Contraction (grammar)

Contraction (grammar)
"I would not have" contracted to "I’dn’t’ve."

A contraction is a shortened version of the written and spoken forms of a word, syllable, or word group, created by omission of internal letters.[1] In traditional grammar, contraction can denote the formation of a new word from one word or a group of words, for example, by elision. This often occurs in rendering a common sequence of words or, as in French, in maintaining a flowing sound.

In strict analysis, contractions should not be confused with abbreviations or acronyms (including initialisms), with which they share some semantic and phonetic functions, though all three are connoted by the term "abbreviation" in loose parlance.[1] Contraction is also distinguished from clipping, where beginnings and endings are omitted.



English grammar series
English grammar
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An informal type of contraction occurs frequently in speech and writing, in which a syllable is substituted by an apostrophe and/or other mode of elision, e.g., can't for "cannot", won't for "will not". Such contractions are often either negations with not or combinations of pronouns with auxiliary verbs, e.g., I'll for "I will". At least one study has sought to analyze the category of negative informal contractions as the attachment of an inflectional suffix.[citation needed]

Full form Contracted Notes
not –n't
let us let's only contracted for first person plural imperative (e.g., not for "Let us go" as a third-party command)
am –'m only in "I'm"
are –'re
is –'s
does very informal, as in "What's he do there every day?"
as nonstandard English dialect for the relative pronoun "that"
have –'ve American English only contracts forms of have when used as auxiliaries[citation needed]
had –'d
did very informal, as in "Where'd he go?"
will, shall –'ll
of o'– used mostly in o'clock, where it is mandatory in contemporary use
it 't– Archaic, except in stock uses such as 'Twas the night before Christmas
them 'em contracted from hem, but used for modern them
him 'im
is not isn't, or ain't contracted from am not but used for modern is not; generally deprecated in modern use
you all y'all used in the southern United States as a second-person plural pronoun (possessive form y'all's)

Informal speech sometimes allows multiple contracted forms to pile up, producing constructions like wouldn't've for "would not have".

A commonly used English contraction of two words that does not fall into either of the above categories is let's, a contraction of "let us" that is used in forming the imperative mood in the first-person plural (e.g., "Let's go [somewhere]"). Use of the uncontracted "let us" typically carries an entirely different meaning, e.g., "Let us go [free]". "Let us" is rarely seen in the former sense and "let's" is never seen in the latter one.

Informal contractions are, by their nature, more frequent in speech than writing, e.g., John'd fix your television if you asked him. Contractions in English are generally not mandatory as in some other languages. It is almost always acceptable to write out (or say) all of the words of a contraction, though native speakers of English may judge a person not using contractions as sounding overly formal. Let's, as mentioned above, is an exception to this rule.

Writers of English commonly confuse the possessive form of the pronoun it with its compounded contractions. The possessive form (its) has no apostrophe, while the contraction of it is or it has does have an apostrophe (it's). The same is true of the possessive form of "you" (your) with its contraction you're for "you are". See List of frequently misused English words.

The linguistic function of contractions is similar to and overlaps that of portmanteau words. Some forms of syncope may also be considered contractions, such as wanna for want to, gonna for going to, and others common in colloquial speech.

Contractions may perform the same function as abbreviations. According to one source,[1] strictly speaking an abbreviation is formed by omitting the ending of a word, for which a period is substituted, e.g., Lieut. for "Lieutenant". According to this view, contractions omit the middle of a word, and are generally not terminated with a full point, e.g., Ltd for "Limited". However, US style uses more points than British style does, e.g., in Ltd., in Jr. instead of Jr for "Junior", in Mr., etc.

Contractions are used sparingly in formal written English. The APA style guide prefers that contractions, including Latin abbreviations, not be used in scholarly papers, and recommends that the equivalent phrase in English be written out. An exception is made for the Latin abbreviation et al. (for et alii, "and others"), which may be used with citations outside parentheses.[2]


Contractions exist in Classical Chinese, some of which are used in modern Chinese.

