This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Search BBC
BBC World Service
BBC BBC News BBC Sport BBC Weather BBC World Service Worldservice languages
spacer gif
You are in: Home > Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation > Ask about English
Learning English
spacer gif
learn it! title
 'Its' and 'one's'
Its fleece was white as snow
Yong Kah Choon from Malaysia writes:

When referring to the possessive, I didn’t know that its and one’s are spelt in a different way, its without the apostrophe and one’s with the apostrophe. Please explain more.
Roger replies:more questions

Its is a possessive like my, your, his, her, our and their and you are quite right, it is very important not to insert an apostrophe when using it in this way.

Its is the neutral equivalent of his and her. Study the following:

  • 'Every country has its own customs and traditions.'

  • 'It was a Manx cat and its tail was therefore very short.'

  • 'Its coat was very thick.'

  • 'Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was [as] white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.' (Trad. English nursery rhyme)

It is important not to confuse its with it’s.

It’s is the contracted form of it is or it has and usage is, of course, completely different. Study the following four examples.

See if you can work out in which of them it’s is the contracted form of it is and in which of them it’s is the contracted form of it has.

  • 'What’s the time?' 'It’s a quarter to nine.' 'It’s time for you to go to bed!'

  • 'Who’s that over there?' 'I don’t believe it. It’s Prince William!'

  • 'How’s the condition of the man injured in the car crash?' 'It’s improving all the time.'

  • 'Have you seen my watch? It’s disappeared from the bathroom. It’s got a bright yellow strap.'

(It’s only in the fourth example above that it’s is the contracted form of it has.)


One’s is also a possessive determiner like your and is used to talk about people in general.

One’s is more formal than your. Compare the following:

  • 'A home of one’s own is what most people aspire to.'

  • 'You always want the best for your children – that’s only natural.'
Note that one and you are similarly formal/informal:
  • 'You can’t learn a foreign language in four or six weeks. It’s impossible.'

  • 'If one wishes to perfect one’s English, one has only to go to a country where it is spoken.

Finally note that one and ones (this time without the apostrophe) are sometimes used as substitute words, i.e. we use them rather than repeating countable nouns.

In this aspect, one’s is also possible when it is the contracted form of one is. Study the following:

  • 'Could I try on those shoes?' 'Which ones?' 'The ones in the window at the front on the left.'

  • 'There are so many children in this photo. Which one is your daughter?' 'The one in the blue dress.'

  • 'I really like these sweaters, but do you have any other sizes? This one’s too small and that one’s too big.

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us