Grammar 101: Contractions

Welcome back to Grammar 101...where I help the grammatically-challenged become proud Grammarians.

Last week, we learned and chatted about the tricky Apostrophe and hopefully some of you now feel a wee-bit more confident in where you stick it.  I thought that apostrophes would segue nicely into Contractions so here we are.

A contraction is the shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of internal letters.  In traditional grammar, a contraction can denote the formation of a new word from one word or a group of words.  

Note: Contractions is NOT be confused with abbreviations or acronyms (including initialisms), with which they share some semantic and phonetic functions.

An informal type of contraction occurs frequently in speech and writing, in which a syllable is substituted by an apostrophe and/or other mode of elision.  Examples include: can't for "cannot", won't for "will not", etc.  Such contractions are often either negations with not or a combination of pronouns with auxiliary verbs, e.g., I'll for "I will". 

 Informal speech sometimes allows multiple contracted forms to pile up, producing constructions like wouldn't've for "would not have" or ain't, for "am not" or "is not".

Just because it's socially acceptable does not make it right!

A commonly used English contraction of two words that does not fall into any of the above categories is let's, a contraction of "let us" that is used in forming the imperative mood in the first-person plural (as in, "Let's go somewhere"). Use of the uncontracted "let us" typically carries an entirely different meaning, e.g., "Let us go free".

Informal contractions are, by their nature, more frequent in speech than writing, e.g., John'd fix your television if you asked him. Contractions in English are generally not mandatory as in some other languages. It is almost always acceptable to write out (or say) all of the words of a contraction, though native speakers of English may judge a person not using contractions as sounding overly formal. Let's, as mentioned above, is an exception to this rule. Another exception is the use of contractions with not in questions:
Don't you like it? VS  Do not you like it?
Common single-word contractions include: St for "Saint" (in proper names) and ma'am for "madam".  St meaning "Street" (in proper names) is sometimes given a full point to eliminate any confusion with "Saint". Forms like gov't (or govt) for "government" and int'l (or intl) for "international" are purely written contractions.

Writers of English commonly confuse the possessive form of the pronoun it with its compounded contractions. The possessive form (its) has no apostrophe, while the contraction of it is or it has does have an apostrophe (it's). The same is true of the possessive form of "you" (your) with its contraction you're for "you are".

Contractions may perform the same function as abbreviations. Strictly, an abbreviation is formed by omitting the ending of a word, for which a full stop (period) is substituted, e.g., Lieut. for "Lieutenant".  Contractions omit the middle of a word, and are generally not terminated with a full point, e.g., Ltd for "Limited".

Handy-dandy Note:  Contractions are used sparingly in formal written English. The APA style guide prefers that contractions, including Latin abbreviations, not be used in scholarly papers, and recommends that the equivalent phrase in English be written out.

Cheat Sheet:
{click on the image to enlarge.}

Now for some funnies.  I searched high and low but couldn't find any funny contraction errors - they are actually pretty easy to figure out.  I couldn't leave you guys without your daily dose of the giggles though, so I found these instead.

Pardon me while I gasp for air!  The only thing that may save this person is if and ONLY IF they do not come from an English speaking country.

In yo' face! LOL

See? It does come in handy to carry a red marker with you! If not, they would have missed that golden opportunity.

Wow - that was epic! Well, almost as much as the first one...

Bet ya that'll learn ya?!  LOL
This is from a site called Cyanide & Happiness. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's damn funny.

*Disclaimer: All grammatical errors or gangsta-talk contained herein are done intentionally and not for lack English skillz!  Thank you.

So what would you guys like to learn about next time?

PS: Don't forget that you can email me any questions or proofing requests you may have. I'm happy to help :)


  1. I've been called a Grammar Nazi numerous times. I usually take it as a compliment. I dislike people who will argue with you, not bothering to use correct grammar and then saying 'its only facebook', or something similar. :/

    Love the Grammar 101!

  2. I am a grammar Nazi sometimes. I really hate when people mess up your and you're. Thanks for doing this!

  3. I found this for you...

  4. Love it! These Grammar contractions are so helpful (and hilarious)!!!

    I's so very excited about these lessons. (You know, the I + is contraction!)

  5. I have to ask, can 'to have' be 'to've'? I know 'to've' is something that people SAY a lot, but I don't think it's a formal contraction...?


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