Updated: Mar 30, 2022
Using Contractions Is Okay Provided You Know Where and When
By Michael Heath / selfpublishingUS.com
There are those who still maintain that using contractions in one’s writing is wrong. Sometimes avoiding the “squeezing” of two words is advised, but there are other times when their usage may be encouraged. Knowing a little bit about this word-togetherness tool “can’t” hurt.
What Is a Contraction?
A contraction is the result of two words shortened into one word by dropping one or more letters; an apostrophe is used to show the place of the missing letters. It is common for people to use contractions when speaking. They sort of smooth out our verbal communication. In fact, nowadays if someone speaks without contractions they could come across as stuffy or their verbiage a bit clumsy. Here is an example:
No contractions: Jack had not decided where he would dine even though he could have chosen from twenty restaurants. Was not that a bit strange?
With contractions: Jack hadn’t decided where he’d dine even though he could’ve chosen from twenty restaurants. Wasn’t that a bit strange?
COMMON CONTRACTIONS PRIOR TO SHORTENING
he’ll he will
she’d she had or she would
I’m I am
don’t do not
won’t will not
LESS COMMON CONTRACTIONS PRIOR TO SHORTENING
*ain’t am not, is not, has not, have not
o’clock of the clock
‘twas it was
y’all you all
People speak using blended words because it speeds up the communication while adding an informality to a conversation. This straightforward way of talking can be translated into the written word, making content feel easier to read. Therefore, contractions are commonly used in fiction. It makes even more sense that contractions are used in dialogue. Combining words saves room which is often helpful in newspapers, instructions, and advertisements.
Formal vs. Informal
Contractions feel informal, so writers should use discretion in applying them. It is recommended that they be avoided in more serious writing like scholarly works, academic papers, or in scientific content. Just be a little aware that some formal writing can get a little too heavy. If that is the case, maybe a slipped-in contraction just might be the lightening up a sentence could use.
*Note: “Ain’t” is nonstandard English and should only be used in dialogue.
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