Most people can, without thinking, form a possessive noun. You build one by adding an apostrophe and an “s” to a noun, as in “Occam’s razor” and “the cat’s meow.”

But things are different with pronouns. (Pronouns are those little words that stand in for nouns, such as he, she, it, they, us, him, her, you.) You NEVER use an apostrophe for the possessive form of a pronoun.

That bears repeating: You NEVER use an apostrophe for the possessive form of a pronoun. Instead, you use a different word. So the possessive of “me” is “mine” and the possessive of “he” is “his.” So far so good.

“It” is the problem pronoun. To form the possessive, “it” DOES get an “s” on the end, but it doesn’t get an apostrophe. Repeat after me: You NEVER use an apostrophe for the possessive form of a pronoun.
Here’s how to get it right for “its” and “it’s”:
• “Its” is possessive, as in “This web app is pretty, but I’m not sure about its usefulness.”
• “It’s” is a contraction of “it is,” as in “It’s time for mojitos.”

It’s confusing, I know, so any time you type an apostrophe, I recommend that you pause and remember that rule. I don’t need to repeat it again, do I?

What else trips you up when you’re writing? Let me know and I’ll try to shed some light.

2 Comments

  1. Aimie on June 25, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    THANK YOU for addressing this most important matter. Misplaced apostrophes are going to damn us all. Now I would like to see your take on his/hers/theirs. As I age, I may LOOK like I have a second butt, but I really don’t feel that it qualifies me to be referred to as a pluralism. I don’t think we can spread the word fast enough, but if I hear about one more little girl who lost THEIR puppy, I might be driven to drink – perhaps that next round of mojitos.

  2. Ed on June 26, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Well, if mangling the language will drive you to buy a round of mojitos, then me want mangle.

    But to clarify your concern (ignoring the butt concern, for which I am unqualified and ill-advised to offer counsel), you are objecting to this sloppy construction: “A man was seen leaving their nose prints on the window of Lamar’s Donuts shortly before a dozen donuts went missing.” Instead of “leaving his nose prints,” right?

    I have to say, I’ve seen it occasionally, but not frequently. I’ll look for more instances, and if I see enough, I’ll write a post. In the meantime, folks, make your pronouns match their antecedents (the nouns to which they refer), e.g., man=his, woman=her.

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