Helping Learners Understand Spoken English
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Contractions in English

Contractions play an important role in the English language. They simplify language, improve flow, and reflect the way people naturally speak. While they are an important part of spoken English, they are also used in informal written English. In this post, you’ll find a detailed explanation of the function and use of contractions, as well as a list of more than 60 common contractions.

What are contractions?

In English grammar, a contraction is a shortened form of one or more words, created by omitting one or more letters or sounds and replacing them with an apostrophe. Contractions usually combine a pronoun or noun and a verb, or a verb and not, to create a shorter form.

They are used in both written and spoken English to make language more concise, informal, and conversational.

For example:

  • “I am” contracts to “I’m.”
  • “You are” contracts to “you’re.”
  • “Do not” contracts to “don’t.”
  • “Will not” contracts to “won’t.”*

While it’s easy to see how most contractions are formed (a letter is dropped and replaced with an apostrophe), you might be wondering how will not becomes won’t. I’m willing to bet that most native speakers have no idea. Allow me to explain.

What’s up with won’t?

Language changes and develops over time. A long time ago, the past tense of the verb we know as will today (willan back then) was wold. Wold eventually became would. “But the most popular form of the negative verb became “woll not,” which was contracted to “wonnot,” which modern English turned into “won’t.” according to Reader’s Digest.

Function and Use

Contractions make communication more efficient and informal. In everyday speech, it is much more natural to use contractions than not to use them.

While contractions are not always appropriate in every context, understanding when and where to use them is an essential aspect of effective communication.

Their usage can vary based on formality, context, and regional variations. Let’s look at the role of contractions in both spoken and written English.

1. Conversational Tone

Contractions create a more casual and conversational tone in both writing and speaking. They make communication sound less formal and more friendly, allowing for a natural flow in dialogue. Because contractions are so common in spoken English, not using them can make your speech sound rigid and a bit robotic. Because contractions are part of the natural rhythm of spoken English, using them in conversations really helps improve the flow and musicality of your speaking.

2. Efficiency

Contractions help convey information more efficiently by combining two words into one, reducing syllable count and making sentences shorter. This is particularly useful in everyday conversation and informal writing.

3. Natural Speech Patterns

In spoken English, people use contractions in everyday conversation. Using contractions in writing reflects the way people talk, making the language sound more natural. When reading novels, you’ll find them used in dialogue.

4. Establishing Tone in Writing

Contractions can contribute to establishing the overall tone of a piece of writing. Formal documents and academic papers avoid contractions to maintain a professional tone, while creative writing or personal narratives embrace them for a more relaxed tone. Contractions are generally more acceptable in informal writing, such as emails, text messages, and blog posts. They add a personal touch and make the communication feel more friendly.

5. Space and Word Count

In situations where space or word count is limited, such as headlines, titles, or social media posts, contractions can help convey a message concisely while saving valuable space.

You can practice contractions with me on my YouTube channel.
Here is the playlist, which I will continue to add to: English Contractions

Common Contractions in English

Below is a list of more than 60 contractions that are used in everyday conversation and informal writing. I’m currently working on a new YouTube video that you’ll be able to use for shadowing practice to improve the sound and flow of your use of contractions in speech. It will include example sentences for all the contractions listed below. Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel so you are notified when the new video is published.

Be, Have, Will, Would, Did, Not, and Let’s

Forms of be

  • I’m: I am
  • you’re: you are
  • he’s / she’s / it’s: he is / she is / it is
  • we’re: we are
  • they’re: they are
  • there’s: there is
  • here’s: here is
  • that’s: that is
  • what’s: what is
  • who’s: who is (Be careful not to confuse this with the possessive form of who: whose.)
  • where’s: where is (also, where has)

Forms of have

It’s important to note that we do not contract have when it is the main verb. Check out this YouTube video for an example.

  • I’ve: I have
  • you’ve: you have
  • he’s / she’s / it’s: he has / she has / it has
  • we’ve: we have
  • they’ve: they have – YouTube video with five examples
  • could’ve: could have
  • should’ve: should have (not should of)
  • would’ve: would have
  • who’ve: who have
  • where’s: where has (also, where is)

Will

  • I’ll: I will
  • you’ll: you will
  • she’ll / he’ll / it’ll: she will / he will / it will
  • we’ll: we will
  • they’ll: they will
  • who’ll: who will
  • there’ll: there will
  • here’ll: here will
  • that’ll: that will
  • who’ll: who will

Would

  • I’d: I would
  • you’d: you would
  • he’d / she’d / it’d: he would / she would / it would
  • we’d: we would
  • who’d: who would
  • they’d: they would
  • that’d: that would
  • where’d: where would

Did

Words, including did, are only contracted when they are unstressed. Thus, the only time we contract did is when it is there for what is called do-support, as in questions.

  • where’d: where did
  • how’d: how did
  • who’d: who did
  • why’d: why did
  • when’d: when did

Not

  • can’t: cannot
  • don’t: do not
  • won’t: will not
  • didn’t: did not
  • doesn’t: does not
  • hasn’t: has not
  • isn’t: is not
  • aren’t: are not
  • wasn’t: was not
  • weren’t: were not
  • haven’t: have not
  • hadn’t: had not
  • mustn’t: must not*
  • shouldn’t: should not
  • couldn’t: could not
  • wouldn’t: would not

*Of all the contractions on the list, mustn’t is the least common in the version of American English that I speak. I believe it might be more common in British English.

Other

Let’s is a common contraction in spoken English to make a suggestion. Except in extremely formal situations, it is the usual form in spoken English.

  • let’s: let us

For example:

  • Let’s watch a movie tonight.
  • Let’s go shopping.
  • Let’s go out to dinner.
  • Let’s take a vacation.
  • Let’s consider all the facts before making a decision.

Avoid These 2 Mistakes

First, while it is common to use negative contractions at the end of clauses (see tag questions), we don’t use affirmative contractions at the end of clauses.

For example:

A: You’re studying English, aren’t you?

B: Yes, I am. (Not Yes, I’m.)

Second, it’s very common to confuse contractions with possessive pronouns that share the same pronunciation. This is a common mistake in writing, even among native English speakers like myself.

The contractions use apostrophes, but the possessive pronouns do not.

For example:

  • it’s and its
  • you’re and your
  • they’re and their
  • who’s and whose

I’ve also heard students confuse he’s and his and she’s and hers in speaking. Remember, the possessive form of the pronoun does not have an apostrophe.

This is particularly confusing because with nouns, we form the possessive with an apostrophe. For example, “The student’s pencil broke during the exam.”

I hope this has helped you understand contractions. To hear and practice saying the contractions, be sure to check out my YouTube video, where you can use shadowing to improve your pronunciation. It’s coming soon. I’ll add the link when it’s ready.

Never stop learning!