Home Grammar Why ‘it’s’ means ‘it’s’ or ‘it has’

Why ‘it’s’ means ‘it’s’ or ‘it has’

Why ‘it’s’ means ‘it’s’ or ‘it has’


Q: I can’t stand the usage of “it’s” for “it has” in writing. Once I see “it’s,” I learn “it’s” after which should translate this to “it has.” Am I too choosy?

A: There’s nothing mistaken with utilizing “it’s” because the contraction of “it’s” or “it has,” whether or not in writing or in speech. One can simply inform from the context which sense is supposed, and each makes use of are lengthy established in normal English.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, for instance, says “it’s” has two meanings: “1. Contraction of it’s. 2. Contraction of it has.” And Fowler’s Dictionary of Fashionable English Utilization (4th ed.) says “its is the possessive type of it (The cat licked its paws) and it’s is the shortened type of it’s (It’s raining once more) or it has (It’s come).”

In reality, “it’s” has been a contraction of each “it’s” and “it has” for tons of of years, although “it’s” was as soon as the same old type of the possessive adjective and “ ’tis” was the same old contraction of “it’s.” Complicated, ’tisn’t it? Right here’s the story.

In Outdated English (roughly 450 to 1150) and Center English (about 1150 to 1450), the same old nominative or topic type of “it” was hithyt, and so forth. The same old genitive or possessive kind (“its” or “of it”) was hishys, and so forth. The nominative it was seen solely sometimes in Outdated English, extra usually in Center English.

Right here’s an early instance of the nominative hit in Beowulf, an epic poem that will have been written as early as 725: “hit wearð ealgearo, healærna mæst” (“it stood there prepared, the noblest of halls”).

And right here’s an instance of the genitive his in an Anglo-Saxon natural treatment: “Gedrinc his þonne on niht nistig þreo full fulle” (“Drink of it, after an evening of fasting, three full cups”). From the Outdated English Herbarium, a Twelfth-century manuscript on the British Library (Cotton Vitellius C. iii).

(By the best way, “he” was he in Outdated English, “she” was heo or hie, “his” was his or hys,  and “her” was rent.)

Each “its” and “it’s” first got here into use as possessive adjectives in early Fashionable English, most likely as a result of the older neuter genitive his was being confused with the masculine possessive his.

(We’re utilizing the time period “possessive adjective” right here to explain a dependent genitive like “her” or “their,” and “possessive pronoun” to explain an impartial genitive like “hers” or “theirs.”)

The earliest quotation within the Oxford English Dictionary for “its” as a possessive adjective is from a late Sixteenth-century translation of a group of Latin anecdotes for clerics: “There stands a bedde, its demise to inform.” From Sure Chosen Histories for Christian Recreations (1577), by Ralph Robinson.

And the primary OED quotation for the apostrophized “it’s” used as a possessive is from the definition of spontaneamente in an Italian-English dictionary: “willingly, naturally, with out compulsion, of himselfe, of his free will, for it’s owne sake.” From A Worlde of Wordes (1611), by John Florio.

Of the 2 variations of the possessive adjective—with and with out the apostrophe—“it’s” was apparently the predominant spelling all through the seventeenth and 18th centuries, in line with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Utilization. (In reality, “her’s,” “our’s,” “their’s,” and “your’s” had been additionally possessives in early Fashionable English.)

The dictionary cites a half-dozen examples of the possessive “it’s,” together with one from a Nov. 8, 1800, letter by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra. We’ve expanded the quotation, which describes the response of Austen’s neighbors, the Harwoods, on studying that their son Earle, a marine lieutenant, had by accident shot himself within the thigh:

One most materials consolation nevertheless they’ve; the peace of mind of it’s being actually an unintentional wound, which isn’t solely positively declared by Earle himself, however is likewise testified by the actual course of the bullet. Such a wound couldn’t have been obtained in a duel.”

We’ll add this earlier one from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Half 2, believed written within the late 1590s and first printed within the 1623 Folio: “As milde and delicate because the Cradle‑babe, / Dying with moms dugge betweene it’s lips.”

As Merriam-Webster explains, “the unapostrophized its was in competitors with it’s from the start and commenced to rise to dominance within the mid 18th century.” M-W cites a number of language authorities to point out how the utilization developed.

In A Quick Introduction to English Grammar (1762), Robert Lowth gave “its” because the possessive type of “it.” However in The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1776), George Campbell gave “it’s.” In Reflections on the English Language (1770), Robert Baker most well-liked “it’s,” then switched to “its” within the 1779 version. And in English Grammar (1794), Lindley Murray endorsed its.

As for the “it’s” contractions, “ ’tis” appeared a few century earlier than “it’s,” in line with citations within the OED.

That is Oxford’s earliest instance of “ ’tis” is written with out an apostrophe (for the lacking “i” in “it”): “Alas, tys pety yt schwld be þus” (“Alas, ’tis a pity it needs to be thus”). From Mankind, an nameless morality play written round 1475.

The dictionary’s earliest instance with an apostrophe is from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, first printed within the 1623 Folio however believed to have been carried out in 1606: “If it had been completed, when ’tis completed, then ’twer nicely, It had been completed rapidly.”

In the meantime, “it’s” had emerged as a competing contraction. That is Oxford’s first instance:  “And ambition is a priuie [private] poison, It’s additionally a pestilens.” From Rewarde of Wickednesse, a 1574 poem by Richard Robinson.

At first, the competitors of “ ’tis” and “it’s” was fairly one-sided. A comparability utilizing Google’s Ngram Viewer, which tracks phrases and phrases in digitized books, means that “ ’tis” was the same old contraction of “it’s” from the mid-Sixteenth century to the mid-Nineteenth.

In reality, the early dominance of “ ’tis” was even better than the comparability reveals, because the Ngram outcomes embrace the usage of “it’s” as a possessive adjective in addition to a contraction of “it has” and “it’s.”

Language authorities within the late 18th and early Nineteenth centuries indicated a desire for “ ’tis.” Campbell, for example, complains in The Philosophy of Rhetoric about what he considers the misuse of “it’s, the genitive of the pronoun it, for ’tis, a contraction of it’s.”

And each Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1775) and Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) embrace entries for “ ’tis” (however not “it’s”) as a contraction of “it’s.”

Getting again to your criticism about the usage of “it’s” as a contraction of “it has,” the earliest instance we’ve seen for the utilization is from the 1623 Folio of King Lear.

Along with the contraction “it’s” for “it has,” Shakespeare used “it” twice by itself as a possessive: “the Hedge-Sparrow fed the Cuckoo so lengthy, that it’s had it head bit off by it younger.”

Assist assist the Grammarphobia Weblog together with your donation. And take a look at our books concerning the English language and extra.

Subscribe to the weblog by e mail

Enter your e mail deal with to subscribe to the weblog by e mail. Should you’re a subscriber and never getting posts, please subscribe once more.

The put up Why ‘it’s’ means ‘it’s’ or ‘it has’ first appeared on Grammarphobia.