*It’s* the T-shirt, Stupid

by Michelle Hutchinson

Black, red, blue, and green permanent markers

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Paraphrasing a quote from the 1992 presidential campaign felt so right for the title of this blog post. Why?

Well, just walk down any city street and you’re likely to see several people wearing t-shirts emblazoned with quotes or tag lines. They’re a great way to get a message across. Some shirts display advertising slogans, others express humor, and still others sport motivational sayings like the one in the photo below…

 It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

…but can you see what’s wrong with this? Notice that the first word in the slogan should have been It’s, not Its.

This is one of the most common errors I see when I’m editing, so I thought I’d review the correct use of it’s and its. After all, if you’re going to employ these words in your marketing messages or writing, you want to get them right, don’t you?

It’s is a contraction that takes the place of “it is” or “it has.”

Its (without the apostrophe) means “belonging to it.”

I understand that that’s confusing, because ever since we were in grade school, we were taught to use apostrophe-s to show possession, but maybe thinking about the following will help you: if the book is his or the house is theirs, you don’t use an apostrophe in the possessive pronouns his or theirs, do you? Think of its the same way; if the whiskers belong to it, then you’d write, “…its whiskers.”

Here’s an example: “The dog’s eyes are brown, but its coat is black.”

Now, getting back to that t-shirt, since the first word in the slogan means “it is,” the sentence should have started with It’s.

And if you’ve read last week’s post, you already know that I won’t wear a t-shirt with a misspelled word. But I do wear the shirt pictured here. Why? Because I can easily fix the error with a pen.

In fact, whenever multiple washings cause my inked-in apostrophe to fade…

 It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. …I just re-insert it. :-)

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  1. Carina says:

    I love it!!! I am paying special attention to your blogs now. I’m so guilty of the “its it’s” deal. I ask Jayme for help…that’s bad.

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