Contractions: Fine Tuning the English Language

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You’re writing along—a text message, a Facebook update, or something a little more important like an online article—and all of a sudden you type a word that’s a contraction. Contractions? you say. Hint:  I just used two of them in my first sentence. Merriam-Webster defines a contraction as “a shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of a sound or letter.” And I’ll add that when the letter  or sound is omitted, an apostrophe takes its place. By the way, the contractions I used are “you’re” and “that’s.”

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Contractions are perfectly acceptable to use the English language if your writing is more casual. For formal or technical writing, spelling out both words (“you are” or “that is”) is generally preferred. But in everyday writing, contractions are fine, if they’re spelled and used correctly.

Grammar in the Real World

How often have you wished someone happy birthday and they respond with “your welcome”? Too many times if you know the same people as I do. The correct spelling is either “you’re welcome” or “you are welcome.” The word “your” shows possession, like “I like your sweater” whereas the word “you’re” is a contraction for the words “you are.” You wouldn’t say (or write) “your welcome” if you realized that you don’t possess welcome. It’s simply the wrong grammar usage.

Another contraction that often is used when it shouldn’t be is the word “it’s.” The word “it’s” is a perfectly good word, but it is a contraction for the words “it is.” This contraction is often confused with the word “its.” Like the word “your,” the word “its” shows possession. Some examples of the correct usage of these two very similar words follow:

Its:  The dog fetched its stick. (The dog owns the stick. It is the dog’s stick, not mine, not yours. A work around would be to use the gender of the dog and say “The dog fetched his stick.” Again,  the word “his” is possessive, like “its.”

It’s:  Mary thinks it’s too rainy to go to the park. (Mary is saying that she thinks it is too rainy.)

When in Doubt, Sound It Out

Say the words aloud. For these tricky examples, say your sentence using the two words that make up the contraction. If the two words work just as well as the tricky word, the contraction (you’re or it’s) is correct. If you write “The child was so proud of it’s report card,” say aloud “The child was so proud of it is report card.” See how wrong that is? Sound it out aloud and this can save you from using the incorrect word.

For more copy editing tips, check out Copy Editing Forum.

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Contractions: Fine Tuning the English Language, Seekyt
General Contributor
Janice is a writer from Chicago, IL. She created the "simple living as told by me" newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers about Living Better and is a founder of Seekyt.