Why native speakers mistake "it's / its"

dersuuzala

New Member
Italian
I'm a non native english speaker, and one of the concepts not to mistake is "it's" versus "its".

One thing that puzzles me, though, is that I find it relatively often, even in writings from journalists or more generally educated writers.

Now, what puzzles me specifically, is that from a conceptual (that is, the idea that forms into my mind when thinking the term) perspective they're completely different things, so there's absolutely no chance for me to make this mistake.

How is it possible then, that also educated writers make this mistake so frequently?

At some point, I had a very vague explanation that a native speaker may associate words by sound, so the mistake would me more likely. Is this possible?
 
  • MuttQuad

    Senior Member
    English - AmE
    Usually the reason for confusing the two is negligence or ignorance, the latter often reflecting a substandard educational experience.
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    I think it's (ha!) as simple as the fact that people associate apostrophes with possessives. In "Kate's post," we use an apostrophe to indicate that the post "belongs" to Kate. Therefore, there is some logic to thinking that in "its name," it should be made possessive the same way that Kate is in "Kate's post."

    Also, it's a very easy mistake to make without thinking at all. All it takes is to be careless for one tiny fraction of a second and then to not notice that tiny little piece of carelessness. Therefore it's the sort of mistake that even people who know better and who care about being correct will sometimes make. I know I do. I loathe it, but I do it. Usually I catch the error pretty quickly. Usually.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I think that most languages have something that trips up native speakers/writers but not non-native writers. Many Americans mistakenly think that "it's" is correct as a possessive pronoun. I think the unconscious logic is that you put an 's on most things: John's, Ralph's, Linda's, Tiffany's. "It's" falls into that category in their minds, even though it is incorrect.

    And, as MuttQuad says, when it comes to English many Americans do not receive as strict and thorough an education in their native language as English language learners do.

    I also think that many of the mistakes slip by because people rely on auto-correct features to fix mistakes.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    One reason is that it’s and its sound the same – so why should they have a different appearance on the screen or page?

    There is a similar set of errors associated with there, they’re, and their and apparently a whole slew of other words as per this list from the Oxford Dictionary: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/commonly-confused-word.

    I think in these cases it is good to remember that read rhymes with lead but lead rhymes with read.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    I know the difference very well, but I sometimes make this mistake when typing fast, because the sound is the same, and I'm often thinking at least a sentence ahead of my typing. So don't assume that the mistake is always caused by ignorance.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    It's utterly confusing to everyone. its origin lies in specious 18th-19th century theories of grammar.

    Honestly, I prefer "it's" for "it is". But if someone wants to describe a butterfly's wings, "it's" is fine.

    Σ
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Don't forget, dersuuzala, native speakers learn to speak years before they learn to write.

    So it's not at all surprising if we occasionally make mistakes with words which sound identical but are spelled differently - especially since it would actually be quite logical for possessive its to be written with an apostrophe, as others have said.


    More generally, I'm pretty sure, myself, that we're seeing the death throes of the apostrophe in English. The sooner it dies, the better, say I!
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I disagree that 'educated' writers make this mistake, although I may have quite unrealistic notions of what 'educated' means these days. By definition anybody who doesn't know the difference between 'it's' and 'its' is not 'educated'.
    It's hard for learners to understand that native ( British) English speakers aren't formally taught grammar and correct writing, including spelling, after a certain age.
    The only grammar I was ever taught was what we called the 'parts of speech': what is a noun, a verb and so on. That was at grammar/high school level in 1954, aged eleven, to make the teaching/learning of foreign languages easier.
    We all did Latin so we learnt what a 'gerund' and 'gerundives' are' and various other useful ideas and terms. I got a huge dose of grammar terms as an adult when I improved my French at the Alliance Francaise and learnt German at the Goethe Institut.
    I learnt all my serious English 'grammar' when I did a post- graduate 'English Language for Adults' teaching course. Before that, if you had asked me what a 'passive future perfect' was I would not have been able to tell you immediately. By the age of five, normal competent native English speakers are expected to be able to express even the complicated conditionals. We have no reason to know what what we are expressing is called in grammar terms.
    I asked my husband to give an example of a 'future perfect passive'. He had no idea, although he got an 'open', which means based on intellectual ability, scholarship to Oxford.


    I got a scholarship to a selective (private) school. We were expected to write and spell correctly at 11. At that age, I certainly could have explained why 'its' was wrong if 'it is' was meant, by saying that it's not 'it is' and the comma represents the missing 'i'. The more common mistake, it seems to me, is writing 'it's' instead of 'its'. This might be because 'its' as a neuter possessive adjective is relatively uncommon.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I disagree that 'educated' writers make this mistake, although I may have quite unrealistic notions of what 'educated' means these days. By definition anybody who doesn't know the difference between 'it's' and 'its' is not 'educated'. ...
    Don't you think there's a difference between "writing it's for its" (and vice versa) and "not knowing the difference", Hermione?
    I certainly "know the difference", but that doesn't stop me writing one for the other occasionally. I also make lots of other typos....
    redface.gif
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    More generally, I'm pretty sure, myself, that we're seeing the death throes of the apostrophe in English. The sooner it dies, the better, say I!
    I couldn't agree more, Loob, although I think learners of English should have some understanding of how things are supposed to work. Many have to pass exams that demand perfection. Of course non - native speakers are exempt from the sort of criticism I can't help applying to my fellow native speakers, except on this forum.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I certainly "know the difference", but that doesn't stop me writing one for the other occasionally. I also make lots of other typos....
    redface.gif


    I couldn't agree more. I am horrified by how many mistakes I make these days writing on-line, typing, especially. I even mix up words that start with the same sound. But the words that sound exactly the same like 'they're' and 'their' are especially prone to getting mixed up, partly because I am concentrating very hard on something else above all when I'm writing on this forum. I never typed until I got on-line aged about 55. I make mistakes that I wouldn't make when hand writing. There's definitely a sort of neurological deficiency, rather like people being unable to read silently, 'in their heads', in the Middle Ages. They had to at least mouth the words as indeeed my grandma did. She was only functionally literate.
    But that sort of excuse doesn't apply yet to the non -native speakers, nor should it.
     

    SwissPete

    Senior Member
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    I think it's more a question of carelessness than lack of education.

    After all, it is not that difficult to figure out which is which.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I know the difference very well, but I sometimes make this mistake when typing fast, because the sound is the same, and I'm often thinking at least a sentence ahead of my typing. So don't assume that the mistake is always caused by ignorance.
    I agree with this comment by Thomas. Both letters and punctuation may be wrongly added or omitted as a result not of ignorance but of careless typing. And when you see that sort of error in published material, those who should be editing and proofreading the text have failed to do their jobs.
     
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