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Contractions

Can't, It's, O'er. What do these words have in common? That's right, they're all contractions. Contractions are a common and natural way of speaking; in fact, they're so common we've already used a further four just in this opening paragraph. 

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Contractions

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Can't, It's, O'er. What do these words have in common? That's right, they're all contractions. Contractions are a common and natural way of speaking; in fact, they're so common we've already used a further four just in this opening paragraph.

This explanation will introduce contractions, discuss the different types of contractions, and provide a comprehensive list of contraction words.

Contractions Grammar Definition

Contractions, sometimes called 'short forms' are words or phrases that have been shortened by removing one or more letters. When forming contractions, we typically join two words together by dropping a letter and replacing it with an apostrophe.

It + is = It's

The most common contractions combine nouns/pronouns with verbs (e.g., he's), verbs with the word 'not' (e.g., hasn't), and question words with verbs (e.g., what's).

When we say verbs here, it may be tempting to automatically think of action verbs (e.g., jump, run). However, it's important to remember that these aren't the only verbs, and contractions are usually formed with auxiliary verbs (e.g., am, be, have). Auxiliary verbs connect words together and add function and grammatical meaning to sentences.

Contractions can also happen within a word, although these are much less common. For example, removing the v in over to create o'er, or using ma'am for madam.

Contractions are a common part of the English language (in speaking more than writing) and you likely use them all the time without even realizing it. They are a good way of saying what you want to say in a more informal and casual way. For example, saying "It is mine" might sound too formal and even robotic in certain contexts, whereas "it's mine" sounds more natural.

The Contractive Apostrophe

When we form contractions, we drop one or more letters from a word and join the remaining letters to another word. We use an apostrophe (') to show where the missing letters would have been - we call this apostrophe the contractive apostrophe.

You + Will = You'll

The letters w and i have been removed from the word will and replaced with an apostrophe.

be careful not to confuse the contractive apostrophe with the possessive apostrophe. The possessive apostrophe is followed by the letter s and lets us know when an object belongs to someone/something, e.g., Hannah's jacket.

Contractions, Your vs you're, StudySmarterBe careful with homophones that sound the same but play different roles

Types of Contractions

Now we have a good idea of what contractions are, let's look at the different types and how we form them.

Contractions With Nouns/Pronouns

We'll begin with pronouns as they're the most common; in fact, we used two pronoun contractions in this sentence. Can you spot them?

answer: we'll, they're

Pronouns are a type of word class that we use in place of a noun. For example, replacing a girl's name for she and a boy's for he, or referring to a group of people as they. We commonly contract pronouns with auxiliary verbs, such as is, are, am (verb to be), have, had, and will.

The contracted forms of the auxiliary verbs are:

  • 's

  • 're

  • 'm

  • 've

  • 'd

  • 'll

He + is = He's

"He's joining us later."

I + am = I'm

"I'm looking for a certain book."

Who is/who has vs. whose

Be careful not to confuse who's with whose. Who's is a contraction of who is or who has, whereas whose refers to possession.

EXAMPLE:

"Who's (who has) got the laptop charger?"

"Whose shoes are these?"

Nouns work in the same way; they're just less common. We often contract proper nouns with the auxiliary verbs will, is, and has. Noun contractions are informal and more commonly accepted in spoken language.

Mum + will = Mum'll

"Mum'll be here soon."

Beth + has = Beth's

"Beth's got a new phone."

Contractions With Auxiliary Verbs and Not

Another common type of contraction is joining auxiliary verbs with the word not. The contracted form of not is: n't.

  • Can't
  • Couldn't
  • Shouldn't
  • Mustn't
  • Won't (will + not)
  • Isn't
  • Shan't (shall + not)
  • Hasn't
  • Haven't

Contractions With Question Words

When we combine question words (e.g., who, what, where) with auxiliary verbs, we get interrogative contractions.

Who + is = who's

What + are = what're

Where + have = where've

When + is = when's

Why + had = why'd

How + will = how'll

Other Contractions

Although the majority of contractions in English fit into the previous categories, there are a few others that don't follow the rules.

