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Contraction (grammar)
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Contraction (grammar)

A contraction is a shortened version of the written and spoken forms of a word, syllable, or word group, created by omission of internal letters.[1] In traditional grammar, contraction can denote the formation of a new word from one word or a group of words, for example, by elision. This often occurs in rendering a common sequence of words or, as in French, in maintaining a flowing sound.

In strict analysis, contractions should not be confused with abbreviations or acronyms (including initialisms), with which they share some semantic and phonetic functions, though all three are connoted by the term "abbreviation" in loose parlance.[1] Contraction is also distinguished from clipping, where beginnings and endings are omitted.


  • English
  • Chinese
  • French
  • Italian
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • German
    • Local languages in German-speaking areas
  • Norwegian
  • Latin
  • Japanese
  • Uyghur
  • See also
  • References
  • External links


An informal type of contraction occurs frequently in speech and writing, in which a syllable is substituted by an apostrophe and/or other mode of elision, e.g., can't for "cannot", won't for "will not". Such contractions are often either negations with not or combinations of pronouns with auxiliary verbs, e.g., I'll for "I will". At least one study has sought to analyze the category of negative informal contractions as the attachment of an inflectional suffix, for example, due to the existence of irregular forms and the fact that "n't" moves with the verb during inversion for questions rather than staying in the same place as the full word "not" would.

Full form Contracted Notes
not n't Irregular forms: "ain't", "don't", "won't", "shan't". "n't" can only be attached to an auxiliary verb which is itself not contracted.
let us let's only contracted for first person plural imperative (e.g., not for "Let us go" as a third-party command)
am 'm only in "I'm"
are 're we're /w r/ is pronounced differently than were /w r/
is 's
does very informal, as in "What's he do there every day?"
as nonstandard English dialect for the relative pronoun "that"
have 've English only contracts forms of have when used as auxiliaries
had 'd
did very informal, as in "Where'd he go?"
will, shall 'll
of o' used mostly in o'clock, where it is mandatory in contemporary use
it 't Archaic, except in stock uses such as 'Twas the night before Christmas
them 'em contracted from hem, but used for modern them
him 'im
is not isn't, or ain't ain't is contracted from am not but now also used for is not; generally deprecated in modern use
you all y'all used in the southern United States as a second-person plural pronoun (possessive form y'all's) sometimes. It can be used as second-person singular, though. Plural form, especially when addressing a large group (room, etc.) is usually stated as "all y'all.

Informal speech sometimes allows multiple contracted forms to pile up, producing constructions like wouldn't've for "would not have".

A commonly used English contraction of two words that does not fall into either of the above categories is let's, a contraction of "let us" that is used in forming the imperative mood in the first-person plural (e.g., "Let's go [somewhere]"). Use of the uncontracted "let us" typically carries an entirely different meaning, e.g., "Let us go [free]". "Let us" is rarely seen in the former sense and "let's" is never seen in the latter one.

Informal contractions are, by their nature, more frequent in speech than writing, e.g., John'd fix your television if you asked him. Contractions in English are generally not mandatory as in some other languages. It is almost always acceptable to write out (or say) all of the words of a contraction, though native speakers of English may judge a person not using contractions as sounding overly formal. Let's, as mentioned above, is an exception to this rule.

Writers of English commonly confuse the possessive form of the pronoun it with its compounded contractions. The possessive form (its) has no apostrophe, while the contraction of it is or it has does have an apostrophe (it's). The same is true of the possessive form of "you" (your) with its contraction you're for "you are". See List of frequently misused English words.

The linguistic function of contractions is similar to and overlaps that of portmanteau words. Some forms of syncope may also be considered contractions, such as wanna for want to, gonna for going to, and others common in colloquial speech.

Contractions may perform the same function as abbreviations. According to one source,[1] strictly speaking an abbreviation is formed by omitting the ending of a word, for which a period is substituted, e.g., Lieut. for "Lieutenant". According to this view, contractions omit the middle of a word, and are generally not terminated with a full point, e.g., Ltd for "Limited". However, US style uses more points than British style does, e.g., in Ltd., in Jr. instead of Jr for "Junior", in Mr., etc.

