What Are Contractions?

A contraction is a type of abbreviation. Contractions are formed by replacing missing letters with an apostrophe (e.g., you're, it's, they're) or by compressing a word (e.g., Mr., Prof., Rev.).

Table of Contents

  • The 2 Types of Contraction
  • (1) Contractions with Apostrophes
  • (2) Contractions from Compressed or Truncated Words
  • Examples of Contractions
  • "Find the Contractions" Test
  • List of Common Contractions
  • Why Contractions Are Important
  • Test Time!
contractions grammar examples

The 2 Types of Contraction

There are two types of contraction:

(1) Contractions with Apostrophes

A contraction with an apostrophe is formed by replacing letter(s) with an apostrophe. These contractions are formed either by shortening a word or merging two words into one. For example:
  • don't
  • can't
  • shouldn't
  • he's
Read more about apostrophes in contractions.

(2) Contractions from Compressed or Truncated Words

A contraction from a compressed word does not feature an apostrophe. It is a compressed or truncated version of the full word.
  • Mr.
  • (compressed version of Mister)
  • Dr.
  • (compressed version of Doctor)
These are truncated versions of the full words:
  • Prof.
  • (truncated version of Professor)
  • Rev.
  • (truncated version of Reverend)
(Note: Under UK convention, contractions only attract a period (full stop), when the last letter of the contraction is different from the last letter of the full word. In other words, in the UK, only the truncated versions are written with a period.) Read more about periods (full stops) in contractions.

Examples of Contractions

Here are some real-life sentences with contractions:
  • I could agree with you, but then we'd both be wrong.
  • If you're hotter than me, then I'm cooler than you.
  • If we shouldn't eat at night, why's there a light in the fridge?

"Find the Contractions" Test

Can You Identify Contractions?

List of Common Contractions

When an apostrophe replaces a letter, a new word is formed (most often, but not always, from two words originally). The new word is called a contraction. You cannot invent your own contractions. Here is a list of common contractions in English:
aren'tare not
couldn'tcould not
didn'tdid not
doesn'tdoes not
don'tdo not
hadn'thad not
hasn'thas not
haven'thave not
he'dhe had, he would
he'llhe will, he shall
he'she is, he has
I'dI had, I would
I'llI will, I shall
I'mI am
I'veI have
isn'tis not
it'sit is, it has
let'slet us
mustn'tmust not
shan'tshall not
she'dshe had, she would
she'llshe will, she shall
she'sshe is, she has
shouldn'tshould not
that'sthat is, that has
there'sthere is, there has
they'dthey had, they would
they'llthey will, they shall
they'rethey are
they'vethey have
we'dwe had, we would
we'rewe are
we'vewe have
weren'twere not
what'llwhat will, what shall
what'rewhat are
what'swhat is, what has
what'vewhat have
where'swhere is, where has
who'dwho had, who would
who'llwho will, who shall
who'rewho are
who'swho is, who has
who'vewho have
won'twill not
wouldn'twould not
you'dyou had, you would
you'llyou will, you shall
you'reyou are
you'veyou have

Why Contractions Are Important

There are four common issues involving contractions.

(Issue 1) Putting a period (full stop) at the end of a contraction.

Writers are often unsure whether contractions like Mr and Dr should be written with periods (full stops) (i.e., Mr. and Dr.). There are two conventions:

Convention 1. Use a period every time.

  • Dr. Smith asked Prof. Bloggs to remove para. 7 and paras. 18 to 22.

Convention 2. Use a period if the last letter of the contraction and the full word are different.

  • Dr Smith asked Prof. Bloggs to remove para. 7 and paras 18 to 22.
  • (Dr and doctor share the same last letters, as do paras and paragraphs. Therefore, these contractions do not require periods. Put another way, in the UK, truncated contractions (e.g., "Prof.") attract periods, but the compressed ones (e.g., "Mr") do not.)
Convention 1 dominates in the US. Convention 2 is the most popular one in the UK, but Convention 1 is not uncommon. Pick a convention, and then be consistent.

(Issue 2) Confusing contractions with other words.

The following contractions are often confused with other words:
  • It's gets confused with its.
  • You're gets confused with your.
  • They're gets confused with there and their.
A mistake involving it's, you're, or they're is considered a howler, and if you make too many, your readers will start to think you're a bit dim. Harsh but true. Here's a top tip:

Top Tip

Expand your contraction. If your sentence still makes sense, then you are safe to put your contraction back in. If your sentence doesn't make sense with the contraction expanded, then you shouldn't be using a contraction.
Let's try one:
  • Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all it's pupils.
Let's apply the tip:
  • Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all it is pupils. wrong cross
  • (We've expanded the contraction, and our sentence makes no sense. Therefore, we shouldn't be using a contraction.)
  • Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils. correct tick
This tip works every single time. Read more about possessive determiners. (Your, their, and its are all possessive determiners.)

(Issue 3) Expanding a contraction like "should've" to "should of."

Contractions that shorten the word have (e.g., should've, could've) sound like they end with the word of. They don't! They have nothing to do with the word of. Writing should of, could of, or would of is a serious howler. Your readers will think you're dim if you make that mistake just once.

(Issue 4) Using contractions in business writing.

Many people still consider contractions to be informal and inappropriate for business writing. Therefore, contractions are best avoided in business documentation, especially if you're writing about something serious and you're unsure of your readership. However, this is far from a ruling. Contractions can make text less stuffy and more enjoyable to read. If you're a cool or casual company and the subject is appropriate, whack those contractions in.

Key Points

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.