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What Are Contractions? Commonly Used Contractions

Contractions are words that have been conjoined through the use of an apostrophe, and the omission of certain letters and sounds: haven't, wouldn't couldn't.

What’s a contraction?

Contractions are abbreviated words that have been combined and shortened through an apostrophe, like wasn’t. Wasn’t combines two words (was + not), and replaces the letter ‘o’ with an apostrophe. We use contractions all the time, especially in conversation and text message. However, because contractions are abbreviations, they can be seen as informal or casual. When it comes to any formal or academic writing purposes, it’s best to avoid the use of these convenient (and creative) forms of shorthand.

What are contractions in English?

How to form contractions in writing

  • I’ll be at the office today.
  • I haven’t read that book.
  • What’d you do this weekend?
  • What’s going on with you?

Each of these sentences uses a contraction, which are in bold: I’ll, haven’t, what’d, what’s, I’m, are all words that have been conjoined through the use of an apostrophe, and the omission of certain letters and sounds:

  1. I’ll (I + will) omits the “w” in will and replaces it with an apostrophe.
  2. Haven’t (have + not) omits the “o” in not with an apostrophe.
  3. What’d (what + did) omits the first two letters from did.
  4. What’s (what + is) omits “i” from is.
  5. Couldn’t (could + not) omits the “o” from not.

Each of the contractions above are made by combining either a pronoun and a verb, or a verb and adverb or negative modifier, namely not. For example, I’ll (I + will) uses the first person singular pronoun I with the verb (form of to be) will in the future tense.

How to use contractions

Tip 1: Learn the different forms contractions take

Contractions can be confusing, but what makes them even trickier is that some spell and sound the exact same despite being comprised of different words. For example, look at the contraction there’s as an example: there’s can be a combination of there + is or there + has. We can tell which form of there’s is being used based on the sentence; however, to discern this we first must learn the various ways to construct contractions.

There’s been a delay (there + has)

There’s snow on the ground! (there + is)

I’d rather go tomorrow (I + would)

I’d better get dressed (I + had)

Tip 2: Don’t confuse contractions for possessives

‍Because both contractions and possessive nouns use apostrophes, we regularly get them confused with each other. Perhaps one of the most common errors in the English language—let’s explore the difference:

The dog’s injured. (dog + is)

The dog’s injured leg will get better. (possessive)

Despite the possessive and the contracted form of “dog’s” being identical, they have distinct meanings: the first sentence uses ‘s to signify a shortened form; the second sentence uses an apostrophe to denote possession/association.

Tip 3: Don’t confuse contractions for possessive pronouns

It’s a wise dog that scratches its own fleas.

This example is borrowed from Strunk and White’s seminal writing style manual, The Elements of Style. This example beautifully illustrates the distinction between it’s as a contraction and its as a possessive (i.e., the first it’s combines it + is; its as a possessive pronoun does not use an apostrophe).

Types of contractions lists


Contractions that are formed in the negative use the negative modifiernot‘, and an auxiliary verb  or modal verbs (such as can, could, have, would, etc.)

I haven’t done the dishes yet.

He hasn’t passed his driving test.

We aren’t available this weekend.


Modal verbs, include can, could, would, should, will, etc., and express “express permission, ability, prediction, possibility, or necessity.”

You’ll have to wait and see if you passed the test.

Who would’ve guessed that would be the way to the beach?

I would’ve asked if they take reservations if I’d I known they’d be this busy.

A way to think about modal verbs is that they say something nonfactual, or counter-factual. The third sentence is an instructive example, ‘I would’ve asked if they take reservations if I’d known they’d be this busy.’ Would have = would’ve combines the auxiliary verb, would, with the verb have. Would’ve is a modal verb contraction; it expresses something other than what is.

Commonly used contractions

could’vecould have
he’llhe will
he’dhe had, he would
he’she has, he is
here’shere is
how’dhow did, how would
how’llhow will
how’rehow are
how’show has, how is
I’dI had, I would
I’llI will
I’mI am
I’veI have
it’dit had, it would
it’llit will
it’dit had, it would
it’sit has, it is
let’slet us
might’vemight have
must’vemust have
she’dshe had, she would
she’llshe will
she’sshe has, she is
should’veshould have
somebody’ssomebody has, somebody is
someone’ssomeone has, someone is
something’ssomething has, something is
that’dthat would
that’llthat will
that’sthat has, that is
there’rethere are
there’sthere is, there has
these’llthese will
these’rethese are
they’dthey had, the would
they’llthey will
they’rethey are
they’vethey have
this’llthis will
this’sthis has, this is
those’llthose will
we’dwe had, we would
we’llwe will
we’rewe are
we’vewe have
what’dwhat did
what’llwhat will
what’rewhat are
what’swhat has, what is
what’vewhat have
when’dwhen did
when’swhen has, when is
where’dwhere did
where’llwhere will
where’rewhere are
where’swhere has, where is
where’vewhere have
which’swhich has, which is
who’dwho did, who had, who would
who’llwho will
who’rewho are
who’swho has, who is
who’vewho have
why’dwhy did
why’rewhy are
why’swhy has, why is
would’vewould have
you’dyou had, you would
you’llyou will
you’reyou are
you’veyou have

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  1. ESL, contractions list.

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