Contractions are used sparingly in formal written English. The APA style guide prefers that contractions, including Latin abbreviations, not be used in scholarly papers, and recommends that the equivalent phrase in English be written out. An exception is made for the Latin abbreviation et al. (for et alii, "and others"), which may be used with citations outside parentheses.[2]


Contractions exist in Classical Chinese, some of which are used in modern Chinese.

Full Form[3] Transliteration[4] Contraction[3] Transliteration[4] Notes[3]
tj ga tj In some rarer cases can also be contraction for . can be used on its own with the meaning of "all, the class of", as in "the feudal lords."
nj tj gaj najs gaj
a tj rjan is never used; only .
tj rjan tjan Rare.
wja tj wjan Rare. The prepositions , , and are of different origin, but used interchangeably (except that can also be used as a final question particle).
nja tj njan
wjot tj wj n
pj tj pj t
mja tj mj t and were originally not contractions, but were reanalyzed as contractions in the Warring States Period.
nj lj nj
ga pj gap is a variant of .
lj j ga lja Also written .
lj j ga zj Also written . Probably a dialectal variant of .
pj ga pja has many other meanings.


The French language has a variety of contractions, similar to English but mandatory, as in C'est la vie ("That's life"), where c'est stands for ce + est ("that is"). The formation of these contractions is called elision.

In general, any monosyllabic word ending in e caduc (schwa) will contract if the following word begins with a vowel, h or y (as h is silent and absorbed by the sound of the succeeding vowel; y sounds like i). In addition to ce c'- (demonstrative pronoun "that"), these words are que qu'- (conjunction, relative pronoun, or interrogative pronoun "that"), ne n'- ("not"), se s'- ("himself", "herself", "itself", "oneself" before a verb), je j'- ("I"), me m'- ("me" before a verb), te t'- (informal singular "you" before a verb), le l'- (masculine singular "the"; or "he", "it" before a verb or after an imperative verb and before the word y or en), and de d'- ("of"). Unlike with English contractions, however, these contractions are mandatory: one would never say (or write) *ce est or *que elle.

In addition, the feminine definite article la mandatorily contracts to l'- before a word beginning with a vowel sound, as in l'id e, and when la is used as an object pronoun it contracts before a verb or after an imperative verb and before the word y or en.

Moi ("myself") and toi (informal "yourself") mandatorily contract to m'- and t'- respectively after an imperative verb and before the word y or en.

It is also mandatory to avoid the repetition of a sound when the preposition si ("if") is followed by il ("he", "it") or ils ("they"), which begin with the same vowel sound i: *si il s'il ("if it", if he"); *si ils s'ils ("if they").

Certain prepositions are also mandatorily merged with masculine and plural direct articles: au for le, aux for les, du for de le, and des for de les. However, the contraction of cela (demonstrative pronoun "that") to a is optional and informal.

In informal speech, a personal pronoun may sometimes be contracted onto a following verb. For example, je ne sais pas (, "I don't know") may be pronounced roughly chais pas (), with the ne being completely elided and the of je being mixed with the of sais.


In Italian, prepositions merge with direct articles in predictable ways. The prepositions a, da, di, in, su, con and per combine with the various forms of the direct article, namely il, lo, la, l', i, gli, gl', and le.

il lo la l' i gli (gl') le
a al allo alla all' ai agli (agl') alle
da dal dallo dalla dall' dai dagli (dagl') dalle
di del dello della dell' dei degli (degl') delle
in nel nello nella nell' nei negli (negl') nelle
su sul sullo sulla sull' sui sugli (sugl') sulle
con col (collo) (colla) (coll') coi (cogli) (colle)
per (pel) (pello) (pella) (pell') (pei) (pegli) (pelle)
  • Contractions with a, da, di, in, and su are mandatory, but those with con and per are optional.
  • Words in parentheses are no longer commonly used, but some still exist in common expressions such as colla voce.
  • Formerly, gl was used before words beginning with i, however it is no longer in common use.

