As a writer, this is something that has confused me for many years—and, despite a lot of them having been spent in the educational system, no teacher ever picked up on or explained to me my misuse of this rule. It is a tricky one, and the internet certainly provided no answers. It is only today, in talking to an old editor and teacher both, that we discussed—and I came to finally understand—the difference between “its” and “it’s”.
I had always know its v.s it is—that’s simple. What confused me, however, was the poetic use of making the something it is referring to possessive: giving it a life, and identity, as an individual. It is no longer the seas watery gaze, but the sea’s watery gaze.
And of course, in the above example, the second use is correct: seas would refer to more than one, and sea’s the individual; the one which I am referring to. But his is because the word sea (in English), is a noun. This means it’s a name, or thing (though there are probably far more confusing (albeit specific, if you have the background to understand them) definitions of this elsewhere).
Naturally, I had been carrying this rule (as most of the grammar I know has come from reading, and simply learning that which I observe) over to “it’s” when I was referring to an individual, poetically, with possession (i.e: it wagged it’s tail). However, this is not correct.
(But, who gives a f*ck really? Writing’s just some markings on a surface which supposedly hold meaning. However, for those who are interested, read on.)
The best way I have heard it explained, is that his, hers, and its are what’s known as pro-nouns. They are, in and of themselves, possessive; and thus, typically, need no apostrophes (‘). Apostrophes are only for making nouns possessive, or when words have been cut in two and combined, or abbreviated. For example: don’t (do not), won’t (will not), ‘defs (slang: definitely), ‘vids (videos), and this fine ‘morn (morning), etc…
I hope this helped explain some sh*t, and that you now feel more educated. Please note that my writing will now be that one step closer to grammatical accuracy 😉
And, as a side thought, it is probably best that you don’t teach yourself grammar from creative writers. We make it up as we go, with whatever’s convenient—you can thank their editors (or lack of) for grammatical accuracy.
The Dreaming Sentinel