Same day, different blog: At Grammarphobia, Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman wandered into the "confusion" quagmire and couldn't get unstuck. A reader asked whether using its for it’s was a grammatical error or a spelling error; here's their answer,* with my objections:
A: On a superficial level, this qualifies as both a punctuation error and a spelling error.
But on a deeper level, it’s a grammatical error, because it represents a failure to distinguish between (1) the possessive pronoun and (2) the contraction.What “deeper level”? You're saying the writer doesn’t know the difference between the actual words its and it’s? That he mistakenly writes “it’s tires are flat” because he thinks it's OK to say “it is tires are flat”? Of course you don’t think that. Sometimes a mixup -- reign in for rein in -- could be either a simple spelling goof or a genuine confusion (resulting in an eggcornish reinterpretation of the metaphor). Not so with its and it’s. We could drop the apostrophe entirely and we’d still know which was which, because in fact we don't confuse them grammatically.
It also represents a failure to recognize that possessive pronouns don’t sport apostrophes.Yes, but this is that same “superficial” spelling or punctuation error you noted already.
So the problem is more than just a spelling goof in our opinion. That probably puts us into the grammar-error camp.Except that there is no “grammar-error camp.” It’s just not a possible interpretation of this spelling mistake. But usage mavens have been calling these errors “confusions” for so long that a lot of people have trouble distinguishing true misunderstandings from misspellings. Not that I endorse misspellings; but they don’t, by themselves, imply weakness of intellect or failure to grasp the sense of a word. We shouldn't go around scaring one another by implying that they do.
*I actually first wrote "here's there answer," though I caught it immediately. And no, I am not confused about the difference between their and there.