What Is A Contraction In Writing? Definition, How To Use, and Examples

Contractions are a unique type of word that combines two or more other words in a shortened form, usually with an apostrophe. They take words that usually go together, like can not or I have, and then remove certain letters to shorten them and make other words, like can’t or I’ve.

Understanding how to use contractions correctly can enhance the flow and tone of your writing. In this article, we will explore the definition and guidance on how to use contractions effectively and provide examples to help you incorporate them into your writing with confidence.

What Are Contractions In Writing?

Contractions are a kind of abbreviation that combines two or more words by removing certain letters and usually adding an apostrophe. Only certain words can be contracted: typically small and common words (notis/are), especially pronouns (I, he/she/itthey), and modal verbs (canwillmightmustshouldwouldcould). 

Despite representing multiple words, contractions operate as singular words. It is important to note that contractions follow a specific spelling, and combining words arbitrarily is not permissible. However, caution is advised, as two different contractions can share the same spelling, as seen in examples like “I would” and “I had,” both contracted as “I’d.”

In sentence structure, contractions act in the same way as the words that make them. 

do not understand how to use contractions. 

don’t understand how to use contractions. 

The purpose of contractions is to streamline communication and save time. By omitting letters and consolidating multiple words into a single unit, your writing (as well as speech) becomes more concise and, consequently, more impactful. Contractions are frequently used in informal conversations such as emails, text messages, or social media posts but are discouraged in formal writing contexts like academic papers.

Specific word combinations are designated for contractions, and attempting to create new ones is not advisable. A list of acceptable contractions is provided below for reference.

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How To Use Contractions In Writing

Contractions are an incredibly useful way to save time in both writing and speech, but there are a lot of rules about when and how to use them (for example, in formal writing they’re considered inappropriate). We’ll clear up the confusion and explain how to use contractions in writing.

Here’s a quick list of the grammar rules for contractions. 

1. Don’t use contractions in formal writing

Contractions are regarded as informal language, predominantly used in spoken communication and casual written exchanges. Consequently, they are inappropriate in formal writing contexts such as academic papers or research reports. To determine whether contractions are suitable, you can refer to a comparison between formal and informal writing found here.

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2. Negative contractions are typically used with tag questions

Tag questions are declarative statements with a question “tagged on” at the end that asks if someone agrees. 

The weather is hot today, isn’t it? 

When the declarative segment of a sentence is affirmative, the corresponding question part is formulated as negative, and conversely. In instances where the tag question is negative, a contraction is employed. If the main verb is “be,” the verb in the tag question should align, as illustrated in the example using “is” and “isn’t.” If the declarative statement features a main verb other than “be,” the tag question utilizes a negative contraction formed with “do” and “not.”

She loves you more than me, doesn’t she? 

3. Some contractions are colloquial

You may have heard some people use contractions like amn’t or ain’t, but these are not common. Like slang, some contractions are common in particular geographical regions or cultures. These are known as colloquialisms, and colloquial contractions may not be understood by everyone because they’re technically not proper English. 

Specifically, the contraction amn’t is used mostly in Scottish and Irish English, while the contractions ain’t and y’all are used mostly in regional American English. 

4 Don’t confuse contractions with possessives.

Apostrophes are common in both contractions and possessive nouns, which can get confusing. To make matters worse, possessive nouns in English use ’s, just like many contractions. If you’re confusing contractions and possessives, it can help to take a look at their context. 

The university’s recruited archaeologists to help with the dig. 

[The university has recruited . . .]

The university’s archaeologists help with the dig. 

[The archeologists of the university help . . .]

Another potentially confusing area is possessive pronouns, which can sound the same as some contractions. In these cases, just remember that possessive pronouns do not use an apostrophe, so if you see what looks like a possessive pronoun with an apostrophe, it’s actually a contraction. 

it’s -> it is

its -> possessive of it

they’re -> they are

their -> possessive of they

who’s -> who is

whose -> possessive of who

she’s -> she is

her -> possessive of she

5. In American English, don’t use contractions with has/have to express possession 

Have and has are two of the most common words in contractions, whether they’re preceded by subjects (we’ve, it’s) or phrased as negatives (haven’t, hasn’t). However, have and has can be used as contractions only when they’re modal verbs, another name for helper verbs. When have or has is used as a main verb with the meaning “to own, possess, or hold,” they cannot be used as contractions. 

