” – at least according to modern grammar rules. Got it? Good.

Summary (for those who are still confused):
  • It’s = “it is” or “it has” (or, more aptly, a contraction, standing for “it is” or “it has”)

    Example: It’s high time I stopped wasting precious minutes sitting in front of my computer reading this garbage when I could be watching video clips from America’s Got Talent.
  • Its = the possessive form of the pronoun “it”

    Example: The football team lost its star defensive tackle to a dog fighting sting (position title changed to protect the accused).

Just as I was ready to sign off on this note and send it into the blogosphere forever to be associated with the household name that Me Love Grammar, a.k.a. grammar b*tch©™, is sure to become, I did a Google search for “possessive of it.” And what I learned is that, prior to the 19th Century, “it’s” actually was the possessive form of the pronoun “it,” and “’tis” was used as a short form of “it is.”

I refer you to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, circa 1600, for an example:

“...To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles...”
– the late, great Bard, William Shakespeare, approximately 1564 - 1616

(See also the Web site that alerted me to the historical usage:

Whose lesson is this anyway?

So, despite the fact that the whole point of my blog is to chastise those who butcher grammar or simply minimize the importance of being correct, I will give you some advice. The next time someone like me gives you a hard time for “misusing” the word “it’s,” just say something like, “I was just going all Shakespearean on your ass, you ass, ‘tis that not OK with you, grammar czar? Yeah, that’s right. What?” *

And then come back here and tell me how it went. My comment section is always open.

Yours truly (note the lack of an “e” in that last word) and much love,

Grammar B.

* Unless you have a foolproof plan B, don't try this with your boss or anyone who, for any reason, has control of your paycheck. Yes, that includes your spouse.