In the English language, we can sometimes get a little lazy when it comes to speaking. When we talk quickly, certain words get shortened from two words into one word. The new word still has the same meaning, it's just a combination of two words with an apostrophe where the missing letters used to be. When this happens, the newly formed, shortened word is called a contraction. Contractions usually contain a verb. They can be a combination of a subject and a verb ("I am" = "I'm) or shorten an auxiliary verb phrase ("does not" = "doesn't").
Some examples of English contractions:
- I am = I'm
- He will = He'll
- They are = They're
- She is = She's
- Does not = Doesn't
- Can not = Can't
- Are not = Aren't
- Should have = Shouldn't
- You have = You've
- What will = What'll
- We have = We've
- Would not = Wouldn't
As you can see from the list above, each of these contractions omit one or two letters and replace them with an apostrophe. An exception are the words "won't," which is the contraction for "will not" and "ain't," which substitutes "am not," "are not," and "is not."
Here are the most commonly used verbs that are part of English contractions:
To work contractions into your English writing:
Whether or not you choose to use word contractions when writing in English depends on the tone you're trying to establish. When you are doing formal writing, you will generally want to stay away from using contractions to keep the tone more businesslike. If you're looking for a more colloquial or informal tone, then a contraction can be appropriate. Contractions are great to use in everyday conversation that has a friendlier tone to it or when sending a text message, casual email, etc. If you are planning on writing an essay or paper for school, a business report or formal letter, then grammatically, using the full word phrase is preferred.
Some examples of when you can use a contraction:
- When you need to relate to the reader in a friendly tone of voice
- When writing dialogue for a novel, short story, play, etc.
- When writing copy for an advertisement or slogan
- Informal emails or memos
- Text messages
- Blog posts
Some examples of when you should not use a contraction:
- When you need to communicate in a more serious tone of voice
- Academic research papers
- Academic term papers
- Business reports or presentations
- Formal letters
- Formal emails
Since there is no official rule on when you should or should not use a contraction, in the end, it's your call. The choice is up to you, so use your best judgement when it comes to writing with a contraction.
You can work contractions into any place of a sentence. For example:
- Beginning: "We're going on a bike ride."
- Middle: "We are on a path that doesn't go to the lake."
- End: "He went to the park but I can't."
If you have any doubts about whether or not a contraction belongs in your writing, reread or say your sentence out loud to check if it makes sense. There are times when a contraction falls at the end of a sentence and doesn't sound right. For example:
- "Mom isn't going but I'm." That sentence sounds incomplete. By taking out the contraction, it makes more sense: "Mom isn't going but I am."
You can use multiple contractions in one sentence. For example:
- "He's going to the park but I can't."
- "I should've studied but now I'm too tired."
It's/Its - "It's" is the contraction for "it is" while "its" is used when showing ownership of something. For example, "That nest is its home" indicates the nest belongs to it. "It's going to the nest" means "It is going to the nest." The easiest way to check if you're using the right one is to replace "it is" in the sentence. If using "it is" does not make sense, then it is not the contraction. If it does make sense, then add the apostrophe for the contraction.
They're/There/Their - The correct spelling for the contraction of "they are" is "they're." For example, "They're going to the park." "There" refers to a place ("The park is over there.") and "their" indicates possession ("That is their house."). Just as you can do with "it's," if you get stuck, replace "they're" with "they are" in the sentence. If it still makes sense, then you use "they're." If not, then it's one of the other forms of the word.