Contractions

You might wonder what the difference between formal and informal styles is. One of the elements that can make your writings informal is using contractions.

Contractions in English

What Are Contractions?

Contraction is a shortened form that is created when two words are combined together and used as a single word. Some letters are omitted to make a word shorter and an apostrophe is used in their place.

Contractions: Formation

To make contractions, we need an apostrophe. In fact, the apostrophe replaces the letters that are omitted. However, if more than one letter is omitted, you still use only one apostrophe.

You're really jealous. (You are → You're)

I won't leave you alone. (Will not → Won't)

When Do We Use Contractions?

We can use contractions with the following words:

Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs 'have', 'be', and 'do' can be shortened to form contractions.

To Be Verbs

When we use 'to be' verbs in the present tense they can be contracted with the subject pronoun that is used before them, or sometimes with the noun which is used as their subject. Here are a few examples:

I am happy to see you. → I'm happy to see you.

We are waiting for him at the airport. → We're waiting for him at the airport.

Sarah is a nurse. → Sarah's a nurse.

Let us take a look at the table to see all the contracted forms of to be verbs combined with their subject pronouns.

Full Form Contraction
I am I'm
you are you're
she is she's
he is he's
it is it's
we are we're
they are they're

Contraction of the verb "be"

Have

The verb 'have' can be contracted in the present and the past tense as well as with different subjects. In the following table, you can see the contracted forms of this verb:

Full Forms Contractions
have 've
has 's
had 'd

Now take a look at the examples:

I've got to go.

They'd been in China.

He's been quite busy lately.

Negative Contractions

To make negative sentences, we add 'not' to auxiliary verbs. To make a negative contraction, all you need to do is to omit the letter 'o' and use an apostrophe instead. Check out these examples:

You aren't quite what I thought you'd be.

They haven't talked to me yet.

Take a look at the table to see the negative contractions of to be verbs.

Full Forms Contractions
am not (there is no contraction form for am not)
is not isn't
are not aren't
was not wasn't
were not weren't

Take a look at the table of negative contractions of the auxiliary verbs 'have' and 'do'. Keep in mind that the auxiliary verb 'do' is only contracted in the negative form.

Full Forms Contractions
have not haven't
has not hasn't
had not hadn't
do not don't
does not doesn't
did not didn't

Two modal verbs can be contracted with the subject pronouns that are used before them. These two modal verbs are 'will' and 'would'. Here are a few examples:

I'll call you as soon as possible

We'd like to hear from you.

In the table below, you can find the most common contractions of modal verbs.

Full Form Contraction
I will, she will, we will, etc. I'll, she'll, we'll, etc.
I would, she would, we would, etc. I'd, she'd, we'd, etc.

The following shows the negative contractions of modal verbs in the present tense.

Full Forms Contractions
cannot can't
shall not shan't
will not won't
may not mayn't
must mustn't

Tip

You might have noticed that won't and shan't do not follow the general rule for making contracted forms of negative verbs. This is because their forms are based on the old form of these modal verbs.

Warning

Remember, shall and shan't are no longer common in American English, especially shan't.
'Shall' is still common among British English speakers in very polite usage.

Check out the table of negative modal verbs in the past tense.

Full Forms Contractions
could not couldn't
would not wouldn't
might not mightn't
should not shouldn't
ought not to oughtn't to

Interrogative Words

Some of interrogative words can be contracted with the to be verb 'is'. For example:

When's your birthday?

Where's your key?

In the following table, you can see the contracted forms of the question words with 'is'.

Full Forms Contractions
what is what's
when is when's
how is how's
where is where's
who is who's

Phrases

Contractions are used to make the context informal. There are contracted forms of some phrases that make a text even more informal. Here are the most common ones on the list.

  • gonna → going to, wanna → want to, gotta → (have) got to
  • lemme → let me, gimme → give me, kinda → kind of
  • ain't → am not/are not/is not, whatcha → what are you
  • ya → you, y'all → you all

Tip!

Some contractions such as ain't, y'all, and many more, are slang. Some of them might be so popular among English speakers that they become well-known and understandable everywhere, but others might be only understandable to people of specific regions.

Abbreviations vs. Contractions

When we use abbreviations, we are actually using a special form for a specific word or phrase. But when we use contractions, we are using a single word as a combination for two or three words. Compare these two examples.

USA

In this example, 'U' stands for united, 'S' stands for stated, and 'A' stands for America

wanna

Wanna stands for 'want' and 'to'.

Common Errors

#1

If the contractions are confusing, it's better to avoid them. For example: "she'd" can be both "she had" and "she would", so if the context of the sentence cannot clarify which meaning is intended, it's best to avoid using it.

#2

We should avoid double contractions. We cannot have two consecutive contractions. Let's see an example:

❌He'sn't busy → He isn't busy or he's not busy.

#3

If the contraction can be confused with a possessive even for a moment, it is better to avoid it.

❌Amanda’s key to this problem.

Amanda is a key to this problem. Not her key to this problem!

#4

We should avoid using contractions in formal writing unless we are quoting someone's words in our text.

#5

We do not use contractions at the end of affirmative clauses. Although, this doesn't apply to negative contracted forms.

Is she Sarah? → ✔Yes she is. ❌Yes, she’s.

Is she Sarah? → ✔No, she isn't. ✔No, she's not.

Review

Contractions are used to make informal texts and conversations. We have different types of contractions as follows.

  • modal verbs
  • interrogative words
  • phrases
  • auxiliary verbs (have, do, be)

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