The words ci and (form of essere, to be) and the words vi and are contracted into c' and v' (both meaning "there is").

  • C' / V' un problema — There is a problem

The words dove and are contracted into dov' ("where is").


Spanish has two mandatory phonetic contractions between prepositions and articles: al (to the) for a el, and del (of the) for de el (not to be confused with a l, meaning to him, and de l, meaning his or, more literally, of him). And other mandatory contractions between prepositions and pronouns: conmigo for con m (with me), contigo for con ti (with you), consigo for con s (with himself/herself/itself/themselves).

In informal spoken registers of Spanish, the word para, for , can be contracted to pa, for example in the subordinating conjunction pa'que (from para que "in order that"): Pa'que te enteres. Another frequent informal use is the elision of d in the past participle suffix -ado, pronouncing cansado as cansao. The elision of d in -ido is considered even more informal. Both elisions are however common in Andalusian Spanish. Thus the Andalusian quej o for quejido ( lament ) has entered Standard Spanish as a term for a special feature of Flamenco singing. Similar distinctions are made with the words bailaor(a) and cantaor(a) as contracted versions of the literal translations for dancer and singer exclusively used for Flamenco, versus the bailar n and cantante of standard Spanish. The perceived vulgarity of the silent d may lead to hypercorrections like *bacalado for bacalao (stockfish) or *Bilbado for Bilbao.[5]


In Portuguese, contractions are common and much more numerous than those in Spanish. Several prepositions regularly contract with certain articles and pronouns. For instance, de (of) and por (by; formerly per) combine with the definite articles o and a (masculine and feminine forms of "the" respectively), producing do, da (of the), pelo, pela (by the). The preposition de contracts with the pronouns ele and ela (he, she), producing dele, dela (his, her). In addition, some verb forms contract with enclitic object pronouns: e.g., the verb amar (to love) combines with the pronoun a (her), giving am -la (to love her). See a list at Wikipedia in Portuguese: List of contracted prepositions.


In informal, spoken German prepositional phrases, one can often merge the preposition and the article; for example, von dem becomes vom, zu dem becomes zum, or an das becomes ans. Some of these are so common that they are mandatory. In informal speech, also aufm for auf dem, unterm for unter dem, etc. are used, but would be considered to be incorrect if written, except maybe in quoted direct speech, in appropriate context and style.

Local languages in German-speaking areas

Regional dialects of German, and various local languages which usually were already used long before today's Standard German was created, do use contractions usually more frequently than German, but varying widely between different local languages. The informally spoken German contractions are observed almost everywhere, most often accompanied by additional ones, such as in den becoming in'n (sometimes im) or haben wir becoming hamwer, hammor, hemmer, or hamma depending on local intonation preferences. Bavarian German features several more contractions such as gesund sind wir becoming xund samma which are schematically applied to all word or combinations of similar sound. The Munich-born footballer Franz Beckenbauer has as his catchphrase "Schau mer mal" ("Schauen wir einmal" - in English "let's have a look"). A book about his career had as its title the slightly longer version of the phrase, "Schau'n Mer Mal".

Such features are found in all central and southern language regions. A sample from Berlin: Sag einmal, Meister, kann man hier einmal hinein? is spoken as Samma, Meesta, kamma hier ma rin?

Several West Central German dialects along the Rhine River have possibly under the influence of French, built contraction patterns involving long phrases and entire sentences. In speech, words are often concatenated, and frequently the process of "liaison" is used. So, [Dat] kriegst Du nicht may become Kressenit, or Lass mich gehen, habe ich gesagt may become Lomejon haschjesaat.

Mostly, there are no binding orthographies for local dialects of German, hence writing is left to a great extent to authors and their publishers. Outside of quotations, at least, they usually pay little attention to print more than the most commonly spoken contractions, so as not to degrade their readability. The use of apostrophes to indicate omissions is a varying and considerably less frequent process than in English-language publications.


