Contractions are, of course, shortened versions of two word phrases. The meaning of “contract” is to shorten, lessen, or shrink. Contractions are used more often in conversation than in written work, and, in fact, they are considered inappropriate in most academic and business writing. Nevertheless, it is important to know how to spell and how to use them.

Contractions are generally created by dropping a letter or two from the second word of a two-word phrase, inserting an apostrophe in place of the deleted letter or letters, and then combining the two words into one. Here are some common examples:

  • Do not becomes don’t
  • Is not becomes isn’t
  • You will becomes you’ll
  • It is becomes it’s

Before I continue, let’s (a contraction of let us) consider it’s. That contraction is often incorrectly used when the possessive pronoun its should be used. Here are examples of the correct uses of it’s and its:

  • We decided not to go to the beach because it’s about to rain. (contraction)
  • The dog found its way home. (possessive pronoun)

The confusion involving the use of its and it’s lies in the fact that apostrophes are used for possession, as in That is my friend’s house. Therefore, it might seem logical that apostrophes should be used in possessive pronouns too. But…they are not. The following are possessive pronouns: its, his, hers, yours, theirs, and ours.

Now, to return to the use of contractions, it is important to use the correct contraction in terms of number, meaning singular or plural. For instance:

  • It is incorrect to write: He don’t want to eat his dinner. It should be He doesn’t want to eat his dinner.
  • They isn’t going to be ready is wrong. It should be They aren’t going to be ready.

Some contractions seem to be different from the typical ones. For instance, can’t is not derived from the contraction of two words, as in the case of other contractions. It is the contraction of one word, cannot. By the way, that is how that word should be spelled—as one word. It is incorrect to write can not. In fact, there is no such word combination as can not. Another odd one is won’t. It is a contraction of will not. Most people in the U.S. do not use shan’t, but it the correct contraction of shall not.

And, remember, while contractions are normally used in conversation, they are generally considered to be inappropriate in academic writing. In other words, during a chat, it is fine to say, Sometimes, it isn’t possible to communicate an idea to other people. However, in a college paper, you would write, Sometimes, it is not possible to communicate an idea to other people.