[Update: This is now tested on the new SAT!]
When do you use “it’s” versus “its”? One is a contraction and one is a possessive. My students have a lot of trouble remembering which is which. This is not tested directly on the SAT, but it’s a pet peeve among a lot of English teachers (the good folks who will be grading your essay.)
You already know that you can shorten words using contractions.
For example, instead of saying “She is throwing the ball” you can combine the she + is = she’s and say “She’s throwing the ball.”
The same thing works with “it.”
For example, you could say “The dog’s running after the ball.” Or you can replace dog with “it” and say “It’s running after the ball.”
So any time you have “it’s” it means
it +is = it’s
Here’s another way you use the apostrophe s ( ‘s.)
The dog’s ball rolled into the street.
In this sentence, the ‘s is indicating possession – the ball belongs to the dog.
You could also say
Its ball rolled into the street.
Notice that the possessive form of “its” does not have an apostrophe. (If it did – it would mean it+is)
Everybody knows the alphabet
Which one has the apostrophe?
A is the first letter of the alphabet.
C comes before P in the alphabet.
Therefore contractions come first:
Contraction: It’s = it is
P comes later in the alphabet
Possession: Its (no apostrophe)
So if you ever see an apostrophe, remember which letter is closest to A.
The Oatmeal also has another irreverent explanation of apostrophes.
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