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Cousin "it" The word "it" defies many a person, including individuals with exceptional writing skills. For some, it seems to be one of those words that's difficult to erase from the mind.
Well, we don't actually want to erase the word but rather incorrect usage of it. I'm talking possessiveness: "its" versus "it's."
Let's get one thing straight. The word "it" is not like your mom or your cousin Larry. By that I mean the word cannot possess something. Your mom can possess a shirt: "mom's shirt." (Note the apostrophe between the m and the s). But "it" cannot possess a shirt, or anything for that matter. It's incorrect to write, "it's shirt."
It's a stupid rule, and our language is full of them. But it's a rule nonetheless. Oh, did my use of the word "it's" with an apostrophe in that last sentence just confuse you?
In that instance, with the sentence, "it's a rule...", the word "it's" has an apostrophe to indicate a contraction (a "shortening," if you will, of the words, "it is." Similar to "can't" (for "cannot") "won't" (for "will not") and so on...)
So, in short, when you want to write, "It is snowing outside," you can put "It's snowing outside" to replace "it is" with "it's." But you never want to say, "It's basketball bounced away." Instead, write, "Its basketball bounced away" without an apostrophe.
To practice, try this exercise:
Instructions: in the sentences below, try to figure out what "its" should have apostrophes, and what ones should remain "its" without apostrophes. Answers below the practice sentences.
Its a beautiful day outside.
She put the car in its garage.
Can you please tell me what its going to do?
He thinks that its amazing that its mother, the grey cat, is still alive.
It's a beautiful day outside.
She put the car in its garage.
Can you please tell me what it's going to do?
He thinks that it's amazing that its mother, the grey cat, is still alive.
Why the dictionary is your friend Many editors and grammar gurus have a plethora of books to guide them. But for the regular, everyday person, a dictionary is the best thing to have in your collection. It can do much more than provide you with definitions.
Consider the elusive hyphen. Have you ever wondered why some words are hyphenated, while others are not? For example, you're likely to find (in most dictionaries) the word "re-enactment" hyphenated. But the word "restated" would most likely not be hyphenated. There's a cool little reason why, which I will detail in another entry, but for now know that the dictionary can help you with things such as hyphenation.
It can also guide you on capitalizing words, determining what form of a word is more proper (did you know, for example, that modern dictionaries dictate that the word "okay" should be spelled "OK"?), and how to pluralize some words (take the word "dictionary." Its plural form is dictionaries, not dictionarys).
While grammar "experts" have differing opinions on what dictionary is best (Webster's versus Random House, for instance), what's important for you is to use the same dictionary consistently.
Mareesa Orth is GrammarGal. Her journalism degree from the University of Missouri is in editing and design. Mareesa works for an independent book publisher and has edited numerous books, covers, webpages, brochures, and other knicknacks. While graphic design is her first love (though you wouldn't know it from this simple blogger page. ;), her anal-retentive side seeks ways to educate the world on English language usage.
In addition to the tips offered here, Mareesa is a personal editing and writing consultant. If you need a business memo polished, a research paper edited (no, she will not write your paper for you), or simply
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