Contractions are so common that most of us don’t even realize that we’re using them. Since we’re a culture that thrives on efficiency, when two people are speaking to each other, we expect them to use contractions to move the conversation forward.
Remember the scene in Zootopia where the sloths are moving so slowly that the bunny can hardly take it? When people use formal English in spoken interactions, it can feel like this to the listener!
Since we like to move forward with conversations quickly, contractions help speed the dialogue without losing the intended meaning.
What is a Contraction?
A contraction is a shortened form of a word. You make a contraction by taking out letters or sounds and replacing them with an apostrophe.
The most common contractions are made up of verbs, auxiliaries, or modals.
We’re going to talk about contractions in detail below, but just so we’re on the right page, common contractions in the English language include: Don’t, can’t, I’m, You’re, Wouldn’t, and many more.
Contraction Usage Rules
There are some rules to keep in mind when using contractions, here are the most basic rules to remember when writing:
Don’t Double Up
Even though we might do it when we’re speaking, you cannot double up contractions. So, even if you want to say, should not have, you cannot write shouldn’t’ve. This is only acceptable if you are writing fiction and creating tone for your writing. If you are writing an academic essay, this is unacceptable.
There are very rare instances where doubling up contractions is acceptable. For most writings, it’s a safe assumption that you won’t need to use them.
Be Careful About Placement
Most contractions cannot be placed at the end of a sentence. If you are unsure if you can put one at the end, expand the contraction and decide if it makes sense. For example, “If it’s time to go, let’s!” expands to, “if it’s time to go, let us!”. This doesn’t sound right, because it isn’t.
The only time putting contractions at the end of a sentence is allowed is when you’re using negative contractions. “If you were planning on coming, don’t” expands to “If you were planning, do not.”
Be careful of correct usage. Since many contractions are homophones, it can be easy to confuse them with other words.
They’re (they are), their, and there, are commonly confused and misused in writing. It’s, and its is another one. If you are ever worried, you are using the wrong word in a sentence, expand the contraction and see if it makes sense.
For example, “they’re is the barn” expands into “they are is the barn.” We know that this makes absolutely no sense, so we’re using the wrong word in this sentence.
Apostrophes for Possession
There is another contraction that you should be aware of. It’s the apostrophe we add to show possession of something. Harry’s razor is telling the reader that the razor belongs to harry.
While this is a contraction, it is also possessive. You cannot expand it out to read, “Harry is razor.” That wouldn’t make sense.
Examples of Contractions
There are many common contractions in the English language, so we have compiled them for you. Note that many are conjugations of the form to be.
|Let’s||Let us||Let’s watch the fireworks together.|
|Ain’t*||Am not, are not, is not, has not, have not||You ain’t see nobody like this before.|
|Y’all*||You all||Have y’all been to the new car wash yet?|
|I’m||I am||I’m going to eat lunch.|
|Here’s||Here is||Here’s the papers you asked for.|
|You’re||You are||You’re really good at that!|
|That’s||That is||That’s because I studied for the test.|
|He’s||He is||He’s a great friend.|
|It’s||It is||It’s time to pick up our toys!|
|She’s||She is||She’s going to get that scholarship.|
|We’re||We are||We’re planning on going next week.|
|They’re||They are||They’re never going to win.|
|I’ll||I will||I’ll finish that up today.|
|We’ll||We will||We’ll have so much fun!|
|You’ll||You will||You’ll have to ask your mom.|
|It’ll||It will||It’ll take about twenty minutes.|
|He’ll||He will||He’ll pay for it!|
|She’ll||She will||She’ll ring you up on this register.|
|I’ve||I have||I’ve never been here before.|
|Should’ve||Should have||I should’ve checked with the teacher first.|
|You’ve||You have||You’ve never seen an ice cream sundae like this before.|
|Could’ve||Could have||I could’ve done that if you had just asked.|
|They’ve||They have||They’ve never been to Disney before.|
|I’d||I would||I’d ask your mom first.|
|We’ve||We have||We’ve just finished up our chores.|
|They’d||They would||They’d leave before it was time to clean up.|
|You’d||You would||You’d make a great doctor.|
|We’d||We would||We’d like to go to dinner with you.|
|He’d||He would||He’d like to ask your daughter to the school dance.|
|She’d||She would||She’d always ask before eating a cookie.|
|Didn’t||Did not||I didn’t know you knew her.|
|Don’t||Do not||Please, don’t touch that.|
|Doesn’t||Does not||She looks like a princess, doesn’t she?|
|Can’t||Cannot||I can’t come out today.|
|Isn’t||Is not||Isn’t that your friend?|
|Aren’t||Are not||We aren’t available that day.|
|Shouldn’t||Should not||I shouldn’t have gone.|
|Couldn’t||Could not||I couldn’t believe my eyes.|
|Wouldn’t||Would not||You wouldn’t know it.|
|Hasn’t||Has not||She hasn’t come home.|
|Wasn’t||Was not||It wasn’t what I expected.|
|Won’t||Will not||I won’t be able to come that day.|
|Weren’t||Were not||You two were friends, weren’t you?|
*A Note About Regional Dialogue
Some contractions are only used in specific regions, like the southern states of the United States. These words, like y’all and ain’t, are not usually used by people who are from the northern states.
This dialect feature makes people from these regions unique and binds them together. These words are commonly considered slang, so they shouldn’t be used in writing.
When Should I Use Contractions?
Contractions are so common in our speech that we often don’t even realize that we’re using them. For this reason, many people don’t even believe there is a time when you shouldn’t use them.
Contractions are very casual and help people understand others, so it’s often regarded as acceptable to use in most forms of writing. The only time you might run into issues with using them is when you are writing something very formal.
Whether it is an essay for a higher-level course, business letters, essays, and more, the only time it’s acceptable to use them in these situations is when you are directly quoting somebody else in your writing.
In professional situations, it’s commonly advised to avoid contractions on cover letters and essays.
Some people believe that contractions should be avoided at all costs, and while it might be accurate in certain situations, it is not a blanket rule. Consider sending a text message to a friend, “I cannot see you today; I am sorry for inconveniencing you.”
Unless you’re trying to reenact Victorian English dialogue, it sounds way too formal for a conversation with a friend, right?
Contractions are very common in the English language. So common that most people don’t realize how often they use them. Unless you are trying to write a professional piece (like a business letter, for example), contractions are widely accepted in writing.
There are some things to remember to use them correctly:
- Don’t double up contractions.
- Unless it’s negative, never put a contraction at the end of a sentence.
- Watch out for homophones.
- Avoid slang like y’all and ain’t in writing.
And remember, whenever you are unsure if you should use a contraction or not, expand the contraction to see if it makes sense in your writing.
Are you looking for information about writing like this? ArgoPrep has a complete library of English topics (and math!) to help you become a master of the English language.
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