Types of Contractions in English
A contraction is a shortened form of a word or a phrase in which some letters are omitted and replaced by an apostrophe. Often, two words combine to form one contracted word (e.g., is + not becomes isn’t), but a single word by itself may be contracted when spoken (e.g., madam becomes ma’am).
Standard contractions include those that contract not (like don’t and isn’t), forms of the be verb (I’m, you’re), the have verb (I’ve, she’s, they’ve), and the modal verbs will and would (I’ll, he’ll, you’d). Here is a quick list of standard contracted forms.
|not||n’t||isn’t (is not), don’t (do not), hasn’t (has not), can’t (cannot)|
|is, has||’s||she’s (she is, she has), what’s (what is, what has)|
|are||’re||you’re (you are), we’re (we are)|
|have||’ve||I’ve (I have), could’ve (could have)|
|had, would||’d||I’d (I had, I would), we’d (we had, we would)|
|will||’ll||I’ll (I will), you’ll (you will)|
The adverb not gets contracted to n’t when it combines with forms of the be verb (is, are, was, were), the do verb (do, does, did), and have verb (has, have, had).
- Isn’t your sister a doctor? (is not)
- Aren’t they happy? (are not)
- Don’t press that button. (do not)
- She doesn’t know a thing. (does not)
- They haven’t even started. (have not)
- The show hasn’t begun yet. (has not)
Modal verbs like can, will, could, and should, which express necessity or possibility, can also all combine with not to form negative contractions.
- I can’t find my keys. (cannot)
- Farley is late because he couldn’t find his shoes. (could not)
- It shouldn’t be this hard. (should not)
- You mustn’t worry. (must not)
- I won’t tell anyone what happened. (will not)
- I wouldn’t know where to begin. (would not)
While can, which already ends in n, combines with not to form can’t, other verbs like do, is, and could simply get n’t tacked on at the end to form negative contractions (don’t, isn’t, couldn’t). In contrast, will and shall lose their endings to combine with not and form won’t and shan’t. Here is a list of standard not contractions.
|aren’t||are not (also am not)|
Amn’t or aren’t?
With the pronoun I, use aren’t not amn’t to frame questions.
Amn’tI clever?for “Am I not clever?”
- I’m your friend, aren’t/
amn’tI?for “I’m your friend, am I not?”
However, when the sentence is not a question but a statement, “I am not” is usually contracted to “I’m not” rather than “I aren’t.”
- I’m not joking.
Preferred to “I aren’t joking.”
In some dialects (Scottish and Irish), amn’t is acceptable in speech but still avoided in writing.
Ain’t is a nonstandard contraction used colloquially in some dialects, where it replaces the relatively more formal contractions isn’t and aren’t.
- I ain’t dead.
- They ain’t listenin’.
- That ain’t important now, is it?
- It ain’t done till I say it’s done.
It may occasionally also replace hasn’t or haven’t.
- They ain’t made a lock yet our Nesbit can’t pick.
The contraction ain’t is considered nonstandard and used only very informally.
Be and have contractions
Forms of the be and have verbs (am, is, are, has, have, had) can contract and combine with a noun or a pronoun and occasionally an adverb.
- Lulu’s a dancer. (Lulu is)
- Your order’s being processed. (order is)
- I’m not ready. (I am)
- They’re already here. (they are)
- Lulu’s been baking again. (Lulu has been)
- They’ve found the answer. (they have found)
- She’d called me already before you got here. (she had called)
- Here’s your money. (here is)
- There’s no money in this purse. (there is)
- That’s the restaurant I was telling you about. (that is)
Note that the have verb is not contracted in writing when it is the main verb and means “to possess.”
- Poor: Poco’s seven cars in his garage.
The main verb is has: Poco has. Don’t contract it.Better: Poco has seven cars in his garage.
- Poor: We’d no money.
Better: We had no money.
- Acceptable: Poco’s bought another car.
The main verb is bought: Poco has bought. Has functions as an auxiliary (or helping) verb and can be contracted.
- Acceptable: We’d discovered the cure by then.
