It seems my recent post, Converging to Diversity struck a chord with many of you, so I thought I’d come back with a few more on alternative Thursdays, replacing the submissions posts from last year.
I should preface this series of Grammatical Rants with a few riders. I make no promises that the rules I describe are “correct”, they are only what I was taught. Oftentimes, common usage has overridden the old rules, making them obsolete in certain spheres. In that, I am a dinosaur, and proud to be one. I do accept that a living language has to change with the times, I just feel that many of these changes make things more complicated, not less, or are the result of laziness, not sense. I usually blame the North Americans, but I’m aware that it isn’t always their fault, and if it is, then it’s still also the fault of Brits who follow them into the abyss.
Finally, I reserve the right to make mistakes in my own writing. No-one’s perfect, and I am certainly not the exception that proves that rule!
Some people get very confused by the difference between Its (possessive pronoun, belonging to it) and It’s (contraction of it is). To me, they have never been a problem, because of the simple logic behind them, so let me share that with you.
The confusion seems to stem from the possessive nature of Its. We all know that the possessive uses an apostrophe – Ian’s book, the tree’s branches, the presents’ tags. So, think those who are confused, Its must have one too. And it doesn’t. And that’s confusing.
The it is version (It’s) must of course have an apostrophe, because it is a contraction, and contractions always have an apostrophe as a nod to the missing letters – here’s, don’t, etc.
Now I’ve set out the confusion, time to clear it up.
The contraction rule hasn’t got any exceptions apart from where a word has become so ingrained as to be a word itself, so there must be an apostrophe in the “it is” version. If you like, you can simply remember that, and therefore work out by a process of elimination that the possessive pronoun version doesn’t have one.
Or, you can apply another English language rule (yes, really, a rule). Possessive nouns DO take an apostrophe, but possessive pronouns DON’T.
Look at them: My, Your, His / Her / Hers / Its, Our, Your, Their. Not an apostrophe in sight!
While we’re at it, this little rule should also help those who get into a knot with your versus you’re and their versus they’re.