I have a few tricks I use to keep things straight mentally (and to help explain my copy edits at work), but I’ve never shared them with anyone. Are you interested? Shall we see if this makes sense and start a Wednesday grammar tip series? Let’s try.

Today’s tip is about getting the possessive version of “its”–that is, the one WITHOUT the apostrophe–right. My tip? See if you can substitute “his” for “its”.

So, for example, take this sentence:
“The chair was missing one of its legs.”

Using our trick, we can pretend we live in a cartoon universe and say,
“Mr. Chair was missing one of HIS legs.”
Yes, this makes sense! DO NOT add an apostrophe to that “its” in the original sentence.

Another example:
“Paris is famous for its lights, its food, and its wine.”
Let’s use our trick again and substitute “his”:
“Bob Paris is famous for HIS lights, HIS food, and HIS wine.”

Yes! Resist the urge to add an apostrophe to “its” as it is used here.

You can also reverse this if you see an “it’s” with an apostrophe and you’re not sure it is correct:
Does changing “It’s going to snow tonight.” to “HIS going to snow tonight” work?
No, that makes no sense. Therefore, this apostrophe is OK.

So remember: If you can substitute “his” for “its” in the sentence you’re worried about, that “its” does NOT need an apostrophe.