The use of contractions is not allowed in any form of standard Norwegian spelling; however, it is fairly common to shorten or contract words in spoken language. Yet, the commonness varies from dialect to dialect and from sosiolect to sosiolect it depends on the formality etc. of the setting. Some common, and quite drastic, contractions found in Norwegian speech are "jakke" (approximate pronunciation in English: "yakkeh") for "jeg har ikke" ("I have not", normally pronounced approximately like "yay har ikkeh") and "d kke" (approximate pronunciation in English: "dakkeh") for "det er ikke" ("it is not", normally pronounced approximately like "deh ar ikkeh"). The most frequently used of these contractions usually consisting of two or three words condensed into one word by skipping certain letters (like the examples just shown) contain short and common words like "jeg" ("I"), "du" or "deg" ("you"), "det" ("it" or "that"), "har" ("have" or "has") or "ikke" ("not").

In extreme cases, long, entire sentences may be condensed into one word by removing consonants, vowels and spaces alike. One example of this is a sentence like (approximate English translation) "It will sort itself out.": "Det ordner seg av seg selv.", "correctly" pronounced approximately like "Deh vill ordneh say ahv say sell", in standard written Bokm l could become (note that this is essentially a combination of contraction, fast speech and dialect) "d nes s sj l" (note the " ( )" and " ( )" letters and the "sj l" ("sj" is one of many Norwegian digraphs used to represent "sh") at the end, as a replacement for "selv", which is pronounced with a "thick l" ("tjukk l" or "tykk l" in Norwegian)). R-dropping (which is present in the above example) is especially common in speech in many areas of Norway, but plays out in different ways, as does skipping of word-final letters, generally, like that of "e" in certain verbs.

Because of the many dialects of Norwegian and their widespread use it is often difficult to distinguish between non-standard writing of standard Norwegian and eye dialect (or writing in one's own dialect as opposed to adhering to the well-defined rules of the written language). It is almost universally true that these spellings try to convey the way each word is pronounced, but it is rare to see language written that does not adhere to at least some of the rules of the official writing spelling. There are probably four main reasons for this: 1. some words are not pronounced as they are spelled in the first place, 2. pronunciation that is impossible or only ambiguously possible to convey using solely combinations of the 29 letters of the Norwegian alphabet, 3. it is sometimes practical to utilise certain rules from standard spelling/pronunciation rules (for example digraphs and diphthongs (even though the latter is usually much more problematic than the former) to increase the number of phonemes at disposal) for ease of writing and interpreting said writing or 4. laziness, ignorance on the part of the writer of the fact that strictly speaking how they write a certain word is not the best representation of the desired pronunciation or accommodation of a perceived lack of understanding of the connection between spelling and pronunciation on part of the reader.

Misinterpreting someone else's writing may cause a slowing down of the reading pace, having a hard time understanding and use of incorrect pronunciations. It is of great importance to "play by the same rules" to avoid confusion. The "rules", however, are rarely stated by "non-standard-writers" and this is as a consequence another reason to stick with the official writing conventions. That many dialects lack certain letters in words that are used in others and the official spellings of Norwegian leads some to conclude that spelling of these dialects should not contain that letter and others to conclude that their way of speaking is non-standard, when, in fact, the truth might be that every dialect is just as standard as the next. This last assertion is based on a view of the origin of Norwegian spelling as being the average of all the dialects (which is not technically and completely true) or simply that while one dialect differs from "the norm" pertaining to certain aspects while others differ on certain other features instead.

The use of the apostrophe (') is much less common than in English, but is sometimes used in contractions to show where letters have been left out (like in English). It is also worth noting that Norwegian uses apostrophes less in other situations as well (it is not normally used to show the possessive, for instance). Norwegian also does not use accents to denote stress etc. excepts for in a few loan words (foreign words) etc. Things like these might be reasons for the hard time people have if they try to spell a word phonetically.

