Contractions

I’m sure you’re going to like today’s story.  It’s simple, it’s useful, and it’s something that most English learners need more of.

What’s that, you say?  Well, we’re talking about contractions.  They’re the combination of two words into one, to make speech smoother and more efficient.

If you’re an English learner, perhaps you’ve been told NOT to use contractions in your speech.  Maybe the teachers in your home country told you that they’re a lazy or sloppy way of speaking.

The opposite is actually true.  Native speakers use contractions all the time.  It combines shorter, less important English words (can’t, you’ll, she’s, they’ve, isn’t, I’m, he’d, wouldn’t) so that your speech will flow more easily.

When native speakers hear contractions, they don’t analyze them directly, but they FEEL them in the conversation and perceive it as friendly and normal.

On the other hand, if you over-pronounce English phrases

I WILL GO WITH YOU.  (Instead of “I’ll go with you.)

If you pronounce every syllable

WE WERE NOT READY.  (Instead of “We weren’t ready.”)

You will sound like a computer or a robot instead of a real person.  Even worse, you will sound like you are angry AND CHOOSING TO EMPHASIZE EVERY WORD.

So, let’s all practice using contractions.  It’s the right thing to do, don’t you agree?

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Footnote: Don’t use contractions in formal writing like business letters or research papers.  On the other hand, if you use them in email, your readers will “feel” your friendliness when they read your message.  Don’t be afraid to practice this.  It’ll make your readers (and listeners) like you.


Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.