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English contractions are the perfect way to sound more natural and save time when speaking. Essentially, contractions glue two or more words together and replace certain middle letters in the given union with an apostrophe. This is how phrases like how did or I would become shortened to how’d and I’d. Quite the letter economy, right?
Contraction words are generally easy enough to sort out, but there are situations where they can get tricky. For all those situations, it’s necessary to keep an eye out for rules. That’s why we are – or let’s say we’re – going to explain everything you need to know about the rules of contractions in English. And while we’re at it, we will also add a contraction word list to go perfectly with the explanations.
What is a contraction?
A contraction is a type of abbreviation formed by combining two or more words and dropping one or more letters. In writing, the missing letters are replaced by an apostrophe. Sometimes called ‘short forms’, English contractions usually join a subject pronoun and a verb, an interrogative adverb and a verb, or a verb and the word not.
Contraction words typically appear in colloquial speech, written dialogue, and other informal pieces of writing like text messages, blogs, or social media posts. Taking up less space also makes them perfect for advertising.
The main advantage of contractions in English is that they save time in both writing and speaking. Besides, their informal nature gives your discourse a more friendly, accessible, and approachable tone.
Careful, though! It’s best to avoid contractions in highly formal contexts, like academic papers, grant proposals, formal speeches, or any materials requiring a professional appearance.
Understanding English contractions
Contractions are an essential part of the English language. For this reason, it’s important to understand and use them correctly. Let’s look at a couple of examples so you can better understand what we’re talking about.
Types of English contractions
- Subject pronoun + verb: This is the most common type of contraction in English. For example: I am becomes I’m, you are becomes you’re, he is becomes he’s, and so on.
- Interrogative adverbs: Interrogative adverbs like what, where, when, how, and why can also be contracted when combined with auxiliary verbs. For instance, where have can be contracted to where’ve, when will to when’ll, how is to how’s, and why did to why’d.
- Verb + ‘not’: Contractions can also form when combining a verb with the word not. For example, do not becomes don’t, is not becomes isn’t, will not becomes won’t, and can not becomes can’t.
- Informal contractions: Informal contractions are speech contractions that mirror the way a contracted word is pronounced. For example, the informal contraction for you and all is y’all (popular in some parts of the United States). Another example is gonna, which combines going and to.
Despite the fact that they stand for multiple words, contractions act as single words. Furthermore, they have definitive spellings and cannot be formed arbitrarily.
One of the trickiest parts of English contractions is that some of them have the same spelling but different meanings, e.g., I’d can mean I would or I had.
Fun fact: Did you know that o’clock is the contraction word for of the clock? In this particular case, the contraction is more popular than the actual phrase and it’s considered fine to use even in formal writing.
Grammar rules for English contractions
Before you go thinking you know everything about contractions, we must look over some rules for contractions grammar.
- Contractions vs. possessive nouns: Apostrophes are common in both contractions and possessive nouns, so it’s easy to confuse them. To figure out which one is which, you can look at the context. For example: “Cindy’s doll is nice” (meaning “the doll of Cindy is nice”) versus “Cindy’s ready for dinner” (meaning “Cindy is ready for dinner”). Laying them out like this makes it easier to figure out that the first ‘s represents a possessive noun.
- Contractions vs. possessive pronouns: It’s or its? They’re or their? Which one should you use? Again, context helps a lot. Moreover, it’s important to remember that possessive pronouns do not use apostrophes.
- Double contractions in writing: Take a look at this double contraction: mustn’t’ve. It’s the shortened form of must not have. Kinda hard to read, right? Well, that’s because you should avoid using double contractions in writing. Go ahead and use them in casual conversations, but avoid them in writing (even in colloquial writing) as they look awkward and are hard to read.
- Some contractions are regional: Like slang words, some English contractions are used only in certain regions or cultures. For example, y’all and ain’t are only used in some parts of the United States. So, technically, not everyone is familiar with them, which means you shouldn’t use them extensively.