There is a common misconception among many Norwegians that Norwegian is a very phonetically accurate language. This is probably based both on the common knowledge that Norwegian has a more widespread use of letters like F, K and S; disfavouring letters like C, Q, X and digraphs like PH (compared to English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Swedish and Danish (which are (some of) the languages Norwegians are most familiar with)); and that most Norwegians are so familiar with the Norwegian language that they don't realise the great difference between the written and spoken language. What many native Norwegian speakers do not realise, though, is that Norwegian actually has a huge number of diphthongs, silent letters and more or less unpredictable both vowel and consonant sounds.


Latin contains several examples of contractions. One such case is preserved in the verb nolo (I am unwilling/do not want) which was formed by a contraction of ne volo (volo meaning I want ). Similarly this is observed in the first person plural and third person plural forms (nolumus and nolunt respectively).


Some contractions in rapid speech include (-ssu) for (desu) and (suimasen) for (sumimasen). (dewa) is often contracted to (ja). In certain grammatical contexts the particle (no) is contracted to simply (n).

When used after verbs ending in the conjunctive form (-te), certain auxiliary verbs and their derivations are often abbreviated. Examples:

Original Form Transliteration Contraction Transliteration
-te iru / -te ita / -te imasu / etc. -te ru / -te ta / -te masu / etc.
-te iku / -te itta / etc.* -te ku / -te tta / etc.*
-te oku / -te oita / -te okimasu / etc. -toku / -toita / -tokimasu / etc.
-te shimau / -te shimatta / -te shimaimasu / etc. -chau / -chatta / -chaimasu / etc.
-de shimau / -de shimatta / -de shimaimasu / etc. -jau / -jatta / -jaimasu / etc.
-te wa -cha
-de wa -ja
-nakute wa -nakucha

* this abbreviation is never used in the polite conjugation, to avoid the resultant ambiguity between an abbreviated ikimasu (go) and the verb kimasu (come).

The ending (-nakereba) can be contracted to (-nakya) when it is used to indicate obligation. It is often used without an auxiliary, e.g. (ikanakya (ikenai)) "I have to go."

Other times, contractions are made to create new words or to give added or altered meaning:

  • The word (nanika) "something" is contracted to (nanka) to make a colloquial word with a meaning along the lines of "sort of," but which can be used with almost no meaning. Its usage is as a filler word is similar to English "like."
  • (ja nai) "is not" is contracted to (jan) which is used at the end of statements to show the speaker's belief or opinion, often when it is contrary to that of the listener, e.g. (ii jan!) "What, it's fine!"
  • The commonly used particle-verb phrase (to iu) is often contracted to (-tte/-te) to give a more informal or noncommittal feeling.
  • (to ieba), the conditional form of (to iu) mentioned above, is contracted to (-tte ba) to show the speaker's annoyance at the listener's failure to listen to, remember, or heed what the speaker has said, e.g. (m ii tte ba!), I already told you I don't want to talk about it anymore! .
  • The common words (da) and (desu) are older contractions that originate from (de aru) and (de gozaimasu). These are fully integrated into the language now, and are not generally thought of as contractions; however in formal writing (e.g. literature, news articles, or technical/scientific writing), (de aru) is used in place of (da).

Various dialects of Japanese also use their own specific contractions which are often unintelligible to speakers of other dialects.


Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in Central Asia, includes some verbal suffixes that are actually contracted forms of compound verbs (serial verbs). For instance, s tip alidu (sell-manage, "manage to sell") is usually written and pronounced s tivaldu, with the two words forming a contraction and the [p] leniting into a [v] or [w].

See also

  • Apostrophe
  • Blend
  • Clipping (morphology)
  • Contractions of negated auxiliary verbs in English
  • List of English contractions
  • Elision
  • List of common English usage misconceptions
  • Poetic contraction
  • Portmanteau word
  • Relaxed pronunciation
  • Synalepha
  • Syncope (phonetics)


External links

br:Strizhadur (yezhoniezh) ca:Contracci gramatical de:Schmelzwort es:Contracci n (gram tica) fr:Contraction (grammaire) la:Contractio nl:Samentrekking ja: pl:Kontrakcja (skr t) pt:Contra o (gram tica) ru: ( ) simple:Contraction

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