Contractions Grammar 101: A Guide With Examples

If you’re like me, you often feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s never any time to play video games or exercise. There’s no time to study or to get into Stanford. You, me, Jessie Spano — we’ll take any shortcuts we can get if it means regaining just a few precious moments of time. And that’s where contractions grammar comes in.

Contractions Grammar Definition

A contraction is a compressed version of a word (or words) that’s created by leaving out one or more letters. In most contractions, an apostrophe replaces the missing letters to denote they’ve been intentionally omitted.

Why do we use contractions? First, they reflect the way people actually talk. For example, if you were picking up a chronically late friend to go on a camping trip, which of the following sounds like how you’d phrase things?

  • Option A: We will pick you up at 7:30. Do not be late. I am serious, Owen. If you are not ready, we cannot wait around.
  • Option B: We’ll pick you up at 7:30. Don’t be late. I’m serious, Owen. If you’re not ready, we can’t wait around.

Unless you’re a robot butler or very angry and trying to emphasize a point, Option B likely sounds much more like how you talk, and that’s because it employs contractions. They make writing flow more smoothly and can also have a positive effect on the overall rhythm of your writing.

Contractions are widely accepted in most forms of writing, including some professional and academic settings, but they do suggest a certain casualness, so it’s best to assess the situation carefully — and read any instructions closely — before you commit to contractions.

That’s the other thing: If you use contractions in an article or essay, it’s best to be consistent. Either use contractions from start to finish or don’t use them at all. Switching between the two can be jarring to the reader.

The exception to this rule is dialogue. In order to preserve what the speaker actually said, if he or she used contractions, you should too when quoting him or her.

Contractions Examples

Contractions typically merge a verb with another word. “Don’t” is a combination of “do” and “not,” for example. The contraction “I’ll” is a shortened form of “I” and “will.” Check out this six-pack of example sentences to see contractions in action:

  1. We would’ve ordered the gluten-free crust if we knew wheat makes you hurl. (would have)
  2. This fall I’m enrolling in clown college. (I am)
  3. What’d your dad say when you told him you burned down that Applebee’s? (What did)
  4. My grandmother says I mustn’t chew my toenails. (must not)
  5. You’ll never guess what we found buried under our swing set. (You will)
  6. Of course, I’ve seen all 40 seasons of “Survivor.” Hasn’t everybody? (I have, Has not)

Given (A) how expansive the English language is, (B) how it’s continually evolving and (C) how impatient most of us are, it should come as little surprise that the English language is stacked with an ever-expanding lineup of contractions that mimic the way you, me and Jessie Spano speak.

Below is a chart that includes more than 100 contractions words that you’re likely to encounter as a reader or deploy as a writer. You’re likely familiar with the vast majority of them, but you might be surprised by some of the base words from which your favorite contractions are built.

Common Contractions List

ContractionBase Words
aren’tare not
can’tcannot
could’vecould have
couldn’tcould not
couldn’t’vecould not have
didn’tdid not
doesn’tdoes not
don’tdo not / does not
everybody’severybody is
everyone’severyone is
hadn’thad not
had’vehad have
hasn’thas not
haven’thave not
he’dhe had / he would
he’llhe shall / he will
he’she has / he is
how’dhow did / how would
howdyhow do you do / how do you fare
how’llhow will
how’rehow are
how’show has / how is / how does
I’dI had / I would
I’d’veI would have
I’llI shall / I will
I’mI am
I’veI have
isn’tis not
it’dit would
it’llit shall / it will
it’sit has / it is
let’slet us
ma’ammadam
may’vemay have
might’vemight have
mustn’tmust not
mustn’t’vemust not have
must’vemust have
needn’tneed not
o’clockof the clock
ol’old
oughtn’tought not
she’dshe had / she would
she’llshe shall / she will
she’sshe has / she is
should’veshould have
shouldn’tshould not
shouldn’t’veshould not have
somebody’ssomebody has / somebody is
someone’ssomeone has / someone is
something’ssomething has / something is
that’llthat shall / that will
that’rethat are
that’sthat has / that is
that’dthat would / that had
there’dthere had / there would
there’llthere shall / there will
there’rethere are
there’sthere has / there is
these’rethese are
these’vethese have
they’dthey had / they would
they’llthey shall / they will
they’rethey are / they were
they’vethey have
this’sthis has / this is
those’rethose are
those’vethose have
wasn’twas not
we’dwe had / we would/ we did
we’d’vewe would have
we’llwe shall / we will
we’rewe are
we’vewe have
weren’twere not
what’dwhat did
what’llwhat shall / what will
what’rewhat are/what were
what’swhat has / what is / what does
what’vewhat have
when’swhen has / when is
where’dwhere did
where’llwhere shall / where will
where’rewhere are
where’swhere has / where is / where does
where’vewhere have
which’dwhich had / which would
which’llwhich shall / which will
which’rewhich are
which’swhich has / which is
which’vewhich have
who’dwho would / who had / who did
who’d’vewho would have
who’llwho shall / who will
who’rewho are
who’swho has / who is / who does
who’vewho have
why’dwhy did
why’rewhy are
why’swhy has / why is / why does
won’twill not
would’vewould have
wouldn’twould not
wouldn’t’vewould not have
you’dyou had / you would
you’llyou shall / you will
you’reyou are
you’veyou have

