Words at work

– 5 min read

A grammar guide to contractions

Jessica Malnik

Jessica Malnik

Raise your hand if you had an English teacher in high school who told you to never, ever use contractions in writing.

Turns out our English teachers were wrong about that. And as long as we’re on this subject, they were also wrong about how important it is to know how to write in cursive. I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything but my signature in cursive, and I just used a contraction in this sentence. 😉 

While you might not want to use contractions in legal documents, contractions come in handy for almost any other style of writing — assuming you know when and how to use them correctly. 

So when can you use contractions? That’s what we’re going to cover in this post. We’ll also share examples of different contraction uses and how to include them in your writing. 

What are contractions in English grammar?

English grammar uses contractions or a condensed form of a group of words (or a single word) that leaves out specific letters and sounds. Think of a contraction as a shortcut. Contractions are mostly common with verbs and pronouns.

Contractions are most common in informal writing or everyday speech. They’re rare in formal speech, legal documents, and academic writing.

For example, you’ll often hear people using this style of speech in daily conversations — words such as we’re, you’re, and y’all.

Steer clear of problematic contractions like could’ve and would’ve, which are commonly mispronounced. Many people mistakenly pronounce it as could of instead of the contraction, could have.

What are some examples of contractions?

It helps to see examples of contractions so you can apply the correct use and spelling to your writing. Check out a few examples of common and uncommon contractions for your reference.

Common contractions

Here are some everyday, commonly used contractions. You’ll find these often in both speech and writing. 

Base words: I am Contraction: I’m Used in a sentence: I’m going to study in the library. Base words: let us Contraction: let’s Used in a sentence: Let’s meet after class to go over the project. Base words: might have Contraction: might’ve Used in a sentence: She might’ve already known about the surprise party. Base words: we will Contraction: we’ll Used in a sentence: We’ll have to stop by the house first. Base words: who is Contraction: who’s Used in a sentence: Who’s going to be speaking at the event on Tuesday? Base words: where is Contraction: where’s Used in a sentence: Where’s she staying on campus? Base words: you will Contraction: you’ll Used in a sentence: She can’t go, so you’ll need to find a replacement. Base words: he would Contraction: he’d Used in a sentence: He’d love to go but can’t get a ride. Base words: she will Contraction: she’ll Used in a sentence: She’ll try to make it on time, but she has an appointment first. Base words: was not Contraction: wasn’t Used in a sentence: He wasn’t ready to take the exam. Base words: could not Contraction: couldn’t Used in a sentence: She couldn’t find her homeroom. Base words: has not Contraction: hasn’t Used in a sentence: My sister hasn’t written her essay yet.

Uncommon contractions

These contractions are much less commonly used than the ones above. In some cases, they’re old fashioned or used in slang.

Base words: it is Contraction: tis Used in a sentence: ‘Tis the season for giving. Base words: of the clock Contraction: o’clock Used in a sentence: We’ll meet you there at two o’clock. Base words: you all Contraction: y’all Used in a sentence: Y’all come back now. Base words: are not Contraction: ain’t Used in a sentence: I ain’t going over there.

When to use contractions

Contractions have found their way in everything from essays to classic literature. You just need to know when — and when not — to use them.

But how do you know? Take a look at the different uses of contractions in this section. The best way to know for any use is to write it out. Try writing the sentence with and without a contraction to see which looks correct for the type of writing you’re doing. You can often tell just by comparing the same sentence written both ways. In this section, we’ll show some examples of the same sentence written with and without contractions so you can compare them yourself. There’s a big difference.

Informal or creative writing

If your writing is informal, then it’s perfectly acceptable to use a contraction. Sure, if you’re writing a formal essay in high school or college, then you probably want to skip the contractions. Your teacher or professor should let you know whether contractions are allowed in their class. However, if you’re writing something informal or creative, then contractions are often preferred. It’s how people talk.

For example, let’s say you’re helping a friend with their social media client, a local coffee shop. Here’s the same Instagram post with and without contractions:

Contractions: Let’s admit it. Coffee shop coffee just tastes better than homebrew. We’ll see you soon. No contractions: Let us admit it. Coffee shop coffee just tastes better than homebrew. We will see you soon.

Contractions help social media copy sound more conversational. In the examples above, the one without contractions just doesn’t seem like a real person would say it.

Here’s another instance of when it’s better to use contractions in your writing. Let’s say that you’re writing an introduction for a digital fashion magazine.

Contractions: I haven’t always worked as an editor, but I’ve been involved in the fashion industry for years. I’ve always loved it! No contractions: I have not always worked as an editor, but I have been involved in the fashion industry for years. I have always loved it!

In the example above, the contractions feel forced and out of place. It kills the conversational aspect of the piece.

Casual speeches or conversation

When speaking, especially in casual conversation, we use lots of contractions. Of course, if your speech is more formal such as a lecture or addressing colleagues, you’ll need to judge on a case-by-case basis whether contractions are appropriate.

For instance, let’s say you’re making weekend plans with a friend. Below, which option sounds more like something you would say?

Contractions: Let’s meet at my house. I can’t go straight from work, so it’ll be better if you’d just come here. No contractions: Let us meet at my house. I cannot go straight from work, so it will be better if you would just come here.

Without the contractions, it sounds like a robot.

Contractions in conversation aren’t limited to the common ones. In some instances, contractions are used as slang words. For instance, the word y’all. Y’all has no place in formal writing, but that doesn’t mean it should never be used. It’s most commonly used in the South, but it can be used anywhere to express familiarity or emphasize a point. Even better: y’all is gender-neutral, which makes it an excellent replacement for “you guys” when you’re addressing a group of people.

Contractions: Y’all, I can’t believe it. No contractions: You all, I cannot believe it.

At the end of a sentence

Keep in mind that even in casual or creative situations, a contraction won’t always fit. This is the case with a contraction at the end of a sentence. Typically, you need a word or phrase to follow a contraction to make it right.

Here are a couple of examples:

Correct: He doesn’t know where they are. Incorrect: He doesn’t know where they’re. Correct: They know what it is. Incorrect: They know what it’s.

Try saying the examples above out loud. Does the contraction at the end trip you up? Just because the writing is informal and the correct base words are there doesn’t mean a contraction will always make sense.

Practice is the best way to get the hang of contractions. Test your sentences with and without contractions to get a better understanding of how they flow with your writing. If your writing is formal and you aren’t sure of the rules, it’s best to opt out of contractions. But if your writing is creative or casual, then use contractions just like you would in a conversation.

Level up your writing game with Writer. Start a free trial today.