English editing requires us to manage contractions correctly. For example, we may come across some dialogue with exchanges such as,

“I ain’t saying Dr. Jones wouldn’t’ve done that.”

“What y’all lookin’ at?”

It’s important that we understand how contractions work and how to set them out properly.

A contraction occurs where letters have been omitted from a word. This happens both in standard and in colloquial English.

It is possible to speak and write standard English without using any contractions, though this would sound a little odd. Colloquial English uses many contractions, and there are also dialectal contractions, such as the Southern American and African American Vernacular “y’all” illustrated above.

Below are the most common standard contractions.

1)      With the present tense of the verb to be:

I am – I’m

He is – He’s

It is – It’s (Don’t confuse this with the possessive pronoun its, as in “The bird will return to its nest”)

We are – We’re

You are – You’re (don’t confused this with the possessive pronoun your, as in “your mother and father”).

They are – They’re (Don’t confuse this with the possessive pronoun their or even the adverb, there).

2)      With the future tense of the verb to be:

I will – I’ll, etc.

3)      With the present tense of the verb to have:

I have – I’ve, etc.

4)      With the past tense of the verb to have:

I had – I’d, etc.

5)      Using “not” in verb phrases, i.e. the negative form:

is not – isn’t, are not – aren’t, was not – wasn’t, were not – weren’t (all from to be);

will not – won’t, would not – wouldn’t (from will, i.e. to be in the present tense);

has not – hasn’t, have not – haven’t, had not – hadn’t (from to have);

cannot – can’t, could not – couldn’t (using can);

must not – mustn’t (using must).

6)    Using “not” with do, does, did (from to be):

I do not  –I don’t.

I did not– I didn’t

He does not – He doesn’t.

What normally happens in contractions is that an apostrophe replaces missing letters

(though this is not the case with “will not”, which becomes “won’t”).

Contractions leave no gaps between the letters and the apostrophe.

There is online help available for using contractions that occur in standard English.

Another type of contraction, where the all but the first and last letters of a word are missing, is illustrated by Dr. Seuss (Doctor); St. Patrick (Saint), and Mrs. Ghandi. American English requires the full point after these contractions, whereas British English leaves it out.

Understanding how contractions work helps us to orient the apostrophe correctly in contractions such as “ ’tis” for “it is” and in “the spirit of ’76” for “the spirit of 1976.”

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