I’ve a dog at home.

I’ve owned dogs since I was a kid.

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6. In American English, avoid subject contractions in the negative present perfect tense

There’s another rule about contractions, again particular to American English, related to subject contractions in the present perfect tense (used for past actions that are related to or continue into the present). When the present perfect tense is used in the negative, it’s incorrect to use a subject contraction like she’s or I’ve. Instead, you should use the subject followed by the contractions haven’t or hasn’t.

I’ve not even gotten dressed yet! 

I haven’t even gotten dressed yet!

7. Contractions with nouns are less common in writing than in speech

While contractions with pronouns are typical in both speech and informal writing, contractions with other nouns are more exclusive to speech than to writing. 

When speaking directly to someone, you might say something like, “My friend’ll be here soon” or “Jonah’s on his way,” but in writing these are considered too informal (unless they’re part of dialogue). It’s best to avoid contractions like these in all forms of writing. 

8. It’s best to avoid double contractions in writing 

Another type of contraction that’s fine in speech but not in writing is the double contraction, such as I’d’ve for I would have or mustn’t’ve for must not have. While these are technically acceptable in casual conversations, they look awkward and should be avoided in all forms of writing (again, unless they’re part of dialogue). 

Examples of Contraction Word List

Common contraction word list

could’vecould have
he’dhe had, he would
he’llhe will
he’she has, he is
here’shere is
how’dhow did, how would
how’llhow will
how’rehow are
how’show has, how is
I’dI had, I would
I’llI will
I’mI am
I’veI have
it’dit had, it would
it’llit will
it’sit has, it is
let’slet us
might’vemight have
must’vemust have
she’dshe had, she would
she’llshe will
she’sshe has, she is
should’veshould have
somebody’ssomebody has, somebody is
someone’ssomeone has, someone is
something’ssomething has, something is
that’dthat would
that’llthat will
that’sthat has, that is
there’sthere has, there is
there’rethere are
these’llthese will
these’rethese are
they’dthey had, they would
they’llthey will
they’rethey are
they’vethey have
this’llthis will
this’sthis has, this is
those’llthose will
we’dwe had, we would
we’llwe will
we’rewe are
we’vewe have
what’dwhat did
what’llwhat will
what’rewhat are
what’swhat has, what is
what’vewhat have
when’dwhen did
when’swhen has, when is
where’dwhere did
where’llwhere will
where’rewhere are
where’swhere has, where is
where’vewhere have
which’swhich has, which is
who’dwho did, who had, who would
who’llwho will
who’rewho are
who’swho has, who is
who’vewho have
why’dwhy did
why’rewhy are
why’swhy has, why is
would’vewould have
you’dyou had, you would
you’llyou will
you’reyou are
you’veyou have

Negative contraction word list

aren’tare not
can’tcan not
couldn’tcould not
didn’tdid not
doesn’tdoes not
don’tdo not
hadn’thad not
hasn’thas not
haven’thave not
isn’tis not
mustn’tmust not
shouldn’tshould not
wasn’twas not
weren’twere not
won’twill not
wouldn’twould not

FAQs On What Is A Contraction In Writing

What is a contraction in writing?

A contraction in writing is a shortened form of two words, created by combining them and omitting certain letters, often replaced by an apostrophe. For example, “can’t” is a contraction of “cannot.”

Why are contractions used in writing?

Contractions are used in writing to convey a more conversational and informal tone. They are common in everyday language and help to mimic the rhythm of spoken communication in written form.

How do contractions impact the tone of writing?

Contractions contribute to a more relaxed and approachable tone in writing. They make the text sound less formal and more conversational, enhancing the connection between the writer and the reader.


Contractions are a common aspect of written English that can help make your writing sound more natural and conversational. Always employ the right contractions in your writing to drive the message in the best way possible.

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