Poetic Contractions

Just like carpenter jeans and the music of Evanescence, some contractions are doomed to fall out of fashion. Today, when we want to form a contraction from “will not” we use “won’t,” as in “I won’t babysit your kids again until you stop paying me in Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons.”

In the past, both “willn’t” and “wonnot” were contractions for “will not.” How clunky is that contractions grammar, right?

While some archaic contractions have completely disappeared, others simply wonnot die, largely due to your English teacher. These contractions are called poetic contractions, and some of the most common are this dirty dozen right here:

Poetic ContractionModern Equivalent
o’erover
’tisit is
’twasit was
anand
ne’ernever
e’erever
oftoften
ta’entaken
e’eneven
th’the
o’of
heav’nheaven

As their name suggests, poetic contractions — sometimes referred to as syncope — are found mostly in poetry, where they’re used to give the writing momentum or enhance the rhythm. Below are two examples of poetic contractions from a pair of Edgar Allan Poe’s least popular poems. (That’s a joke. I made these up.)

Put thine dirty dishes in the sink,

or ne’er play Xbox again, dear raven.

Stop! Thief! Her purse hath been ta’en!

‘Twas that man in the tell-tale cap.

Someone stop him! Stop him now!

He runs o’er there toward the Gap.

Informal Contractions

I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t all contractions informal?” You’re right, but some contractions are informal even by contractions grammar standards. These colloquial contractions mimic speech even more closely than the contractions listed above and, as such, are very rarely seen in academic or professional writing — outside of quoted dialogue, of course.

Let’s check out a handful of examples:

  • Just tell your mom that you’re gonna go over to my house after the dance. (going to)
  • Betcha don’t know how many Granny Smith apples I can fit in your toilet! (Bet you)
  • C’mon, Alvin. Just tell us where you hid the diamonds. (Come on)
  • I’mma ask you one more time, Alvin. Where are the diamonds? (I’m going to)
  • Lemme go already. I ain’t telling ya nothing. (Let me, am not, you)

You can use informal contractions liberally in your personal writing, such as in an email or a note to a friend, as well as in your creative writing, but colloquial contractions grammar should generally be avoided in most formal writing.

Below you’ll find a chart containing the most commonly used informal contractions, all of which probably shouldn’t work their way into your next project summary or research report.

Informal ContractionBase Words
ain’tam not / are not / is not / has not / have not
alottaa lot of
betchabet you
‘boutabout
’causebecause
c’moncome on
cosbecause
couldacould have
dunnodo not know
‘emthem
finnagoing to
gimmegive me
gonnagoing to
gotchagot you
gottagot to
haftahave to
hastahast to
I’mmaI’m going to
kindakind of
lemmelet me
lotsalots of
mightamight have
mustamust have
outtaout of
she’dashe would have
shouldashould have
s’moresome more
sortasort of
ustaused to
whatchawhat are you
wouldawould have
wouldnawould not have
yayou / you are

Conquering Contractions Grammar

Understanding contractions grammar is largely a matter of repeated exposure. The more you read these shortened word forms, the more deeply ingrained they’ll become in your writing brain.

Do you have any favorite archaic contractions? Any tips for remembering what stands for what? ‘Tis my hope you willn’t refrain from sharing them in th’ comments section below!


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