If you're wondering what contractions are and would like to learn how to make and use them, you're in the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know.
In short, contractions are a way to combine two words to save time and space. They're used in both oral and written communication.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
Contractions are shortened forms of words. A contraction is made up of two words joined together by an apostrophe. You also leave out a few letters when you make a contraction, and usually, you replace them with an apostrophe.
Here are some examples of common contractions:
Contractions make speech easier and quicker, but they're also used in writing. They're a type of abbreviation but are different from the other types. Check out this article on abbreviations to learn more.
To make a contraction, you'll need to omit some of the letters in the two words you want to join together and replace them with an apostrophe.
Sometimes that's one letter, like in the following examples:
And sometimes you leave out two or more letters, like in these words:
You might have noticed from the examples above that you can take out the first letter of the second word, the second letter of the second word, or both. Negative contractions with the word 'not' always remove the 'o' from 'not' and replace it with an apostrophe.
Top Tip! 'Won't' is a little different from the others because it's the phrase 'will not,' meaning that not only have three letters been removed ('ill'), but the letter 'o' has replaced them.
There's a widespread belief that you shouldn't use contractions in writing, but this isn't strictly true. In fact, contractions can really help you connect with your readers by giving your writing a more conversational and friendly tone.
We use contractions in our articles here at Writing Tips Institute all the time.
The only place you might want to avoid them is in very formal writing, like academic papers or emails with a superior, that sort of thing.
A word of warning, though: contractions can sometimes be confusing in writing because some of them are pretty ambiguous.
For instance, sometimes two different contractions can be spelled the same, like [pronoun] + 'would' and [pronoun] + 'had,' which are both contracted to [pronoun] +'d. Case in point in the two following sentences that both use 'I'd' but have different meanings.
If I were you I'd have apologized sooner. ('I would')
When she arrived I'd already started my presentation. ('I had')
In the same way, the contraction's can mean both 'is' and 'has ':
Don't speak to your brother that way; that's mean. ('that is')
He's already finished his homework. ('he has')
Another interesting contraction is 'what's.' This contraction can stand for not one, not two, but three different phrases: 'what is,' 'what has,' and 'what does.' Each of the following sentences uses this contraction in one of the three meanings:
What's your backpack doing on the table? ('what is')
That's what's been bothering me. ('what has')
What's that say? ('what does')
The last usage is very casual, so be sure only to use it in informal contexts.
Contractions often get confused with possessives in writing because they sometimes look the same.
For instance, contractions might look like possessive nouns because they also use an apostrophe and the letter' s.'
Sophie's joining us for lunch. (contraction)
Sophie's daughter is coming too. (possessive)
But they have entirely different meanings, as you can see from the following sentences:
The kids are expecting their usual pizza night.
They're planning to go on vacation in August.
Contractions and possessives are two completely different parts of grammar, so make sure you get the spelling right. Otherwise, your meaning could be misconstrued.
Now that we've covered the basics of contractions and how to use them, let's look at the different types of contractions. I've narrowed it down to five, but you might find them categorized differently elsewhere.
A prevalent form of contraction is when you combine the subject with a verb. As a reminder, a subject can be a noun, pronoun, gerund, infinitive, and so many other things. Check out our article on the topic to learn more. And the verbs that can be contracted and paired with a subject are 'is' and 'have' and the modal verb 'would.'
Here are some examples:
Another common contraction is a modal verb with the verb 'have.'
Here are some examples:
Negative contractions are frequently used and are made by combining a verb with the word 'not' or, more precisely, n't.
As you might've guessed, you can use interrogative contractions in interrogative sentences to ask a question. Specifically, negative contractions can be used as question tags in positive questions. Sound confusing?
Let me illustrate with some examples:
You've already been to Australia, haven't you?
They shoot horses, don't they?
George goes to your school, doesn't he?
You can also use this formula to make contractions that don't ask questions like, for example, 'there is' → 'there's.'
Last but not least, let's talk about colloquial contractions. These are best kept for casual situations and casual writing because many of them are slang words. They don't follow particular rules like regular contractions, so there isn't always a specific pattern for making them. They sort of just appear in language and get used.
That concludes this article on contractions. I hope it's helped you feel more confident in knowing what they are and how to use them.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you enjoyed this article, I recommend you check out our Grammar Book. It's a free online database where we regularly upload articles that break down complex grammar topics, just like this one.
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