All About Contractions

A contraction combines two words together to make one shorter word. This is done by removing letters and replacing the missing letters with an apostrophe. Not every word can form a contraction. They are usually made from small common words like personal pronouns, be verbs, modal verbs, and not.

  • Combine two words      I + am
  • Remove letter/s             I_m
  • Put in apostrophe          I’m

Contractions save time by combining words and therefore shorten informal speech and writing. They act as a single word and have their own spelling.  A few contractions have the same spelling (he is = he's, he has = he's). In a sentence, contractions function the same way as the words they contain.

Types of Contractions

1. Personal Pronouns + Be Verbs
  • I am = I’m
  • you are = you’re
  • he / she / it is = he’s / she’s / it’s
  • we are = we’re
  • they are = they’re

 2. Personal Pronouns + Will (future tense or intension)

  • I will = I’ll
  • you will = you’ll
  • he / she / it will = he’ll / she’ll / it’ll
  • we will = we’ll
  • they will = they’ll

 3. Personal Pronouns + Have / Has

  • I have = I’ve
  • you have = you’ve
  • he / she / it has = he’s / she’s / it’s
  • we have = we’ve
  • they have = they’ve

 4. Personal Pronouns + would / had

  • I would / had = I’d
  • you would / had = you’d
  • he / she / it would / had = he’d / she’d / it’d
  • we would / had = we’d
  • they would / had = they’d

 5. Be Verbs + Not

  • is not = isn’t
  • are not = aren’t
  • was not = wasn’t
  • were not = weren’t

 6. Do Verbs + Not

  • do not = don’t
  • does not = doesn’t
  • did not = didn’t

 7. Have Verbs + Not

  • have not = haven’t
  • has not = hasn’t
  • had not = hadn’t

 8. Modal Verbs + Not

  • cannot = can’t
  • could not = couldn’t
  • will not = won’t
  • would not = wouldn’t
  • should not = shouldn’t
  • might not = mightn’t
  • shall not = shan’t (archaic)

 9. Modal Verbs + Have

  • could have = could’ve
  • would have = would’ve
  • should have = should’ve
  • might have = might’ve
  • must have = must’ve

 10. Question Words + IS

  • How is = how’s
  • Who is = who’s
  • What is = what’s
  • Why is = why’s
  • Where is = where’s
  • When is =when’s
  • Which is = which’s

 11. Demonstrative Pronouns + Be Verbs

  • Here is = here’s
  • There is = there’s
  • This is = this’s
  • These are = these’re
  • That is = that’s
  • Those are = those’re

 12. Miscellaneous

  • Let us =let’s
  • now is = now’s

13. Noun Contractions - Contractions with nouns are rare. Noun contractions are used primarily in informal speech. Do not use in writing.

  • Luke is = Luke's      Luke's making supper.
  • coach will = coach'll      My coach'll be here soon. 

 Teaching Tips

Contractions should be taught and reviewed at all levels because  English learners of all levels struggle to use contractions. Teachers should model typical speech by using contractions, rather than proper English.

Matching exercises and worksheets will reinforce the meaning and spelling of contractions. Playing games, role playing, and skits help to develop a natural usage of contractions.

Usage of Contractions

1. Casual / Informal Communication

Contractions are used primarily in casual, informal speech and writing like texts, emails, and online posts. Contractions are not acceptable in formal or academic papers.

  • IInformal                           Formal      
  • It's a lizard.                       It is a lizard.      
  • He'll hibernate soon.         He will hibernate soon. 
2. Tag Questions

A tag question is a statement with a negative question attached to the end. Use the same be verb in the statement and the tag question. An action verb in the statement has a tag question with a contraction formed with do / does / did.

  • Be Verb: Today is rather hot, isn't it?
  • Be Verb: We are late, aren't we?
  • Action Verb: This cost too expensive, doesn't it?
  • Action Verb: They play piano beautifully, don't they?
3. Don't Confuse Contractions with Possessives

Apostrophes are used to show both possession and contraction. In addition, some possessives and contractions use 's. Context is the key to understanding whether a word is possessive or a contraction. You can test a sentence by substituting a possessive adjective (my, his, her, its, our, their) for the word containing 's. If the sentence makes sense then it shows possession. 

  • Possession: Tom's backpack is in the closet.
  • Test: His backpack is in the closet. (Possession)
  • Contraction: Tom's playing in the backyard.
  • Test: His playing in the backyard. (Contraction)
  • Possession: Pam's book is on the desk.
  • Test: Her book is on the desk. (Possession) 
  • Contraction: Pam's reading a book.
  • Test: Her reading a book. (Contraction)

4. Don't Confuse Contractions with Homophones

Another common mistake is to confuse homophones it's / its; they're / their; and who's /whose It's, they're, and who's are contractions. Its, their and whose are possessive adjectives that modify a noun.

  • Contraction: It's sleeping in a sunny window. (cat)
  • Possession: Its fur is soft and black.
  • Contraction: They're in the produce section. (oranges)
  • Possession: Their flavor is sweet and tangy. 
  • Contraction: Who's coming to the party?
  • Possession: Whose birthday are we celebrating?
5. Use Have / Has / Had Contractions as Helping Verbs Only, Not Main Verbs (USA)
  • Wrong: I've a bicycle. (have)
  • Modal verb: I've bought a new bicycle. (have bought)
  • Wrong: He's a two-week break. (has)
  • Modal Verb: He's requested a two-week break. (has requested)
  • Wrong: She'd a violin. (had)
  • Modal Verb: She'd owned a violin before. (had owned)
6. Use Negative Contractions, not Subject Contractions for Negative Perfect Tense (USA)
  • Wrong: He's not finished his homework.
  • Correct: He hasn't finished his homework.
  • Wrong: We've not eaten yet.
  • Correct: We haven't eaten yet.
7. Colloquial or Slang

Contractions that are used in certain geographical regions or cultures are called colloquial contractions. These may not be understood by others outside the area and are not considered proper English. They are acceptable in speech in the area and are used to add setting and authenticity to prose.

  • ain't: He ain't coming to visit.
  • y'all: We will see y'all next week.
8. Do not Use Double Contractions

Double contractions are rare and only used in casual speech. Do not use these is any form of writing.

  • I'd've - I would have
  • I musn't've - must not have

 

 


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