Tag Archives: English language

Are You Struggling With Your Writing?

Computer-Frustration-Cartoon-2‘How do I write an introduction?’

‘What do I put in my conclusions?

‘How do I manage to keep on track when I feel I have completely lost my motivation?’

‘My submission deadline is approaching fast but I still haven’t completed my thesis and I’m now panicking. What can I do?’

‘How do I decide what to reference in my text?’

These are just some of the questions that I get asked all the time.

Do you relate with any of these? If so, don’t miss my FREE Webinar:

‘How to Write Your PhD Thesis, Proposal, or Research Paper in 5 Easy Steps That Will Save You Time, Stress, and Sleepless Nights’

In this webinar, I’ll be sharing:

  • The single most important thing to get right in your thesis, proposal or research paper
  • My top 3 tips for productive and effective writing
  • The worst mistake you can make and how to avoid it
  • My proven 5-step approach to writing that will help you enjoy it and become more confident

Interested? Then, make sure you register now as spaces are limited and they are filling up quickly.

After the webinar, I’m also going to open up registrations to¬†my online course ‘Hands on Writing: How to Master Academic Writing (in the Sciences)’ where I teach the very same strategy that I now use for my own writing and when supervising my PhD students.

And… I’ll be telling you about some juicy bonuses on how to avoid procrastination, stay on track, enjoy a great work-life balance so you can feel confident and in charge again.

I’ll tell you more at the webinar, so just make sure you do not miss it! ūüôā

Here is the link again:

It’s its, isn’t it?

Ok, let’s get this right straight away.

it’s = it is

its = of it

Simple, isn’t it? Yes. Well… actually not. Otherwise, why would so many people (including native speakers!) get it wrong so often by writing¬†its¬†when they mean¬†it’s and it’s when they mean¬†its? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen this mistake in emails, blogs, scripts, reports, theses, public articles, official documents, advertising material, magazines, newspapers, websites, you name it. Sadly, it is not (it’s not) uncommon in academia either.

Whenever I discuss the issue with a native speaker, the answer is always the same: we don’t get taught English grammar in this country. Fair enough! (sad, actually). But then, as an academic, I think it is important to write well, ideally without grammar mistakes, and this is not a difficult one to get right. So, I started wondering what causes the confusion and how to avoid it. And here is my answer.

Saxon genitive.

A quick look on Wikipedia will reveal that In¬†English language¬†teaching, the term “Saxon genitive” is used to associate the possessive use of the apostrophe (the commonly-termed “apostrophe s”) with the historical origin in¬†Old English¬†(in older scholarship known as¬†Anglo-Saxon) of the¬†morpheme¬†that it represents. The Saxon genitive is one of the ways in modern English of forming a¬†genitive construction, along with the preposition “of”.

Ok, this may sound arabic to some, so let me give you an example.

“This is the car of Mary” becomes, using the Saxon genitive, “this is Mary’s car”. Likewise, “the sister of Paul” becomes “Paul’s sister”. So far so good. I bet nobody gets this wrong.

Now consider the following: “this is the car of Mary” and change it to “this is her car”. Or, “the sister of Paul” and change it to “his sister”. Would you ever dream of writing: “this is her’s car” or “his’s sister”? I hope your answer will be a loud, convinced, resounding NO.


When we write “his” what we mean is “of + male name” and when we write “her” we mean “of + female name”. Now, the same holds true for its, except it refers to a neutral object or animal, and so it means “of it”.¬†Consider the following: “the title of this post” would become “this post’s title” or – you will have guessed! – “its title”. Well done!

On the other hand, if I say “the title of this post is” … gosh, I wish I had chosen a different title now! Ok, let me give you a different example. If I say “the book is on the table” and I want to use a pronoun for “the book”, then I’ll write “it (the book) is on the table” or “it’s on the table”. Can you see the difference with the previous example? In this case, the “apostrophe s” in “it’s” has nothing to do with the Saxon genitive, but it simply is a contracted form of “it is“, much the same as when you write “I’m” when you mean “I am” or “you’re” when you mean “you are” (though you bet I have also seen “your” in this case too! deep horror).

Clear? I hope so.

Now, every time you are in doubt whether you should write¬†it’s or¬†its, pause for a moment and ask yourself: do I mean “of it” or do I mean “it is“? And remember:

it’s =¬†it is¬†

its = of it

I am sure you’ll never get it wrong again.

PS And if you always got it right in the first place, just spread the word. Share this post, like it, tweet it or re-tweet it, send it to your Facebook friends, or post it on Linked-in. Even if it makes the difference for just one person, the time to write it will have been well spent.

PPS¬†Would you imagine a whole blog being devoted to Apostrophe Abuse? No way!? Then take a look here. The fun is guaranteed! ūüôā