This + will = this'll

That + will = that'll

That + is = that's

Let + us = let's

O'er = over

E'er = ever

Ne'er = never

It was = 'twas

Contractions, Mouse at Christmas image, StudySmarterThe contraction 'twas was made famous by the poem " 'Twas the night before Christmas "

Ambiguous Contractions

Ambiguous contractions occur when it isn't immediately clear what the contracted second word is. For example, she's could be a contraction of she is or she has. To understand the intended contracted word, we must look at the context of the sentence.

Other examples include had and would (e.g., she'd), and will and shall (e.g., shall).

Informal Contractions

Informal contractions are natural contractions we make in spoken language - they are typically frowned upon in written language. Common examples include:

  • Gonna (going + to)

  • Wanna (want + to)

  • Shoulda (should + have)

  • Woulda (would + have)

  • Coulda (could + have)

Contraction Examples

Now you know all of the different contractions; let's see how well you can spot them in a sentence. Look at the below sentences, highlight the contractions, and explain which type of contraction they are.

  1. It's 5:30 am and I'm tired.
  2. I just phoned Belle and Lily, they're on their way.
  3. Dad'll be here soon!
  4. I don't really like this cheese.
  5. Ouch! why'd you do that?!

ANSWERS:

  1. It's and I'm = pronoun + auxiliary verb
  2. They're = pronoun + auxiliary verb
  3. Dad'll = noun + auxiliary verb
  4. Don't = auxiliary verb + not
  5. Why'd = question word + auxiliary verb

Contractions in Writing

Although contractions are a handy and often natural way of getting across a point in fewer words, they're not always welcome. You should avoid contractions in academic writing and keep them to a minimum in formal writing.

Additionally, some contractions are more accepted than others. For example, it's is more commonly accepted than a contraction like what're.

Contraction Words List

Looking for a comprehensive list of common English contractions? Look no further, we've got you covered!

Words Contraction Words Contraction
I + willI'llDo + notDon't
I + wouldI'dDoes + notDoesn't
I + am I'mWas + notWasn't
I + haveI'veHas + notHasn't
I + hadI'dHave + notHaven't
You + willYou'llIs + notIsn't
You + wouldYou'dCan + not Can't
You + hadYou'd Could + notCouldn't
You + haveYou've Might + notMightn't
You + are You'reMust + notMustn't
We + are We'reShall + notShan't
We + have We'veWill + notWon't
We + had We'dHad + notHadn't
We + wouldWe'dWhat + isWhat's
They + have They'veWhat + areWhat're
They + had They'dWho + isWho's
They + are They'reWho + areWho're
They + willThey'llWhere + is Where's
They + would They'd Where + willWhere'll
He/she + willHe/she'llWhen + isWhen's
He/she + wouldHe/she'dWhen + are When're
He/she + is He/she'sWhy + isWhy's
He/she + has he/she'sHow + isHow's
He/she + would He/she'd How + are How're
It + isIt's How + willHow'll
It + has It's Let + us Let's
It + willIt'll That + isThat's

Note: This is not a complete list of all contractions.

Contractions - Key Takeaways

  • Contractions, sometimes called 'short forms' are words or phrases that have been shortened by removing one or more letters.
  • The most common contractions involve joining two words together by dropping a letter and replacing it with an apostrophe.
  • The contractive apostrophe replaces the removed letter(s).
  • Common contractions include nouns/common nouns + auxiliary verbs, auxiliary verbs + not, and question words + auxiliary verbs.
  • Contractions are commonplace in spoken language and formal written language. They should not be used in academic writing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Contractions

The general rule for forming contractions is that the contraction apostrophe replaces the letter(s) that were removed. This does not necessarily correlate with where the two words join.

Some common contraction words include:

  • It's
  • He's 
  • They're
  • Won't 
  • Shouldn't

Contractions, sometimes called 'short forms' are words or phrases that have been shortened by removing one or more letters. When forming contractions, we typically join two words together by dropping a letter and replacing it with an apostrophe. 

It isn't possible to say exactly how many contractions there are in English. However, there are an estimated 70+.

Five common contractions include:

  • Can + not = Can't
  • Is + not = Isn't 
  • They + are = They're 
  • There + is = There's 
  • Are + not = Aren't 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Where does the contractive apostrophe appear in a contraction?

Select the pronoun + auxiliary verb contraction

Next
More about Contractions

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