Contractions in English Grammar: What You Need to Know

By shortening a word or phrase into something known as a contraction, English speakers can say what they want in a faster, less formal way. However, non-native speakers might feel confused about if and when to use English contractions in both writing and more formal settings.

So, what are the most common contractions in English? And how should you use them in speech and writing? We will answer both of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at a simple contractions definition to better understand how they work:

What are contractions in English?

Contractions are simply shortened words or phrases. Sometimes, a contraction is just the same word with fewer letters, other times it is made up of multiple words that have been combined into one.

More often than not, contractions are denoted by an apostrophe that stands in place of the missing letters. When spoken, shortened words save time and help a conversation remain casual. Here are a few examples of contractions in English:

  • I’ll be there soon. (Replaces: “I will be there soon.”)
  • He isn’t feeling well. (Replaces: “He is not feeling well.”)
  • They should’ve known better. (Replaces: “They should have known better.”)
  • All’s well that ends well. (Replaces: “All is well that ends well.”)

These next few examples are considered informal contractions and are best reserved for casual settings (we’ll give more examples of this later).

  • I like swimmin’ and fishin’. (Replaces: “I like swimming and fishing.”)
  • Lemme think about it. (Replaces: “Let me think about it.”)
  • I dunno. (Replaces: “I do not know.”)

When should contractions be used?

Contractions In Writing

While there is no strict grammar rule limiting the use of contractions to certain formats, they are generally omitted from formal writing like academic essays, business proposals, or otherwise professionally written documents. Contractions are associated with casual conversation, so they can make formal writing seem sloppy or unprofessional.

In literature or informal writing (blog posts, texts, personal emails, etc), writers have more freedom to use contractions as they see fit.

Regardless of the formality of the writing, writers can use contractions when writing dialogue or documenting speech.

Contractions in Speech

Contractions are most commonly used in spoken English. They are indicative of casual conversation, though common contractions can still be used in more formal settings.

For example, a presidential speech might include some contractions, though it will likely have far fewer than a relaxed conversation between two friends.

Common contractions are much more noticeable in written English than they are in spoken English. When speaking, contractions often occur naturally. For example, if you are playing a card game, you might say:

It’s my turn.

If you were to say, “It is my turn,” it could sound too formal or even robotic, depending on the tone. Most native English speakers use contractions without even thinking about it.

Different Kinds of Contractions

There are a few different types of contractions in English. Additionally, there are informal contractions that reflect the way people speak, but are not generally recognized as distinct words in English grammar.

First, let’s look at contractions of subject pronouns and verbs:

Subject Pronoun + Verb

One of the most common forms of contractions combines subject pronouns and verbs. In English, there are only a few verbs that can be contracted this way:

  • Subject Pronoun + “to be”I’m, You’re, He’s, She’s, It’s, They’re, We’re
  • Subject Pronoun + “have”I’ve, You’ve, He’s, She’s, It’s, They’ve, We’ve
  • Subject Pronoun + “will”I’ll, You’ll, He’ll, She’ll, It’ll, They’ll, We’ll
  • Subject Pronoun + “would” or “had”I’d, You’d, He’d, She’d, It’d, They’d, We’d

Verb + “Not”

In the negative form, certain verbs can be contracted with the word “not.” Here is a complete list of contractions in English that use “not” in conjunction with a verb:

  • “To be” + “not”Isn’t, Aren’t, (past) Wasn’t, Weren’t
    • Note: “I am” cannot be contracted in the negative.
  • “Will” + “not”Won’t
  • “Can” + “not”Can’t
  • “Do” + “not”Don’t, Doesn’t (past) Didn’t
  • “Have” + “not”Haven’t, Hasn’t (past) Hadn’t
  • “Would” + “not”Wouldn’t
  • “Could” + “not”Couldn’t
  • “Should” + “not”Shouldn’t
  • “Must” + “not”Mustn’t
  • “Need” + “not”Needn’t
  • “Shall” + “not”Shan’t (less common)
  • “Might” + “not”Mightn’t (less common)
  • “Ought” + “not”Oughtn’t (less common)

Interrogative Adverb Contractions

When asking a question, it is common to combine the interrogative adverb with the verb to form a contraction. Here’s a list (see what we did there?) of contractions in English with all of the interrogative adverbs:

  • Who is = Who’s
  • Who are = Who’re
  • Who will = Who’ll
  • Who had, who would = Who’d
  • Who have = Who’ve
  • What is = What’s
  • What are = What’re
  • What will = What’ll
  • What had, what would = What’d
  • What have = What’ve
  • When is = When’s
  • When are = When’re
  • When will = When’ll
  • When had, when would = When’d
  • When have = When’ve
  • Where is = Where’s
  • Where are = Where’re
  • Where will = Where’ll
  • Where had, where would = Where’d
  • Where have = Where’ve
  • Why is = Why’s
  • Where are = Why’re
  • Why will = Why’ll
  • Why had, why would = Why’d
  • Why have = Why’ve
  • How is = How’s
  • How are = How’re
  • How will = How’ll
  • How had, how would = How’d
  • How have = How’ve

Miscellaneous Contractions

While the terms listed above represent some of the more common and formal contractions in spoken English, there are dozens of other contractions in the English language. Here is a list of contractions that are formally recognized as English terms:

  • Could have = Could’ve
  • Should have = Should’ve
  • Would have = Would’ve
  • Might have = Might’ve
  • Must have = Must’ve
  • That would = That’d
  • That will = That’ll
  • That is, that has = That’s
  • There had, there would = There’d
  • There will, there shall = There’ll
  • There is, there has = There’s
  • It was = ‘Twas
  • Let us = Let’s
  • Madame = Ma’am
  • Ever = E’er
  • Never = Ne’er
  • And = ‘n’
  • Over = O’er
  • Old = Ol’

Informal Contractions

Finally, there are a number of contractions that reflect how words sound when people speak. However, unlike some of the more common contractions listed above, these are never used in formal writing. Here is a list of informal English contractions:

“Of”

  • Kind of = Kinda
  • Sort of = Sorta
  • Out of = Outta
  • A lot of = A lotta

“Have”

  • Should have = Shoulda
  • Could have = Coulda
  • Would have = Woulda
  • Might have = Mighta
  • Must have = Musta

“To”

  • Got to = Gotta
  • Want to = Wanna
  • Going to = Gonna
  • Ought to = Oughta
  • Have to = Hafta
  • Has to = Hasta
  • Used to = Usta
  • Supposed to = Supposta

“You”

  • Don’t you = Dontcha
  • Won’t you = Wontcha
  • What are you = Whatcha
  • Bet you = Betcha
  • Got you = Gotcha
  • You = ya

Words Ending in -ing

  • Dancing = Dancin’
  • Going = Goin’
  • Arguing = Arguin’
  • Cooking = Cookin’

Miscellaneous

  • Don’t know = Dunno
  • Let me = Lemme
  • Give me = Gimme
  • Because = Cus
  • Isn’t it? = Innit?
  • Them = ‘Em

Conclusion

We hope you found this list of contractions in English helpful! While contractions grammar may seem confusing at first, it is really just a way for English speakers and writers to save time and space.

If you’d like to learn about more contractions in English, visit Magoosh Speaking today!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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