Contractions Grammar 101: A Guide With Examples

by | May 22, 2022 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

If you’re like me, you often feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day. There’s never any time to play video games or, you know, exercise. There’s no time to study or to get into Stanford. You, me, Jessie Spano — we’ll take any shortcuts we can get if it means regaining just a few precious moments of time. And that’s where contractions grammar comes in.

contractions grammar

Contractions Grammar Definition

A contraction is a compressed version of a word (or words) that’s created by leaving out one or more letters. In most contractions, an apostrophe replaces the missing letters to denote they’ve been intentionally omitted.

Why do we use contractions? First, they reflect the way people actually talk. For example, if you were picking up a chronically late friend to go on a camping trip, which of the following sounds like how you’d phrase things?

Option A: We will pick you up at 7:30. Do not be late. I am serious, Owen. If you are not ready, we cannot wait around.

Option B: We’ll pick you up at 7:30. Don’t be late. I’m serious, Owen. If you’re not ready, we can’t wait around.

Unless you’re a robot butler, Option B likely sounds much more like how you talk, and that’s because it employs contractions. They make writing flow more smoothly and can also have a positive effect on the overall rhythm of your writing.

Contractions are widely accepted in most forms of writing, including some professional and academic settings, but they do suggest a certain casualness, so it’s best to assess the situation carefully — and read any instructions closely — before you commit to contractions.

That’s the other thing: If you use contractions in an article or essay, it’s best to be consistent. Either use contractions from start to finish or don’t use them at all. Switching between the two can be jarring to the reader.

The exception to this rule is dialogue. In order to preserve what the speaker actually said, if he or she used contractions, you should too when quoting him or her.


contractions writing

Contractions Examples

Contractions typically merge a verb with another word. “Don’t” is a combination of “do” and “not,” for example. The contraction “I’ll” is a shortened form of “I” and “will.” Check out this six-pack of example sentences to see contractions in action:

  1. We would’ve ordered the gluten-free crust if we knew wheat makes you hurl. (would have)
  2. This fall I’m enrolling in clown college. (I am)
  3. What’d your dad say when you told him you burned down that Applebee’s? (What did)
  4. My grandmother says I mustn’t chew my toenails. (must not)
  5. You’ll never guess what we found buried under our swing set. (You will)
  6. Of course, I’ve seen all 40 seasons of “Survivor.” Hasn’t everybody? (I have, Has not)

Given (A) how expansive the English language is, (B) how it’s continually evolving and (C) how impatient most of us are, it should come as little surprise that the English language is stacked with an ever-expanding lineup of contractions that mimic the way you, me and Jessie Spano speak.

Below is a chart that includes more than 100 contractions words that you’re likely to encounter as a reader or deploy as a writer. You’re likely familiar with the vast majority of them, but you might be surprised by some of the base words from which your favorite contractions are built.

Contraction Base Words
aren’t are not
can’t cannot
could’ve could have
couldn’t could not
couldn’t’ve could not have
didn’t did not
doesn’t does not
don’t do not / does not
everybody’s everybody is
everyone’s everyone is
hadn’t had not
had’ve had have
hasn’t has not
haven’t have not
he’d he had / he would
he’ll he shall / he will
he’s he has / he is
how’d how did / how would
howdy how do you do / how do you fare
how’ll how will
how’re how are
how’s how has / how is / how does
I’d I had / I would
I’d’ve I would have
I’ll I shall / I will
I’m I am
I’ve I have
isn’t is not
it’d it would
it’ll it shall / it will
it’s it has / it is
let’s let us
ma’am madam
may’ve may have
might’ve might have
mustn’t must not
mustn’t’ve must not have
must’ve must have
needn’t need not
o’clock of the clock
ol’ old
oughtn’t ought not
she’d she had / she would
she’ll she shall / she will
she’s she has / she is
should’ve should have
shouldn’t should not
shouldn’t’ve should not have
somebody’s somebody has / somebody is
someone’s someone has / someone is
something’s something has / something is
that’ll that shall / that will
that’re that are
that’s that has / that is
that’d that would / that had
there’d there had / there would
there’ll there shall / there will
there’re there are
there’s there has / there is
these’re these are
these’ve these have
they’d they had / they would
they’ll they shall / they will
they’re they are / they were
they’ve they have
this’s this has / this is
those’re those are
those’ve those have
wasn’t was not
we’d we had / we would/ we did
we’d’ve we would have
we’ll we shall / we will
we’re we are
we’ve we have
weren’t were not
what’d what did
what’ll what shall / what will
what’re what are/what were
what’s what has / what is / what does
what’ve what have
when’s when has / when is
where’d where did
where’ll where shall / where will
where’re where are
where’s where has / where is / where does
where’ve where have
which’d which had / which would
which’ll which shall / which will
which’re which are
which’s which has / which is
which’ve which have
who’d who would / who had / who did
who’d’ve who would have
who’ll who shall / who will
who’re who are
who’s who has / who is / who does
who’ve who have
why’d why did
why’re why are
why’s why has / why is / why does
won’t will not
would’ve would have
wouldn’t would not
wouldn’t’ve would not have
you’d you had / you would
you’ll you shall / you will
you’re you are
you’ve you have