Full Form[3] Transliteration[4] Contraction[3] Transliteration[4] Notes[3]
之乎 tjə ga tjᴀ In some rarer cases 諸 can also be contraction for 有之乎. 諸 can be used on its own with the meaning of "all, the class of", as in 諸侯 "the feudal lords."
若之何 njᴀ tjə gaj 奈何 najs gaj
於之 ʔa tjə ʔrjan 於之 is never used; only 焉.
之焉 tjə ʔrjan tjan Rare.
于之 wja tjə wjan Rare. The prepositions 於, 于, and 乎 are of different origin, but used interchangeably (except that 乎 can also be used as a final question particle).
如之 nja tjə njan
曰之 wjot tjə wjən
不之 pjə tjə pjət
毋之 mja tjə mjət 弗 and 勿 were originally not contractions, but were reanalyzed as contractions in the Warring States Period.
而已 njə ljəʔ njəʔ
胡不 ga pjə gap 胡 is a variant of 何.
也乎 ljᴀjʔ ga ljaʔ Also written 歟.
也乎 ljᴀjʔ ga zjᴀ Also written 耶. Probably a dialectal variant of 與.
不乎 pjə ga pja 夫 has many other meanings.


The French language has a variety of mandatory contractions to facilitate ease of speech, similar to English, as in C'est la vie ("That's life"), where c'est stands for ce + est ("that is"). The formation of these contractions is called elision.

In general, any monosyllabic word ending in e caduc (schwa) will contract if the following word begins with a vowel, h or y (as h is silent and absorbed by the sound of the succeeding vowel; y sounds like i). In addition to cec'- (demonstrative pronoun "that"), these words are quequ'- (conjunction, relative pronoun, or interrogative pronoun "that"), nen'- ("not"), ses'- ("himself", "herself", "itself", "oneself" before a verb), jej'- ("I"), mem'- ("me" before a verb), tet'- (informal singular "you" before a verb), lel'- (masculine singular "the"; or "he", "it" before a verb or after an imperative verb and before the word y or en), and ded'- ("of"). Unlike with English contractions, however, these contractions are mandatory: one would never say (or write) *ce est or *que elle.

In addition, the feminine definite article la mandatorily contracts to l'- before a word beginning with a vowel sound, as in l'idée, and when la is used as an object pronoun it contracts before a verb or after an imperative verb and before the word y or en.

Moi ("myself") and toi (informal "yourself") mandatorily contract to m'- and t'- respectively after an imperative verb and before the word y or en.

It is also mandatory to avoid the repetition of a sound when the preposition si ("if") is followed by il ("he", "it") or ils ("they"), which begin with the same vowel sound i: *si ils'il ("if it", if he"); *si ilss'ils ("if they").

Certain prepositions are also mandatorily merged with masculine and plural direct articles: au for à le, aux for à les, du for de le, and des for de les. However, the contraction of cela (demonstrative pronoun "that") to ça is optional and informal.

In informal speech, a personal pronoun may sometimes be contracted onto a following verb. For example, je ne sais pas (IPA: [ʒənəsɛpa], "I don't know") may be pronounced roughly chais pas (IPA: [ʃɛpa]), with the ne being completely elided and the [ʒ] of je being mixed with the [s] of sais.[original research?]


In Italian, prepositions merge with direct articles in predictable ways. The prepositions a, da, di, in, su, con and per combine with the various forms of the direct article, namely il, lo, la, l', i, gli, gl', and le.

il lo la l' i gli (gl') le
a al allo alla all' ai agli (agl') alle
da dal dallo dalla dall' dai dagli (dagl') dalle
di del dello della dell' dei degli (degl') delle
in nel nello nella nell' nei negli (negl') nelle
su sul sullo sulla sull' sui sugli (sugl') sulle
con col (collo) (colla) (coll') coi (cogli) (colle)
per (pel) (pello) (pella) (pell') (pei) (pegli) (pelle)
  • Contractions with a, da, di, in, and su are mandatory, but those with con and per are optional.
  • Words in parentheses are no longer commonly used, but some still exist in common expressions such as colla voce.
  • Formerly, gl' was used before words beginning with i, however it is no longer in common use.

