Generally, english is an informal language. There’s lots and lots of slang and language-based humour is a big part of english culture such as puns or double entendres. Given english’s informality, english will use shortcuts in their speech, especially when it’s (it is) in an informal setting. One of the most used shortcuts in the english language is the contraction. In fact, it’s so prevalent in the english language, it can sound a little bizarre when someone who speaks english doesn’t (does not) use them at all. Do you see what I did there?
A contraction, for lack of a better explanation, is when you cram two words together. A contraction is written using an apostrophe (‘) in place a letter and without using a space. For example, a contraction of the words “Should” and “Not” would be “Shouldn’t”. “Shouldn’t” would be pronounced as “Should-int“. Did you notice how the “n” from not was connected to “should” and that the “o” from “not” was replaced with an apostrophe?
Usually, contractions are pretty straight forward, but a few of them can be a little confusing. One of the most common contractions that can cause confusion (and is often mixed up when writing) is “Your” and “You’re” which sound the same. “Your” is possessive, meaning it is used when something belongs to somebody. For example, “Is this your towel?”. “You’re” means “you are” which is generally used to describe someone. For example, “You’re (you are my best friend) my best friend.”. If we mix these two up and remove the contraction, the sentences no longer make sense i.e. “Is this you are towel?”. While there’s (there is) no difference in pronunciation, it’s important to distinguish between the two in your writing.
There’s another contraction that frequently get mixed up with another word that sounds the same and it’s (it is) “It’s” and “Its”. Again, this boils down to possession. “Its” is possessive while “It’s” is a contraction of “it” and “is”. An example of of “its” is “That dog is wagging its tail.”. The tail belongs to the dog. An example of “it’s” would be, “It’s very hot out today.”. Which is describing the temperature. Again, if you mix these up, the sentences do not make sense i.e. “That dog is wagging it is tail.”.
One other contraction that can cause a little bit of confusion is “Won’t”. “Won’t” is actually a contraction of “Will not”. I know what you’re (you are) thinking, “Why isn’t the contraction of ‘will’ and ‘not’ ‘willn’t’?”. The simple explanation is that “won’t” is a holdover from old english that’s (that has) just managed to stick around. It’s best not to think about it too much.
Below, I’ve provided a list of some of the most common contractions.
- Hasn’t– Has not
- Weren’t– Were not
- Wasn’t– Was not
- He’ll/She’ll/They’ll– He/She/They will
- We’re– We are
- Would’ve/Could’ve/Should’ve– Would/Could/Should have
- I’d– I would
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are LOTS of contractions out there. The best way to learn about them is listen to them and read them in english media.
Using Contractions in Speech
Incorporating contractions into your speech is going to help you sound like a more natural and fluent english speaker because people that speak english as their first language use them all of the time. If you’ve watched any english TV shows or movies, then you’ve probably noticed this before. Here’s an experiment you can do so you can hear how strange it is when someone doesn’t use contractions. Read this quick story with and without contractions and ask yourself which one sounds more natural. “Billy didn’t/did not think it was his time to go. ‘It’s/it is not fair!” He shouted. Billy’s mother couldn’t/could not make him move because he just wouldn’t/would not budge. ‘I won’t/will not move!’ Billy shouted.”
Learning to speak english is difficult. Not only do you need to master all of the words and their meanings, in order to sound natural as an english speaker, you need to learn all of the ways that english speakers twist their own rules. Learning contractions and how to use them correctly is going to help you in your journey to be a fluent english speaker. Don’t give up. Do you see what I did there?
Were there a few words or phrases you were unfamiliar with? Here’s a guide to help you out.
- Pun- A joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings.
- Double entendre- a word or phrase open to two interpretations.
- Cram- Force something into a place or container that is or appears to be too small to contain them.
- Apostrophe- A punctuation mark ( ’ ) used to indicate either possession or the omission of letters or numbers.
- Distinguish- Perceive or point out a difference.
- Boil Down- To Condense or summarize.
- Holdover- A person or thing surviving from an earlier time.
Do you think you’ve got all of that? Test your knowledge and try the quiz!