Modal verbs like could and would combine with have.
- You could’ve done better, but you didn’t even try. (could have)
- I would’ve sent you the documents myself if you had asked. (would have)
- You should’ve given her a chance to explain. (should have)
Could have and should have are contracted to could’ve and should’ve, not could of or should of. (Could’ve is sometimes incorrectly written as could of because of how this contraction is pronounced.)
could of/could’ve told me you had an extra phone.
should of/should’ve realized this would be a problem.
The contraction let’s, used often in speech, is a contraction of let us, not let is or let has (which would be nonsensical). Use let’s to make suggestions.
- Let’s go watch a movie. (let us)
- Let’s play a game, shall we? (let us)
Contracted will and would
Will and would are contracted to ’ll and ’d in casual communication.
- Anita’ll never believe what just happened. (Anita will)
- I’ll buy the flowers myself. (I will)
- You’ll call me, won’t you? (you will)
- They’ll call us tomorrow. (they will)
- You’d never know she was lying. (you would)
- We’d like to cancel our membership. (we would)
Contractions with pronouns
Subject pronouns (I, we, you, she, he, it, they) combine with the be and have verbs (am, is, are, has, have) to form standard contractions. These pronouns also combine with will and would.
- Hi, I’m Maya. (I am)
- You’re coming with me. (you are)
- It’s my first day at work. (it is)
- We’re happy to help. (we are)
- She’s had a long day. (she has)
- They’ve all gone on a picnic together. (they have)
- I knew he’d been fighting. (he had)
- Of course I’ll help you. (I will)
- She’d know if we were lying. (she would)
The following table shows how contractions for personal subject pronouns are formed.
|we, you, they||are||we’re, you’re, they’re|
|she, he, it||is/has||she’s, he’s, it’s|
|I, we, you, they||have||I’ve, we’ve, you’ve, they’ve|
|I, we, you, he, she, it, they||had/would||I’d, we’d, you’d, he’d, she’d, it’d, they’d|
|I, we, you, he, she, it, they||will||I’ll, we’ll, you’ll, he’ll, she’ll, it’ll, they’ll|
Note how contractions with ’s can be short for either is or has: she’s can mean she is or she has. Similarly, contractions with ’d can stand for either had or would: I’d means both I had and I would.
Other pronouns like that, which, and who can also form contractions with forms of the be and have verbs in informal usage.
- That’s not true! (that is)
- The report that’s been released today is misleading. (that has)
- My friend Farley, who’s an astronaut, is afraid of heights. (who is)
- These reports, which’ve already been released, are misleading. (which have)
The contraction for you are is you’re, not your, which is a possessive.
- Correct: Contraction: You’re (you are) wrong.
- Correct: Possessive: Your cab is here.
Similarly, it’s and who’s (with the apostrophe) are contractions for it is, it has, who is, and who has, while its and whose (without any apostrophe) are possessives.
- Correct: Contraction: It’s (it is) raining.
- Correct: Possessive: This book has lost its cover.
- Correct: Contraction: Who’s (who is) that?
- Correct: Possessive: Whose book is that?
Contractions with nouns
In speech, nouns form contractions with is and has (singular forms of the be and have verbs). These contractions are not generally seen in writing, and never in formal texts.
- Rita’s my sister. (Rita is)
- Farley’s in quarantine this week. (Farley is)
- Your parcel’s on its way. (parcel is)
- My daughter’s going to Thailand in May. (daughter is going)
- The cat’s been eating all the cheese again. (cat has been)
- Anita’s found the answer! (Anita has found)
It’s rarer for the plural verbs are and have to join with nouns (cakes’re baked; the cats’ve been meowing).
Contractions with adverbs
Adverbs like now, here, and there combine with is to form contractions in informal usage.
- Now’s your chance! (now is)
- Here’s the entrance to the cave. (here is)
- There’s a slight chance I might be wrong. (there is)
There can also form a contraction with has.
- There’s been no change in status since we last spoke. (there has)
Plural contractions are rarer: there’re, there’ve.