contractions words

Poetic Contractions

Just like carpenter jeans and the music of Evanescence, some contractions are doomed to fall out of fashion. Today, when we want to form a contraction from “will not” we use “won’t,” as in “I won’t babysit your kids again until you stop paying me in Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons.”

In the past, both “willn’t” and “wonnot” were contractions for “will not.” How clunky is that contractions grammar, right?

While some archaic contractions have completely disappeared, others simply wonnot die, largely due to your English teacher. These contractions are called poetic contractions, and some of the most common are this dirty dozen right here:

Poetic Contraction Modern Equivalent
o’er over
’tis it is
’twas it was
an and
ne’er never
e’er ever
oft often
ta’en taken
e’en even
th’ the
o’ of
heav’n heaven

As their name suggests, poetic contractions — sometimes referred to as syncope — are found mostly in poetry, where they’re used to give the writing momentum or enhance the rhythm. Below are two examples of poetic contractions from a pair of Edgar Allan Poe’s least popular poems. (That’s a joke. I made these up.)

Put thine dirty dishes in the sink,

or ne’er play Xbox again, dear raven.

Stop! Thief! Her purse hath been ta’en!

‘Twas that man in the tell-tale cap.

Someone stop him! Stop him now!

He runs o’er there toward the Gap.

Informal Contractions

I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t all contractions informal?” You’re right, but some contractions are informal even by contractions grammar standards. These colloquial contractions mimic speech even more closely than the contractions listed above and, as such, are very rarely seen in academic or professional writing — outside of quoted dialogue, of course.

Let’s check out a handful of examples:

  • Just tell your mom that you’re gonna go over to my house after the dance. (going to)
  • Betcha don’t know how many Granny Smith apples I can fit in your toilet! (Bet you)
  • C’mon, Alvin. Just tell us where you hid the diamonds. (Come on)
  • I’mma ask you one more time, Alvin. Where are the diamonds? (I’m going to)
  • Lemme go already. I ain’t telling ya nothing. (Let me, am not, you)

You can use informal contractions liberally in your personal writing, such as in an email or a note to a friend, as well as in your creative writing, but colloquial contractions grammar should generally be avoided in most formal writing.

Below you’ll find a chart containing the most commonly used informal contractions, all of which probably shouldn’t work their way into your next project summary or research report.

Informal Contraction Base Words
ain’t am not / are not / is not / has not / have not
alotta a lot of
betcha bet you
‘bout about
’cause because
c’mon come on
cos because
coulda could have
dunno do not know
‘em them
finna going to
gimme give me
gonna going to
gotcha got you
gotta got to
hafta have to
hasta hast to
I’mma I’m going to
kinda kind of
lemme let me
lotsa lots of
mighta might have
musta must have
outta out of
she’da she would have
shoulda should have
s’more some more
sorta sort of
usta used to
whatcha what are you
woulda would have
wouldna would not have
ya you / you are


contractions examples

Conquering Contractions Grammar

Understanding contractions grammar is largely a matter of repeated exposure. The more you read these shortened word forms, the more deeply ingrained they’ll become in your writing brain.

Do you have any favorite archaic contractions? Any tips for remembering what stands for what? ‘Tis my hope you willn’t refrain from sharing them in th’ comments section below!

Beth Sederstrom
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