Understanding English Language Contractions

As if English wasn’t complicated enough already, you’ll eventually be faced with the challenge of throwing in contractions. These grammatical devices allow English speakers to combine two words into one, leading to more natural sounding speech and writing. If you aren’t yet comfortable with these words, read on for more tips on popular contractions and when to use them.

The following is a list of some of the most popular contractions used in English speech and writing, as well as the two words that they are intended to combine:

Popular contraction Combined words
Isn’t Is not
Aren’t Are not
Weren’t Were not
Wasn’t Was not
They’re They are
It’s It is
That’s That is
Can’t Can not
Would’ve Would have
Should’ve Should have
Wouldn’t Would not
Shouldn’t Should not
Didn’t Did not
Doesn’t Does not
He’d/She’d He had/She had
He’ll/She’ll He will/She will
How’d How did
How’ll How will
I’m I am
I’ll I will
I’d I would
I’m I am
Ain’t Am not

As you can see from the above table, the two words that form a contraction are always set apart with an apostrophe, and some letters are subtracted from the two words. In all cases, these word combinations are intended to mimic popular speaking patterns. Very rarely will you hear someone say, “I will have a muffin” with each word clearly enunciated. Instead, the speaker will tend to blur some of these words together, leading to the pronunciation “I’ll have a muffin.” Contractions make it easier to speak quickly and to convey a realistic representation of English speech patterns in writing.

Of course, there are a few special details to be aware of when working with contractions. “It’s” is a tricky contraction that’s often confused with the possessive form of the word “it”. Possessive words are typically indicated by adding an apostrophe and the letter “s” to the ending of the word. For example, the phrase “Sarah’s ball” indicates that the ball belongs to Sarah, even though the word “Sarah’s” isn’t a combination of two words. However, when the word “it” is used in a possessive situation – for example, “its bed” – the “apostrophe+s” ending isn’t used. The word “it’s” is only used in instances where it is intended to be a contraction of the phrase “it is”. The contraction “ain’t” presents another interesting situation. Although the term is widely used in some English dialects, it isn’t accepted as proper English by most authorities on the language.

The general school of thought on contractions is that they are an essential part of the English language, although they aren’t always appropriate for things like educational journals or school assignments. English speaking children are currently taught to not use these words in graded projects, including each of the two complete words instead of the contraction. Stemming from this rule, most adults feel it prudent to use the separate words in more formal situations, like job interviews, resumes or professional situations and publications. However, contractions are acceptable for speaking with friends or in personal communications, like email messages.

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