Contractions (Grammar) | Definition & Examples
Contractions are words or phrases that have been shortened by omitting one or more letters. Typically, you can identify a contraction by the apostrophe that is used to indicate the place of the missing letters.
Contractions, which are sometimes called “short forms”, are commonly used in everyday speech and certain types of writing to save us time and space.
What is a contraction?
A contraction is a combination of two or more existing words that creates a shorter one. Sometimes, a contraction can be a single word (e.g., “kinda”), but in most cases contractions are formed using words that often go together (e.g., “do not” becomes “don’t”). Only specific words can be contracted, like personal pronouns (e.g., “I”, “you”, “they”), auxiliary verbs (e.g., “be”, “do”, “have”), and modal verbs (e.g., “can”, “must”, “will”)
In general, we use contractions in speech and writing because they help us convey our thoughts in fewer words.
How to use contractions
The rules for using contractions vary depending on the type of contraction.
- Positive contractions
- Negative contractions
- Nonstandard contractions
A positive contraction is a verb construction that doesn’t end in “-n’t” (e.g., “he would join us” becomes “he’d join us”). Positive contractions can never appear at the end of a sentence.
A negative contraction is a negative verb construction that ends in “-n’t” (e.g., “he would not join us” becomes “he wouldn’t join us”).
When forming a question with a negative contraction, the adverb “not” is moved to join the modal or auxiliary verb at the start of the sentence.
Negative contractions can also be used in tag questions (i.e., short questions added to the end of a sentence to ask for confirmation from the listener). When a sentence has a negative tag question, the main part of the sentence is always affirmative.
Contractions can vary depending on region and dialect. For example, “y’all” (meaning “you all”) and “ain’t” (meaning “am/are/is not”) are common in some parts of the United States, while “amn’t” (meaning “aren’t”) is common in Scotland and Ireland.
However, these forms are considered nonstandard and are typically avoided in writing. Scribbr’s free grammar checker can help you catch mistakes like these and offer correct alternatives.
Common mistakes with contractions
In English, there are numerous words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. For example, contractions are often confused with:
- Possessive pronouns
- Possessive nouns
Contractions and possessive pronouns
Their and they’re
They’re is the contraction of “they are”, while their is the possessive form of “they”, meaning “belonging to them”.
Its and it’s
Its is the possessive form of “it”, meaning “belonging to it”, while it’s is the contraction of “it is” or “it has”.
Whose and who’s
Whose is the possessive form of “who”, while who’s is a contraction of “who is” or “who has”.
Your and you’re
Your is the possessive form of “you”, meaning “belonging to you”, while you’re is a contraction of “you are.”
Contractions and possessive nouns
Possessive nouns are formed by adding an apostrophe and the letter “s” to a noun (e.g., “my neighbour’s house”). Because apostrophe s can also be used as a contraction (e.g., “she’s okay”), people sometimes confuse these forms. However, the context of the sentence can help determine whether it is a contraction or a possessive noun.
Common contractions list
Here’s a list of common contractions used in English:
|Contracted form||Uncontracted form|
|I’d||I had, I would|
|you’d||you had, would|
|he’ll/she’ll/it’ll||he/she/it will (or shall)|
|he’d/she’d||he/she had (or would)|
|we’d||we had (or would)|
|they’d||they had (or would)|
|what’ll||what will (or shall)|
Negative contractions list
Negative contractions include the word “not” and negate the verb.
|Contracted form||Uncontracted form|
You can practice your understanding of contractions with the following questions. Fill in the correct answer:
Other interesting language articles
If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, common mistakes, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.
Frequently asked questions about contractions
- What are contractions (words)?
Although contractions are common in everyday speech, they should generally be avoided in formal or academic writing. However, there are exceptions (e.g., when writing dialogue in a story or directly quoting an author who uses contractions in your paper).
A good rule of thumb is to consider your audience and the intended effect of your writing when deciding whether to use contractions.
- What is the difference between a contraction and a portmanteau?
Contractions and portmanteaus are similar in that they are both formed by combining two words and omitting some letters. However, there is a difference between them:
- Contractions usually combine two words that are often used together (e.g., “do not” becomes “don’t”). A contraction has the same meaning as its uncontracted form.
- A portmanteau is formed by blending two words together to create a new word with a different meaning. For example, “brunch” is a combination of “breakfast” and “lunch.” This is also called a neologism.
- What is the difference between an abbreviation and a contraction?
Abbreviations and contractions are both used to shorten a word, but in different ways.
- An abbreviation is formed using the initial letters (or sometimes other parts) of a longer word or phrase to represent the whole. Common examples include “Mr.” for “Mister,” “Dr.” for “Doctor,” and “NASA” for “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.” They are used in formal writing as well as everyday conversations.
- A contraction, on the other hand, is formed by combining two words and omitting one or more letters. The deleted letters are replaced with an apostrophe (e.g., “cannot” becomes “can’t”). Contractions are commonly used in spoken and informal written English.
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