"It's" & "its"

An Eccentric Anomaly: Ed Davies's Blog

Dear Web,

The words it's and its are distinct and not interchangeable. Abuse rarely produces real ambiguity though it often results in the need to backtrack and reparse a sentence thereby slowing down reading but it does have the benefit of flagging the writer as likely to be careless: a powerful but not 100% accurate initial filter to apply to Internet writing.

Briefly, it's is a contraction of it is or it has:

It's rather simple. — It is rather simple.
It's been noticed. — It has been noticed.

Its is the possessive form of it.

That badger waved its paws.

As far as I know, there are no other uses of these words so it's really not at all complicated. Its' is always wrong.

I've understood this distinction for about 30 years and have never, as far as I recall, had any problem confusing you're and your. Bizarrely, though, it was only a couple of years ago that I realised that who's and whose follow the same pattern. A definite doh! moment.

One is just evil. I believe the following is correct:

One's confused by one's own language.

but I'd be open to correction from a definitive source.

[[Update: 2012-06-06: It seems the Guardian's confused by its own language, too. I asked on Twitter:

@guardianstyle Are apostrophes right in "One's confused by one's own language"?

and was somewhat dismayed by their reply:

The first one, not the second one. RT @ed_davies: @guardianstyle Are apostrophes right in "One's confused by one's own language"?

until they also tweeted:

Agreed. Apologies RT @CopyCurmudgeon: @guardianstyle @ed_davies: First is a contraction, the second is possessive (one's eating one's dinner)

as a result of @CopyCurmudgeon tweeting:

@guardianstyle @ed_davies: Whoa now. The first is a contraction, the second is possessive. You need both apostrophes.

which then, slightly indirectly, lead to her tweeting:

@tepreece @guardianstyle @ed_davies @pdcawley "One" doesn't work like "hers" and "its." English isn't logical.

And finally, @guardianstyle tweeted:

Yep. RT @MiddleManor: @guardianstyle @CopyCurmudgeon @ed_davies So one's eating one's dinner but it's eating its dinner?

Yay, a bunch of people are now less confused. ]]