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It’s Time to Slay the Possessive Its

Did someone hack this guy’s grammar?


One of the most embarrassing moments I witnessed in my professional career occurred in about 2003. While employed at The Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad, CA, the head of the PR department occasionally gave his staff permission to leave the premises and partake of professional development (yes, it was a very “controlling” culture there). I decided to attend an advanced public relations writing course given by PR pro Fraser P. Seitel, author of The Practice of Public Relations (a great PR textbook; I recently ordered the new 12th edition) in Los Angeles.

If I’m remembering correctly, Fraser had on the screen a news release, and the attendees had to find the errors. One of the errors was a possessive “its.” (Quick grammar lesson for anyone who somehow missed learning this — “its” is never possessive; “it’s” always, always is the contraction for “it is.”)

Well, many of us quickly spotted the possessive “it’s” in the news release as one of the errors. But then to everyone’s surprise, one attendee disagreed. Fraser ever so gently explained the rule, and this attendee began to argue that this “it” was possessive and therefore required the apostrophe! I don’t know if I ever saw someone’s grammar intelligence go down in flames so quickly.

A day seldom goes by when I don’t see a possessive “it’s.” Granted, some of them are simply typos, but I would bet the majority are not. The image above was easily located by doing a Google search of the phrase, “it’s product.” My goodness, if you’re going to have a possessive “it’s,” at least keep it out of the headline and bury it deep in the copy below!

On another occasion, I was watching an old movie on Turner Classic Movies, and on the screen appeared a letter — and it had a possessive “it’s.” Whoops.

So, what’s to be done?

First, proof your copywriting. If you have any “it’s” appear in the copy, make sure it’s the contraction. Second, have a proofreader give it a look over. Properly trained PR pros, as communicators, should be excellent writers and editors. It’s part of their job to make sure all your communications are clean of errors, have clarity, and connect with the appropriate target audiences.

Should the possessive “it’s” continue to poison copywriting everywhere, I may have to follow through on my plan to officially establish the SPPI — Society for the Prevention of the Possessive It’s.

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