Contractions in questions
Negative forms using not are contracted in questions, even in formal usage, where contractions are generally avoided.
- Hasn’t Rita returned from Neptune yet?
Not “Has not Rita returned yet?” which would sound odd and archaic.
- Don’t you want to get paid?
- Couldn’t you find the answer?
- Can’t you see I’m busy?
- Haven’t the reviewers replied yet?
Negative question tags are also always contracted.
- Farley should be given another chance, shouldn’t he?
Not “Should not he?”
- Rita has come back, hasn’t she?
- Help me out, won’t you?
Forms of be and have can combine with question words like who and what in speech.
- What’s going on? (what is)
- What’s happened to him? (what has)
- What’ve you done? (what have)
- Where’s Anita when you need her? (where is)
- Where’s she gone? (where has)
- Where’ve you been? (where have)
- Who’s that? (who is)
- Who’s been eating all my porridge? (who has)
- Who’ve you been talking to? (who have)
Contractions of words like what, where, and there with the plural verb are (what’re, where’re, there’re) are less common than singular forms (what’s, where’s, there’s).
Double contractions with have occur in speech but not in writing.
- Rita couldn’t’ve planned this all by herself. (could not have)
- Poco shouldn’t’ve bought that new car. (should not have)
- I’d’ve known if she’d been lying. (I would have)
The be verb doesn’t form double contractions.
- Incorrect: She’sn’t not happy.
Correct: She’s not happy.
Correct: She isn’t happy.
- Incorrect: I’mn’t going on holiday this year.
Correct: I’m not going on holiday this year.
Contracted of (o’clock)
The contraction o’clock is short for “of the clock” and is used to indicate time.
- Is it nine o’clock already?
- I usually wake up at six o’clock.
The word of is also contracted in other terms like man-o’-war, will-o’-the-wisp, cat-o’-nine-tails, and jack-o’-lantern.
Other contracted words
Certain words like ma’am are contracted in speech. An apostrophe is used to signify the omitted sounds.
- Yes, ma’am. I’ll send you the report today. (for madam)
- Call the bo’s’n! (for boatswain)
In some dialects of English, the final sound of a word ending in -ing is not pronounced. When such speech is transcribed, an apostrophe is used to indicate the omitted “g.”
- Lulu loves singin’ and dancin’ in the rain.
- Well, you know he’s a ramblin’ man.
Phrases such as kind of and sort of, commonly used in casual conversation, are often contracted to kinda and sorta.
- I’m kinda confused by this layout. (kind of)
- I’m sorta impressed by what she has done here. (sort of)
- Would you like a cuppa tea? (cup of)
In everyday speech, the infinitive marker to is sometimes combined with words such as going and want. Note that these are colloquialisms never used in formal writing.
- I wanna fly like a bird. (want to)
- I’m gonna go now. (going to)
- I hafta find out what happened. (have to)
Aphaeresis, syncope, apocope
In informal speech, the first unstressed syllable of a word is sometimes dropped (by a process called aphaeresis.) An apostrophe marks the missing syllable.
- I ain’t talkin’ ’bout that.
- You’ll do it ’cause I asked you to.
When a syllable or sound from the middle of a word is dropped, it is called syncope. An apostrophe marks the elision. It is often found in poetry, where meter is helped by the dropping of a sound.
- They flew o’er hills and mountains.
- Yes, ma’am, we have rooms available.
The omission or elision of syllables at the end of a word is called apocope.
- Did you watch the match on tele last night? (short for television)
- Have you uploaded the photo? (for photograph)
Words may be contracted or elided in poetry for the sake of rhythm and meter. Such contractions are not otherwise found in writing. These include words like o’er (over), ’tis (it is), ’twas (it was), e’er (ever), and ne’er (never).
It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1834)
I, smiling at him, shook my head:
’Tis now we’re tired, my heart and I.— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, My Heart and I (1862)
Gliding o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space . . .— Walt Whitman, Gliding O’er All (1881)
Modern poets do not generally require or use poetic contractions.