What Are Contractions in English Grammar? — Summary
Contractions are shortened versions of words or phrases formed by omitting certain letters. In writing, an apostrophe indicates the omission. Examples of contractions are:
- cannot = can’t
- you + are = you’re
- would + have = would’ve
What Is a Contraction?
A contraction is when a word or phrase is shortened, creating a new singular word. This is done by omitting certain letters from the word(s). In writing, an apostrophe replaces the omitted letter(s).
did + not = didn’t
Singular words can be contracted. For example, can’t is the contracted version of cannot and ma’am for madam. It’s even possible to combine three or more words (she would have = she’d’ve), although this is only found in colloquial speech and shouldn’t be used in writing.
The most common type of contraction in English is the two-word contraction. This means that two words are combined to create a condensed word. However, you can’t simply combine any two words and call it a day. There are rules that should be followed if you want to use contractions correctly. Below, we’ll show you how to form contractions, explain the rules, and provide examples.
How To Form a Contraction
Most contractions are formed by shortening the second word. The first word used in a contraction can also be shortened, but this is much more common in informal and casual speech or writing.
It’s also important to remember that the apostrophe does not indicate where the space would be found between the two words. Instead, the apostrophe shows where a letter has been excluded.
has’nt been picked up from school yet.
She hasn’t been picked up from school yet.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s go over how to form contractions.
Keep in Mind
Contractions are usually found in casual speech and informal writing. Many style guides suggest not including contractions in formal writing.
Writing Contractions With Forms of “To Be”
To be is the most common verb in English. It can be a linking verb or an auxiliary verb. It has eight different forms, but only the present simple tense forms—is, am, and are—get contracted.
Is is used for third-person singular subjects. It’s contracted by replacing the “i” with an apostrophe.
She called to inform us that she’s going to be late.
Is is commonly contracted with question words like who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Who is going to be there? = Who’s going to be there?
What is going on? = What’s going on?
Where is he going? = Where’s he going?
When is he arriving? = When’s he arriving?
Why is she asking that? = Why’s she asking that?
How is it going? = How’s it going?
Am is used for first-person singular subjects and only gets contracted with the pronoun “I.” The apostrophe replaces the “a” in “am.”
I’m not sure if I’ll be going to the party or not.
Are is used for second-person singular subjects and first, second, and third-person plural subjects. It is contracted by replacing the “a” with an apostrophe.
- You’re not going to believe what happened.
- We’re visiting my mom in a few days.
- They’re going to be in the Bahamas next week.
- What’re you planning on taking?
It’s important to remember not to end a sentence with a contracted is, am, or are.
Do you know where my
Do you know where my dog is?
Yes, that’s what
Yes, that’s what I am.
I’m curious about where
I’m curious about where they are.
Writing Contractions With Other Auxiliary Verbs
There are other auxiliary verbs that can also be contracted: did, have, (including its conjugations has and had), as well as will and would (which are modals).
Did helps form questions and also expresses negative actions about the past. It can only be contracted with question words (not including when). You contract it by replacing the “di” in “did” with an apostrophe.
What’d you do when you returned?
Will has many different uses. It can be used to form future tenses, express ability or willingness, make requests, complete conditional sentences and more. It’s contracted by replacing the letters “wi” with an apostrophe.
They’ll arrive at the train station at 10 AM.
Would is the past-tense of will. However, it does not get contracted with question words. An apostrophe replaces the letters “woul–.”
She said I’d need more time.
Have forms the present perfect tense with any subject (except the third-person singular). It gets contracted by replacing “ha–” with an apostrophe.
We’ve been here before.
Has forms the present-perfect tense with third-person singular subjects. Use an apostrophe to replace the “ha–.”
It’s been fun.
Had forms the past perfect tense for all pronouns, but it does not get contracted with question words. Its contraction is formed by replacing “ha–” with an apostrophe.
He’d already finished all his work by the time I arrived.
Please note that in American English, have, has, and had do not get contracted when they are the main verbs.
I’ve a tournament tomorrow.
I have a tournament tomorrow.
However, in British English, this is acceptable, but more commonly heard in casual speech rather than formal writing.
Writing Contractions That Include “Not”
Up until now, you may have noticed that:
- The verb to be commonly gets contracted with the subject of its clauses or with question words.
- The other auxiliary verbs usually contract with personal pronouns or questions words (except has, which can also attach to people’s names).
The adverb “not” can also get contracted, but only with auxiliary verbs.
are + not = aren’t
is + not = isn’t
do + not = don’t
did + not = didn’t
does + not = doesn’t
have + not = haven’t
has + not = hasn’t
had + not = hadn’t
were + not = weren’t
was + not = wasn’t
Modal auxiliary verbs can also get contracted with “not.”
cannot = can’t
could + not = couldn’t
will + not = won’t
would + not = wouldn’t
should + not = shouldn’t
must + not = mustn’t
Shall and might can also get contracted with “not” to create shan’t and mightn’t, respectively, but these words are uncommon and outdated.
Additionally, am usually doesn’t get contracted with “not,” but there are some dialects that do (e.g., amn’t in Irish and Scottish English and ain’t which is sometimes used in American English).
Contractions: Problem Areas
Contractions can be a challenge at first, especially when it comes to remembering which letters to omit and where to place the apostrophe.
But some contractions cause even more confusion—for English language learners and native speakers alike—because they’re homophones.
Take for example it’s and its. Many people mistakenly add an apostrophe even though they want to show possession: in that case, use its.
Have you seen the new house? Its backyard is huge.
Similarly, they’re, there, and their also cause a lot of confusion as does let’s and lets.
Remember, only use they’re when you mean “they are.”
They’re going to love the surprise.
Let’s means “let us” while lets is how to conjugate the verb let for third-person singular subjects. However, be careful when using “let’s,” as it’s only used to express a request or suggestion.
Let’s go to the park.
If you’re using “let” meaning “give permission” or “to cause,” then use let us.
Is dad going to
let’s go to the sleepover?
Is dad going to let us go to the sleepover?
Let’s know when you’re arriving.
Let us know when you’re arriving.
Don’t Get Discouraged With Contractions; There’s Help Available
As you can see, there’s a lot to remember regarding contractions. Familiarizing yourself with them if you haven’t already done so is a good idea, especially if you want to improve your fluency in speech and writing.
LanguageTool—a multilingual writing assistant—can ensure proper use of all contractions. Additionally, this advanced spelling and grammar checker can check for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. It’s free and supports more than 30 languages. Give it a try!