What Are Contractions? (with Examples)

Contractions

A contraction is an abbreviated version of a word or words.

Easy Examples of Contractions

There are two main kinds:

(1) Those formed by replacing missing 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) Those formed by compressing a word (i.e. without apostrophes). For example:
  • Mr.
  • Dr.
  • Prof.
  • Rev.
(Note: Under UK convention, contractions only attract a full stop (period), when the last letter of the contraction is different from the last letter of the full word.)

Read more about full stops (periods) after contractions.

Real-Life 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?

Click on Two Contractions

Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...
Getting ready...

Only Use Apostrophes to Replace Letters in Standard 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:

ContractionOriginal
aren'tare not
can'tcannot
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 Should I Care about Contractions?

There are four common issues involving contractions.

(Issue 1) Putting a 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 full stop every time.
  • Dr. Smith asked Prof. Bloggs to remove para. 7 and paras. 18 to 22.
Convention 2. Use a full stop 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 full stops.)
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:

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.
  • 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.
  • (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.
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.
Interactive Test
 

See Also

Full stops (periods) with contractions More on abbreviations Glossary of grammatical terms