How To Use Contractions

Everybody dreads learning proper English grammar. But contractions are probably the easiest English grammar concept to learn and master. Native English speakers use contractions without thinking. It's just second nature to join certain words into a contraction. But if you're learning English as a second language, you may be wondering how to properly use contractions in your speech. It's as easy as following this guide on using contractions.

Step 1

Learn what a contraction is. A contraction, simply put, is the result of combining two English words, (one being a verb, one being a proper noun or a pronoun in most cases). Oftentimes, the verb is joined or contracted to the word 'not' as well. Letters from one word are dropped when the two words are combined, making a new word with a new pronunciation that is very similar to the original two words. Why use a contraction, you ask, if it sounds so similar? Because it's much easier to say. Consider it a ‘shortcut' when speaking English.

Step 2

Learn the common contractions. The most common words that are contracted in the English language are: am, is, are, has, have, had, will and would. Notice that these are all verbs. Exactly how each word is used in the contraction varies. Some are used at the beginning of the contracted word, some at the end, and some can be used both ways. The only sure thing is that every contraction will have an apostrophe in the middle which usually separates the two joined words. Here are a few examples:

  • I + am = I'm
  • They + have = They've
  • He + will = He'll
  • Would + not = Wouldn't
  • We + had = We'd
  • She + has = She's

Step 3

Understand how and when to use contractions. The great thing about contractions is that they can be used whenever you want. It's never necessary to use a contraction, but as mentioned, it just makes English speech easier. For example, the sentence below is grammatically correct written either way.

  • She is going to the store to pick up the ice cream he will like. (no contractions)
  • She's going to the store to pick up the ice cream he'll like. (contractions)

If you notice any two words in the English language that will work as a contraction, you can substitute a contraction at any time. Keep in mind there are many more contractions not listed. You can determine if two words can be contracted simply by looking to see if the verb is on the list provided in step one, and then looking to see whether it is followed or preceded by a noun or proper noun. If it is, then contract as you wish!

Step 4

Get a little more technical. Now, before you go and throw contractions into every part of your English speech and writing, understand that there are a few ‘taboos' when it comes to the proper use of contractions. First off, it's not acceptable to use contractions in any type of formal writing. Résumés, cover letters, formal letters and job applications are among the few professional documents where you should never use a contraction. Similarly, if you're trying to speak ‘properly', avoid using contractions. Say each word separately to appear most professional when you're speaking English. Contraction use is limited to informal writing and speech.


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