- Negative contractions and tag questions go together like English speakers and misspelled words: A tag question is a short question added at the end of a sentence to turn it into a question. They are used to confirm information or engage the listener in the conversation. For example: “You’re coming to the party, aren’t you?”. When the declarative part of the sentence is affirmative, the question part is formulated as negative and conversely. If the tag question is negative, it’s your cue to use a contraction.
Common contractions in EnglishContraction word list
|he had, he would||he’d|
|he had; he would||he’d|
|he has, he is||he’s|
|he is; he has||he’s|
|he will; he shall||he’ll|
|how did, how would||how’d|
|how has, how is||how’s|
|I had, I would||I’d|
|I had; I would||I’d|
|I will; I shall||I’ll|
|it had, it would||it’d|
|it has, it is||it’s|
|it is; it has||it’s|
|it shall; it will||it’ll|
|she had, she would||she’d|
|she had; she would||she’d|
|she has, she is||she’s|
|she is; she has||she’s|
|she will; she shall||she’ll|
|somebody has, somebody is||somebody’s|
|someone has, someone is||someone’s|
|something has, something is||something’s|
|that has, that is||that’s|
|that is; that has||that’s|
|there had; there would||there’d|
|there has, there is||there’s|
|there has; there is||there’s|
|there shall; there will||there’ll|
|they had, they would||they’d|
|they had; they would||they’d|
|they will; they shall||they’ll|
|this has, this is||this’s|
|we had, we would||we’d|
|we had; we would||we’d|
|what has, what is||what’s|
|what is; what has; what does||what’s|
|what will; what shall||what’ll|
|when has, when is||when’s|
|where has, where is||where’s|
|where is; where has||where’s|
|which has, which is||which’s|
|who did, who had, who would||who’d|
|who had; who would||who’d|
|who has, who is||who’s|
|who is; who has||who’s|
|who will; who shall||who’ll|
|why has, why is||why’s|
|you had, you would||you’d|
|you had; you would||you’d|
|you will; you shall||you’ll|
Contractions in writing and their importance
If you write in English on a daily basis, you probably use contractions quite a lot. And that’s perfectly fine if you talk to your family or friends. English contractions save time and space and make your daily communications sound friendlier.
On the other hand, professors and employers, for example, like to see that you’ve taken your time writing a document and didn’t use ‘shortcuts’. Besides, giving up contractions on a school paper will work in your favor if you need to up that word count!
Therefore, the rule of thumb for anything formal is to limit the use of contractions in writing. An ideal situation would involve you knowing the other person’s expectations. But if you do not, it is best to shy away from using contractions, just like I did with this sentence.
However, if what you’re writing is semi-formal, you can use a couple of very popular contractions. The only condition is to not forget about the apostrophe, as the entire text will look unprofessional.
Examples of contractions in everyday language
Now that you know the rules and have a comprehensive word list of contractions, it’s time to look at some examples of contractions from everyday language.
- I’ll (I will) study Spanish tonight.
- She hasn’t (has not) learned French yet.
- You’re (you are) fluent in German, aren’t you?
- They’re (they are) practicing their pronunciation.
- We can’t (cannot) attend the language workshop this weekend.
- He’d (he would) like to become a polyglot.
- Let’s (let us) review the vocabulary together.
- It’s (it is) important to immerse yourself in the language.
- We’ve (we have) mastered the basics of Italian.
- I wouldn’t (would not) do that if I were you.
- He tried but he couldn’t (could not) fix the car.
- You shouldn’t (should not) eat so much sugar.
- I hadn’t (had not) thought about that option.
- I would’ve (would have) attended the party, but I had another commitment.
- She could’ve (could have) been a great singer if she had pursued it.
- You should’ve (should have) told me earlier!
- They’d (they would) like to join us for the movie.
- I’ve (I have) been to Paris several times.
- You’ve (you have) got to be kidding me!
- I’d (I would) love a cup of coffee.
- It’d (it would) be great if we could meet up later.
As you can probably tell by now, contractions are an integral part of the English language because they simplify and streamline communication. For this reason, understanding the rules and nuances of contractions is vital for anyone who wants to speak English effectively. Before you go, let’s look at some frequently asked questions about contractions.
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