Tuesday Tips: On “It’s” & “Its”

Here are two wonderful and important concepts from a blog post I was reading and which inspired me to write this morning:

Social Networking at it’s very foundation is building relationships with people…

Social networking at it’s finest: making friends and helping each other at the same time.

Do you know the difference between “it’s” and “its”? Chances are that you don’t. There’s even a facebook page about it’s and its (that’s where I found the graphic).

Using it is when you mean its and its when you mean it is ranks up there as the most common mistake I see in online and offline writing. My undergrad college students get it wrong and my graduate students in education got it wrong too.

This is the most common spelling, punctuation or grammar mistake that I find online. And I find at least a few examples of it every day in online publishing. In fact, as I mentioned above, this post itself is inspired by a blog post where “it’s” was used wrong more than once and both times in a headline as shown above.

(The second most common mistake? Using semi-colons–I’ll get to that next!)

Most of the time the writer who uses its/it’s wrong has strong content and writing skills (like in this case), but doesn’t know when to use “it’s” or to use “its”; these writers tend to use one or the other all the time, possibly on the false assumption they’d be correct 50% of the time. (If I was to take this strategy, I’d use “its” not “it’s,” by the way…)

Learning how to use “its” or “it’s” is one of the first orders of business when I am working with someone on writing.

So when do you use “it’s” and when do you use “its”?

IT’S means IT IS. The apostrophe stands in for the dot of the “i” that’s (that is) not there.

ITS means it is being used as a possessive, that it belongs to someone or something.

So to correct the examples from the blog post I was inspired by, when the author wrote:

Social Networking at it’s very foundation is building relationships with people…

I spelled out it’s

Social Networking at IT IS very foundation is building relationships with people…

Is this what the author meant? No. She needed to use the possessive–the foundation of social networking is building relationships–the foundation belongs to social networking so she should have used “its.” When you spell “it’s” out it is clear that this is the wrong use of the word.

Here’s another example from the same blog post:

Social networking at it’s finest: making friends and helping each other at the same time.

which means

Social networking at it is finest: making friends and helping each other at the same time.

Again spelling it out shows that”it’s” is the the wrong use of the word–it should be “its.”

Social Networking at its very foundation is building relationships with people…

Social networking at its finest: making friends and helping each other at the same time.

These sentences could also be revised:

The very foundation of social networking is building relationships with people…

By using social networking, we make friends and help each other at the same time.

While I know I make mistakes, blogging is a platform where it is easy to make corrections. We need to proofread our work. We need to take the time to write and revise and proofread–to draft and wait and reread before we hit publish. Some wine bloggers I know say they wait at least 24 hours between writing and publishing. I’m not sure if that’s always necessary but it does give you a chance to see the piece with fresh eyes and catch your mistakes.

WordPress now has a way for you to get feedback by sending a draft of the post by email. So if you need some writing tech support before you publish, let me know!

Why does it matter whether you use “it’s” or “its” correctly?

Many people do know the difference. If we want our writing online to be taken seriously and if we want to be seen as an authority, then we need to be sure we mind our “p’s” and “q’s,” dot our “i’s” and cross our “t’s”! If our writing looks uneducated, then we will come across as not knowing our subject.

Let me know what confuses you about writing and I will address your questions in future posts! And if you ever catch any of my typos, drop me an email or leave a comment. Thanks!

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