• 3-minute read
  • 15th November 2018

A Guide to Contractions in English

We use contractions every day in speech, but these terms can cause a lot of confusion in writing. But what exactly is a contraction? And how do you use them correctly? Let us explain.

What Are Contractions?

A contraction is an abbreviation made up of two words, usually with letters omitted. For instance:

It is or It has It’s

Who have Who’ve

Could not Couldn’t

As shown above, you should always indicate missing letters in a contraction with an apostrophe.

Formal and Informal Writing

Generally, you should write contractions in full in formal contexts, such as in academic and business writing. The one exception is using ‘o’clock’ when writing out a time in formal writing.

However, contractions are very useful in less formal writing and fiction, especially if you want to achieve a friendly tone of voice. This is because they make writing sound more like speech.

Common Contraction Errors

A few common contraction errors that you should watch out for include:

ContractionFull TermCommon Error


It is or it has

Avoid mixing it up with the possessive determiner its.


They are

Not to be confused with their or there.


We are

Do not confuse this term with the past tense verb were or the adverb where.


You are

Not to be confused for the possessive pronoun your.



Do not write can not in formal writing.


Will not

This term is spelled with an ‘o’ because woll is an archaic spelling of will. Make sure not to spell won’t with an ‘i’ even though the full term uses one.

To make sure you are using these terms correctly, try replacing them with the full terms. For example, while ‘it’s legs are too long’ may look correct, we can see the error if we write it as ‘it is legs are too long’ instead. In this case, the correct word would be ‘its’.

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Summary: Contractions in English

Contractions are terms formed by combining and shortening two words. The words I and am, for example, can be combined to make I’m. Rules for using contractions include:

  • Make sure to indicate any omitted letters with an apostrophe.
  • Always write out the full terms in formal writing.
  • Be careful with contractions that look similar to other words (e.g. mixing up it’s and its). If you are unsure whether a contraction is correct, try writing it out in full (e.g. writing it’s as it is) to see whether it still fits in the sentence.

If you follow this advice, you should be able to avoid errors. But let us know if you’d like help checking that contractions are used correctly in your writing.

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