A contraction is a shortcut word, usually with an apostrophe to substitute for missing letters. It may be a combination of two words or just a shorter word.
Contractions are often used in spoken language, but should be used less often in written form, as I will describe below.
I + am = I’m
I + have = I’ve
I + will = I’ll
I + had = I’d
These are usually OK to use in emails, but perhaps not in formal writing.
Some contractions can be confusing because they can mean multiple things.
She’s = She + is = She + has
“She’s an ugly dog” could get you in big trouble if you meant “she has” and she thinks you meant “she is!”
Some contractions are confused with homonyms (sound the same):
It + is = It’s – confused with the possessive “its”
We + are = We’re – confused with the verb form “were”
You + are = You’re – confused with the possessive “your”
They + are = They’re – confused with “there” and “their”
In these cases, it is best to spell out both words rather than use a contraction.
A similar argument can be made for “he’d,” which could mean “he had” or “he would.” Again, spell out both words to remove confusion.
One contraction form that is fairly acceptable in written form is:
not = n’t
He wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, didn’t, wasn’t and won’t (= will not) convey understandable thoughts without sounding stilted or stuffy.
Compare “Don’t you like it?” with “Do not you like it?”
See what I mean?
Another acceptable contraction:
Let us = Let’s (first person plural imperative, not “allow us”)
Compare “Let’s go.” with “Let us go.”
The first is the beginning of an adventure; the second is the end of bondage.
Some contractions are only used in writing.
Gov’t = Government
Int’l = International
Some contractions are considered to be very informal and should be avoided in most written works, with the exception of quoted dialogue.
ain’t = am not
gonna = going to
lemme = let me
getcha = get you
meetcha = meet you
don’tcha = don’t you
“I ain’t gonna eat worms, no way!”
“Lemme getcha some snails, then.”
“Pleased to meetcha! It’s sure hot, don’tcha think?”
Sometimes in everyday speech you end up with compound contractions.
I’d’ve = I would have
wouldn’t’ve = would not have
These should be avoided in business writing.
Another one to be avoided:
Them = ’em
“Love ’em and leave ’em.”
Remember the Rock’em Sock’em Robots toys? WAY before Nintendo!
There are a few old contractions that are often used in writing:
madam = ma’am (make sure you use the contraction in Texas)
of = o’ (ten o’clock, song title “Peg o’ My Heart”)
it was = ’twas
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house.
It was the night before Christmas and….
Spelling it out totally changes the poem from anapestic meter to dactylic meter. That takes poetic license a tad too far!