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Contractions Grammar

When to Use Contractions in English

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Contractions' grammar concerns auxiliary verbs. Contractions are formed by shortening auxiliary verbs.

Examples:

They are going to meet their friends in St. Louis.
They are going -> They're going
They're going to meet their friends in St. Louis.

She is not a teacher.
She is not -> She isn't
She isn't a teacher.

Remember that auxiliary verbs are used when conjugating principal verbs for almost every tense in English. Here are some examples of a number of auxiliary verbs that take contractions. Pay special attention to how the contractions' grammar remains the same.

Present Continuous -> is / am / are:

We are watching TV.
We are watching -> We're watching
We're watching TV.

Present Perfect - have / has:

Susan has not visited her friends for a long time.
We has not -> Susan hasn't
Susan hasn't visited her friends for a long time.

The important exceptions to this rule are the present simple and past simple tenses.

Present Simple -> do / does:

They live in San Diego. (no auxiliary verb in the positive)

BUT

She does not work at the supermarket.
She does not -> She doesn't
She doesn't work at the supermarket.

Past Simple -> did:

Mary bought a new coat last week.

BUT

They did not attend the meeting.
They did not -> They didn't
They didn't attend the meeting.

Contractions are used in only the positive and negative forms, but not for yes/no questions. Here is a short example to illustrate:

Future -> will:

He'll help you with your homework.
They won't like that!

BUT

Will she come to the party?

Contractions are used in the question form when using question words such as 'who' or 'what'. Here are some examples:

Present Perfect -> have / has

Who has been invited to the party?
Who has been -> Who's been
Who's been invited to the party?

Present Continuous -> is / am / are:

Where is Tom working today?
Where is -> Where's
Where's Tom working today?

Contractions' grammar always include an apostrophe (') which is placed where the missing letter or letters would occur. In positive sentences, the subject is connected to the auxiliary verb by this apostrophe using no space:

Tom is going to come. -> Tom's going to come.
They will not understand this problem. -> They'll not understand this problem.
Alexander has played the guitar for many years. -> Alexander's played the guitar for many years.

In negative sentences, the auxiliary verb is connected to 'not' with no spaces and the 'o' is replaced by an apostrophe ('):

Henry is not working at the moment. -> Henry isn't working at the moment.
We will not have time to complete the project. -> We won't have time to complete the project.
She had not finished breakfast before he arrived. -> She hadn't finished breakfast before he arrived.

When to Use Contractions

Contractions' grammar is correct when used in spoken English and informal written. The use of contractions is very common, and is almost always used when speaking. There are exceptions to this rule when speaking in more formal situations such as when giving presentations or other types of public speaking. Contractions are considered grammatically correct when writing informally because informal writing reflects spoken English.

Special Points to Remember:

  • The verb 'be' as a principal verb can also be contracted
  • 's can stand for 'is' in the present and present continuos or 'has' in the present perfect
  • 'd can stand for 'had' in the past perfect or 'would' in conditional forms
  • The modal 'may not' is not usually contracted
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