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

Easy Examples of Contractions

Contractions can be formed by replacing missing letters with an apostrophe.
  • can't is a contraction of cannot.
  • don't is a contraction of do not.
  • (Note how the two words merge into one.)
  • could've is a contraction of could have.
  • he's is a contraction of he is.
Contractions can be formed by compressing a word.
  • Mr is a contraction of Mister.
  • Dr is a contraction of Doctor.
  • Prof. is a contraction of Professor.
  • Rev. is a contraction of Reverend.

Real-Life Examples of 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?
  • 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 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 askedProf. 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.

    Let's try one:
    • Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all it's pupils. (We need to check if it's is correct.)
    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. [correct]
    This tip works every single time. (These points are covered again in the section on possessive adjectives. NB: Your, their and its are all possessive adjectives.)

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

    Contractions that shorten the word have (e.g., should've, could've) sound a 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. No, really, they will.

    (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

    • Pick a convention for putting full stops after contractions like Dr/Dr. and Mr/Mr. and stick to it.
    • Don't confuse contractions (e.g., you're, they're) with other words (e.g., your, there). Remember, if you can't expand a contraction to its full version, then it's wrong.
    • Don't write could of, should of or would of…ever.
    • If you think you can get away with using contractions in business writing, do it.
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