The words ci and è (form of essere, to be) and the words vi and è are contracted into c'è and v'è (both meaning "there is").

  • C'è / V'è un problema” — There is a problem

The words dove and è are contracted into dov'è ("where is").


Spanish has two mandatory phonetic contractions between prepositions and articles: al (to the) for a el, and del (of the) for de el (not to be confused with a él, meaning to him, and de él, meaning his or, more literally, of him). And other mandatory contractions between prepositions and pronouns: conmigo for con mí (with me), contigo for con ti (with you), consigo for con sí (with himself/herself/itself/themselves).

In informal spoken registers of Spanish, the word para, “for”, can be contracted to pa, for example in the subordinating conjunction pa'que (from para que "in order that"): Pa'que te enteres. Another frequent informal use is the elision of d in the past participle suffix -ado, pronouncing cansado as cansao. The elision of d in -ido is considered even more informal. Both elisions are however common in Andalusian Spanish. Thus the Andalusian quejío for quejido (“lament”) has entered Standard Spanish as a term for a special feature of Flamenco singing. Similar distinctions are made with the words bailaor(a) and cantaor(a) as contracted versions of the literal translations for dancer and singer exclusively used for Flamenco, versus the bailarín and cantante of standard Spanish. The perceived vulgarity of the silent d may lead to hypercorrections like *bacalado for bacalao (stockfish) or *Bilbado for Bilbao.[5]


In Portuguese, contractions are common. Several prepositions regularly contract with certain articles and pronouns. For instance, de (of) and por (by; formerly per) combine with the definite articles o and a (masculine and feminine forms of "the" respectively), producing do, da (of the), pelo, pela (by the). The preposition de contracts with the pronouns ele and ela (he, she), producing dele, dela (his, her). In addition, some verb forms contract with enclitic object pronouns: e.g., the verb amar (to love) combines with the pronoun a (her), giving amá-la (to love her). See a list at Wikipedia in Portuguese: List of contracted prepositions.


In informal, spoken German prepositional phrases, one can often merge the preposition and the article; for example, von dem becomes vom, zu dem becomes zum, or an das becomes ans. Some of these are so common that they are mandatory. In informal speech, also aufm for auf dem, unterm for unter dem, etc. are used, but would be considered to be incorrect if written, except maybe in quoted direct speech, in appropriate context and style.

Local languages in German-speaking areas

Regional dialects of German, and various local languages which usually were already used long before today's Standard German was created, do use contractions usually more frequently than German, but varying widely between different local languages. The informally spoken German contractions are observed almost everywhere, most often accompanied by additional ones, such as in den becoming in'n (sometimes im) or haben wir becoming hamwer, hammor, hemmer, or hamma depending on local intonation preferences. Bavarian German features several more contractions such as gesund sind wir becoming xund samma which are schematically applied to all word or combinations of similar sound. Features like that are found in all central and southern language regions. A sample from Berlin: Sagen [Sie] einmal, Meister, kann man hier einmal hinein? is spoken as Samma, Meesta, kamma hier ma rin?

Several West Central German dialects along the Rhine River have possibly under the influence of French, built contraction patterns involving long phrases and entire sentences. In speech, words are often concatenated, and frequently the process of "liaison" is used. So, [Dat] kriegst Du nicht may become Kressenit, or Lohß mer jonn, han ich jesaat may becomes Lomejon haschjesaat.

Mostly, there are no binding orthographies for local dialects of German, hence writing is left to a great extent to authors and their publishers. Outside of quotations, at least, they usually pay little attention to print more than the most commonly spoken contractions, so as not to degrade their readability. The use of apostrophes to indicate omissions is a varying and considerably less frequent process than in English-language publications.


Latin contains several examples of contractions. One such case is preserved in the verb nolo (I am unwilling/do not want) which was formed by a contraction of ne volo (volo meaning “I want”). Similarly this is observed in the first person plural and third person plural forms (nolumus and nolunt respectively).


