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The Popularity and Purpose of Contractions

Akshat Biyani
Akshat Biyani

English, like any other language, is dynamic and ever-evolving. Among the 1400-year-old language’s most fascinating features, particularly in its spoken form, is the extensive use of contractions and slang. These are more than technical concepts–they are practical tools to help you sound like a native English speaker.

But first, you need to understand them.

Common contractions in English

Contractions are the combination of two words into one by omitting certain letters and replacing them with an apostrophe. While contractions might seem like a small detail, they play a significant role in making spoken English sound natural and fluid. Slang, on the other hand, is informal vocabulary that's used by specific groups or communities. Both slang and contractions go a long way in strengthening your communication.  

In this article, we’ll delve into the popularity and purpose of contractions, and how mastering them can help you speak English naturally, with greater ease and authenticity.

Contractions In Everyday Life

Contractions are so ingrained in the English language that it's nearly impossible to have a conversation without encountering them. 

Read that last sentence again: Did you notice the contraction?

The word ‘it’s’ is used as a contraction in that sentence. ‘It’s’ is a shortened way of saying ‘it is’.

From casual conversations with friends to formal business meetings, contractions are everywhere. Unlike slang, which can differ vastly from place to place, contractions are a consistent practice in English. They’re so common that if you were to speak without using them, you would sound overly formal and stilted.

For example, consider the sentence: 

'I cannot attend the meeting tomorrow.' 

While grammatically correct, it feels stiff. Most native speakers would opt for the contraction, saying, 'I can't attend the meeting tomorrow'. The contraction ‘can't’ not only shortens the sentence but also makes it sound more natural and conversational.

Why Do We Use Contractions?

Just like the evolution of slang, contractions, too, have their own history. Some contractions have been with us since Old English, while others are more recent inventions. 

There are several reasons why English has naturally evolved to use these contractions: 

Ease of Pronunciation

Contractions simplify the pronunciation of words and phrases. Speaking all the time can be tiresome. English, especially, can be a challenging language to pronounce due to its vast vocabulary and complex rules. Contractions make speaking easier. For instance, ‘I have’ becomes ‘I've’, which is quicker and smoother to say.

Conversational Flow

By reducing the number of syllables and awkward consonant clusters, contractions help sentences flow better. At the same time, they maintain the rhythm of conversations by not changing anything else in the sentence. Without them, conversations might feel disjointed and cumbersome. 

Imagine saying, ‘I am going to the store where I will buy some groceries’ instead of ‘I'm going to the store where I'll buy some groceries’. 

The former sounds robotic while the latter is far more fluid.

Informality and Emotion

Communication isn’t just the transmission of facts–it’s the expression of feelings. Contractions add an informal and emotional touch to what you’re saying. 

When people want to convey warmth or familiarity, they tend to use contractions. For example, ‘Do you want to hang out?’ versus ‘Do you wanna hang out?’ The latter is more informal and personal. 

Contractions can also convey urgency. For example, ‘I am coming!’ might not have the same sense of immediacy as ‘I’m coming!’

Space and Time Efficiency

In written communications, you often want to save space and time. Whether it's in a text message, an email, or a social media post, contractions keep your messages concise. They allow you to express your thoughts just as clearly while spending less time, using fewer characters or words.

Types of Contractions

Several types of contractions exist, which can be applied to various parts of speech. Here are some common examples:

1. Pronouns & Auxiliary Verbs

Pronouns are words that are used instead of nouns and can refer to people. They are frequently contracted along with auxiliary verbs, which are verbs that take a supporting role to the main verb. Auxiliary verbs include ‘be’, ‘do’, and ‘have’. Together, these can look like:

  • ‘I am’ becomes ‘I'm’. 
  • ‘You are’ becomes ‘you're’.
  • ‘they are’ becomes ‘they're’.
  • ‘I have’ becomes ‘I’ve’.
  • ‘He had’ becomes ‘he’d’.

2. Interrogative Adverbs

Interrogative sentences are sentences that ask questions or request information. When writing them, you can combine interrogative adverbs and verbs to create contractions. 

For example, the interrogative ‘what’ and the verb ‘is’ can be paired to create ‘what’s’. 

In a sentence: ‘What’s your name?’

3. Negatives

Contractions are commonly used to create negative forms. This takes the form of a verb + not. For instance:

  • ‘Did not’ becomes ‘didn't’.
  • ‘Could not’ becomes ‘couldn't’.
  • ‘Should not’ becomes ‘shouldn't’.

4. Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are those that express possibility or necessity, like ‘can’, ‘will’, ‘must’, and ‘should’. These are contracted as: 

  • ‘You can not’ becomes ‘you can't’.
  • ‘I will not’ becomes ‘I won't’.
  • ‘She must have’ becomes ‘she must've’.

5. Informal Contractions

These contractions are known as informal because they represent how a contracted word sounds. The contraction ‘gonna’ is a colloquial contraction of the phrase ‘going to’. 

Mastering Contractions

If you’re learning English, you’ve gotta master contractions! 

That last sentence had 2 formal contractions (you’re’ and ‘you’ve’) and one informal contraction (‘gotta’). If you want to learn how to use these, and other, contractions proficiently, follow these tips:

Listen Actively: Pay close attention to how native speakers use contractions in everyday conversation. This will help you understand their natural rhythm and intonation.

  • Practice Pronunciation: Keep practicing contractions until they become second nature. Focus on the reduction of syllables and the smooth flow of speech.
  • Reading Aloud: Read books, articles, or scripts aloud, incorporating contractions as you go. This will help you develop the habit of using them naturally.
  • Engage in Conversations: Make a habit of speaking with native speakers or language partners. The more you converse, the more you'll naturally incorporate contractions into your speech.
  • Use Contractions in Writing: When appropriate, use contractions in your written communication as well. This will help reinforce your understanding and usage of contractions.
  • Practice with Exercises: Utilize language learning resources that provide exercises specifically aimed at contractions. You can find these on language-learning online platforms, guidebooks, or YouTube videos.

The Easiest Way To Learn Contractions (& More!)

Mastering the use of both slang and contractions is complicated. Even though contractions are far more straightforward than the mysterious world of slang, using them fluently still requires a proactive effort.

The easiest way to comprehensively learn slang, contractions, and all the other diverse features of the English language is through Immigo

Our live-speaking courses offer personalized learning experiences using the best of real instructors and Immigo AI. You'll learn more than just the technicalities of the language–our focus is on giving you the confidence to communicate as naturally as possible.

Kickstart your English learning journey today with a 7-day free trial! 

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