No burning grammar questions to answer from our readers this month, but we always have a new common grammar gaffe ready to go. This month, we’ll talk about contractions—which ones to use, and which to avoid.
We all know that contractions are the combination of two (and even more) words made into one, with the missing letters represented by an apostrophe.
Most contractions are just fine in all but the most formal of your documents. This often adds a familiarity to your writing style and can even improve the flow of sentences in some cases. Let’s look at a few examples of problematic contractions, categorized by their common root words.
1) Contractions with the word IS.
These can cause some ambiguity of meaning, especially when contracted with a noun. For example, the contraction of the phrase “the teacher is” can show up as “the teacher’s flushed,” meaning her face is red. In writing, the meaning is fairly clear but imagine how it might sound to a listener like a plural noun. It may well sound like “the teachers flushed” (the commode, perhaps?) and change the meaning entirely!
If you take the time to think about it and read out what you’ve written, you might end up making a change to something more like “the teacher is flushed.” A good rule to follow is to stick to the most common contractions used with IS (like it’s, that’s what’s) and avoid those attached to nouns and proper names…or just make a point of using the word. It probably even takes less time to type!
2) Contractions with the words HAVE and WOULD.
We’ve grouped these together, since they’re usually contracted with an apostrophe and a ‘d, as in “I’d rather not go.” With these contractions, your reader might be confused as to whether or not you meant to use the word HAD or the word WOULD. If you add each word back into the example, you can see how the meaning can be different in each case. If there can be any ambiguity as to how your message might be conveyed, again, it’s best to spend the extra second or two to type out the two words in full.
3) The Most Wonky Contractions of All
Surely, none of YOU would use these in your writing, but just in case…DO avoid what we consider to be the most problematic contractions of all. For us, they usually fall within one of three groups. The first are those pesky “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” words. While they are correct, they very often spawn the use of their very incorrectly pronounced (and hopefully never WRITTEN) “could of, would of and should of.” YUCK! It’s best to spell them out before you find yourself using them in your regular speech as well.
The second group includes the contractions that sound just as odd as they look and are best left out of all of your correspondence. These include such gems as we see in phrases like “what’d I say?” “when’re they coming?” Man, these are as hard to type and they are to say! Enough said, just leave them OUT!
The last group include contractions that are almost too long to BE contractions! These include words like “there’re” and our all-time LEAST favourite “I’d’ve” which I hazard to say isn’t really a word at all…or if it is, it should NOT be!
Contractions are very useful tools indeed, but please take the time to think through your choices so that you put forth the very best of impressions!