Some contractions in rapid speech include ~っす (-ssu) for です (desu) and すいません (suimasen) for すみません (sumimasen). では (dewa) is often contracted to じゃ (ja). In certain grammatical contexts the particle の (no) is contracted to simply ん (n).

When used after verbs ending in the conjunctive form ~て (-te), certain auxiliary verbs and their derivations are often abbreviated. Examples:

Original Form Transliteration Contraction Transliteration
~ている/~ていた/~ています/etc. -te iru / -te ita / -te imasu / etc. ~てる/~てた/~てます/etc. -te ru / -te ta / -te masu / etc.
~ていく/~ていった//etc.* -te iku / -te itta / etc.* ~てく/~てった/etc.* -te ku / -te tta / etc.*
~ておく/~ておいた/~ておきます/etc. -te oku / -te oita / -te okimasu / etc. ~とく/~といた/~ときます/etc. -toku / -toita / -tokimasu / etc.
~てしまう/~てしまった/~てしまいます/etc. -te shimau / -te shimatta / -te shimaimasu / etc. ~ちゃう/~ちゃった/~ちゃいます/etc. -chau / -chatta / -chaimasu / etc.
~でしまう/~でしまった/~でしまいます/etc. -de shimau / -de shimatta / -de shimaimasu / etc. ~じゃう/~じゃった/~じゃいます/etc. -jau / -jatta / -jaimasu / etc.
~ては -te wa ~ちゃ -cha
~では -de wa ~じゃ -ja
~なくては -nakute wa ~なくちゃ -nakucha

* this abbreviation is never used in the polite conjugation, to avoid the resultant ambiguity between an abbreviated ikimasu (go) and the verb kimasu (come).

The ending ~なければ (-nakereba) can be contracted to ~なきゃ (-nakya) when it is used to indicate obligation. It is often used without an auxiliary, e.g. 行かなきゃ(いけない) (ikanakya (ikenai)) "I have to go."

Other times, contractions are made to create new words or to give added or altered meaning:

  • The word 何か (nanika) "something" is contracted to なんか (nanka) to make a colloquial word with a meaning along the lines of "sort of," but which can be used with almost no meaning. Its usage is as a filler word is similar to English "like."
  • じゃない (ja nai) "is not" is contracted to じゃん (jan) which is used at the end of statements to show the speaker's belief or opinion, often when it is contrary to that of the listener, e.g. いいじゃん! (ii jan!) "What, it's fine!"
  • The commonly used particle-verb phrase という (to iu) is often contracted to ~って/~て (-tte/-te) to give a more informal or noncommittal feeling.
  • といえば (to ieba), the conditional form of という (to iu) mentioned above, is contracted to ~ってば (-tte ba) to show the speaker's annoyance at the listener's failure to listen to, remember, or heed what the speaker has said, e.g. もういいってば! (mō ii tte ba!), “I already told you I don't want to talk about it anymore!”.
  • The common words だ (da) and です (desu) are older contractions that originate from である (de aru) and でございます (de gozaimasu). These are fully integrated into the language now, and are not generally thought of as contractions; however in formal writing (e.g. literature, news articles, or technical/scientific writing), である (de aru) is used in place of だ (da).

Various dialects of Japanese also use their own specific contractions which are often unintelligible to speakers of other dialects.


Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in Central Asia, includes some verbal suffixes that are actually contracted forms of compound verbs (serial verbs). For instance, sëtip alidu (sell-manage, "manage to sell") is usually written and pronounced sëtivaldu, with the two words forming a contraction and the [p] leniting into a [v] or [w].[original research?]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Roberts R et al. (2005). New Hart's Rules: The handbook of style for writers and editors. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198610416.  :p.167
  2. ^ APA Style Quick Reference (PDF) at Virginia Tech
  3. ^ a b c Edwin G. Pulleyblank (1995). Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 978-0774805056. 
  4. ^ a b Old Chinese reconstruction search containing William H. Baxter's reconstructions.
  5. ^ Ultracorrección in the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, 1st edition, October 2005, Real Academia Española.

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