Merriam-Webster online issued a press release today stating that “it’s” and “its” will now be found under one combined entry in the famous reference dictionary. From Peter Andrews, head of media relations for the lexical conglomerate:
Given the heavy influence of the Internet on modern American spelling, we’ve decided to accelerate our normalization process. The ‘its/it’s’ convergence is the natural result of a long erosion in the importance of the apostrophe. We’re taking a good hard look at the rest of the contractions for our 2009 edition, but we believe that ‘its/it’s’–now just its–merits immediate attention.
What M-W calls the “‘its/it’s’ convergence” has until now been one of the top grammatical errors in English. Native speakers and English learners alike will substitute one for the other, when each actually has a clearly distinct meaning.
It’s is a contraction of it is:
It’s a pity she arrived so late. = It is a pity she arrived so late.
Its is a possessive pronoun of indeterminate gender, as opposed to the gender-specific his or her. “Its” is often used to in reference to babies, and in American English “its” will often refer to collective nouns such as “company” or “team”:
The company revised its code of conduct.
As we’ve been through before on this blog, the nature of language is change. One of my tasks as an editor is to stay on top of which changes have passed into common usage and in what context this altered language is acceptable in a text.
Just because M-W says that its so, however, does not mean I will begin applying it as a norm. Especially because this post is an APRIL FOOL!