Contractions are shortened words that use an apostrophe to combine two words into one. You hear contractions in conversation and see them in writing. Understanding the proper use of contractions can help you master the English language.
Using Contractions Correctly
How to Write a Contraction Word
Since the word contract means “to squeeze together,” it seems only logical that a contraction is two words made shorter by placing an apostrophe where letters have been omitted. Writing a contraction properly is simple when you know the general rule of creating contractions.
You replace the letters that were removed from the original words with an apostrophe when you make the contraction.
If you combine “is” + “not” to form “isn’t,” you remove the “o” from “not” and replace it with an apostrophe. One common exception to this rule is the word “won’t.” It is a shortened form of “will not,” but you can see the word “will” is not in the contraction at all.
Lists of Contraction Words
Contraction words are made out of common words, and there are a little over 90 standard contractions.
List of Common Contractions
These are the most common contractions you’ll hear or use when speaking English.
he had or he would
he will/she will
she had or she would
we had or we would
List of Negating Contractions
Contractions like these that include the word “not” negate a verb.
List of Weird Contraction Words
From double contractions to slang and old fashioned words, some contractions don’t look exactly like all the others.
am not, is not, has not, have not
he would have
of the clock
she would have
Using Contractions in Formal Writing
While contractions can be very useful in written English, many experts caution against the use of contractions in formal communication. Since contractions tend to add a light and informal tone to your writing, they are often inappropriate for academic research papers, business presentations, and other types of official correspondence.
However, this rule does have some flexibility. In general, it's best to use your own judgment when deciding if contractions are appropriate for a particular piece.
End of Sentence Contractions
Contractions can be used in any position in a sentence; however, homophone contractions such as "it's" and "they're" sound better when followed by another word or phrase. The reason is that the sounds of "its" and "it's" and "they're" and "their" are so similar that they can be confusing unless they are used with the context of an additional word.
- Incorrect: "It is what it's."
- Correct: "It is what it is looking like."
- Correct: "It is what it is."
- Incorrect: "You said they didn't want to go, well, they're."
- Correct: ""You said they didn't want to go, well, they're going."
- Correct: "You said they didn't want to go, well, they are."
Importance of Contraction Words
Technically speaking, contractions aren't necessary in written English. Using the full version of a word is always grammatically correct. However, there are a number of reasons why contractions do serve a valuable stylistic purpose.
- Contractions make your writing seem friendly and accessible. They give the appearance that you are actually "talking" to your reader.
- When writing dialogue in a novel or play, contractions help reflect how a character actually speaks.
- Contractions help save space when preparing advertisements, slogans and other written works that must be short and to the point.
Commonly Confused Contraction Words
A couple contractions fall into the category of commonly confused words in English.
It’s and Its
The contraction it’s is often confused with the word its. You can learn the correct usage of “it’s” and “its”, including the trick for telling the difference.
To determine if you should use “it's” or “its” in your sentence, try replacing the word with “it is” or “it has”. If the sentence makes sense, “it’s” is appropriate. If not, use “its”.
They’re, Their and There
“They’re” is another troublesome contraction word. Practice using “they’re”, “their”, and “there” to ensure you’re using each word correctly.
Deciding which word to use is easy if you remember a few simple tips:
- If you can replace the questionable word with “they are”, “they’re” is correct.
- If you can replace the questionable word with “his” or “her”, “their” is correct.
- If you can replace the questionable word with “here”, “there” is correct.