Quick tutorial: it’s worth its weight in gold

iStock_000018482964XSmallFirst of all, apologies for the title of this post: I’m not trying to make extravagant claims for a very modest quick tutorial. But it does illustrate the point.

A friend who is a retired university professor tells the story that he used to begin each unit with a short lesson on the difference between its and it’s. He’d warn his students to listen carefully because every time they made an its/it’s error in their assignments, he would be deducting a 1% penalty mark. He swears it made a difference—but also said there were always students who had to pay his rather high price.

If you have difficulty with this one, here’s a recap, with a couple of easy guidelines:

its is a possessive, the neutral equivalent of his or her.

If you can’t replace its with his or her (leaving the gender issue aside!), you probably mean it’s.

Mary is publishing her novel. Wally is publishing his memoir. The company is publishing its annual report.


it’s is a contraction meaning it is or it has.

If you can’t replace it’s with it is or it has, you probably mean its.

It’s not unusual. [It is not unusual.]

It’s always been this way. [It has always been this way.]

So, to return to that clichéd title with the grandiose claim:

It’s worth its weight in gold means It is worth the weight of it in gold—but you knew that, didn’t you?

Give it a try next time you’re proofreading. And let’s all be thankful that editors don’t apply penalties.



Filed under Tips for writers

9 responses to “Quick tutorial: it’s worth its weight in gold

  1. Glen Hunting

    “And let’s be thankful that editors don’t apply penalties”….You sound as though you’ve been channelling George Harrison this morning. “Be grateful I don’t take it all…’cos I’m the taxman….”!!! 🙂

  2. Linda

    Brilliant- I need such reminders even if I think I am doing such punctuation correctly. Keeps me sharper and on the outlook for other mistakes! Keep posting such things as I really appreciate them!

  3. marlish glorie

    Many thanks for this Golden tutorial, Amanda. And by crikey, if any penalty- friendly editor was to edit my writing they’d be millionaires fairly quickly!

  4. Does this make me weird? I love your grammar tutorials as much as I love your lyrical prose. No, don’t answer that … I may as well confess that my daughter and her partner gave me a grammar book when I got married, with the inscription -‘To my mum, whom I hold responsible for making me notice grammar and also for my tendency to make up words because of maternal mistreatment during childhood.’ Ah, grammar damaged her for life and I’m not even sorry 🙂

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