“To Contraction, or not to Contraction, that is the Question”

Contractions. Aren’t they nifty?

Contractions are a regular part of spoken conversation. Heck, most of us don’t even stop to realize that we’re using contractions when we’re speaking! I bet you didn’t even realize that I’ve already used contractions six times in this post!

I bet you went back and counted them out, right? 🙂

I want to help raise awareness of contractions! They hold a special and common place in spoken language! As loved as contractions may be, there’s a time and place for everything, including contractions.

When a teacher or professor gives an assignment, sometimes they just say, “Write a formal paper. Follow the normal guidelines for a formal paper.” Occasionally, you’ll get lucky and a professor will say, “Write a formal paper. Do not use contractions. Avoid phrases with I or me in them.” What is a contraction? How do you know when it’s okay to use contractions? Here are some helpful guidelines to help you out!

What is a contraction?

Before going into when it’s okay to use (or not use) contractions, it might be helpful for me to quickly summarize what a contraction is exactly! A contraction, in short, is combining more than one word so that they become one word! Here are a few common contractions that we use:

Does     +  not  =  doesn’t
Is           +  not  =  isn’t
Will        +  not  =  won’t
Can       +  not  =  can’t
Could    +  not  =  couldn’t

And you get the idea! You combine two words to make one word! Any missing letter will be replaced by an apostrophe. While contractions are seen as being pretty common things used in spoken language, they are actually perceived as being informal in written language. As such, there are many instances where isn’t okay to use them.

When to absolutely AVOID contractions

A good place to start with when it’s not okay to use contractions is when a teacher or professor directly states to NOT use contractions. Easy enough, right? So what about when it’s not as straight-forward as that? Have no fear! Below, I’ve included some general “rules” that you can follow when determining if it’s not okay to use contractions.

  • Formal assignments
    • If the guidelines have the word formal included anywhere, this is a good time to tell yourself, “Do not use contractions!” Even if the guidelines don’t mention the word formal anywhere, but the nature of the assignment is one that can be interpreted as being formal, avoid using contractions.
  • College research papers
    • In a college class, professors often assign research papers. This is technically seen as a formal assignment, so this bullet itself can technically be included in the first bullet point I listed. It’s a pretty important point to emphasize though, so I figured that it wouldn’t hurt to put it as a separate bullet point.
  • Laboratory reports
    • Contractions are generally avoided in laboratory reports for science classes and scholarly articles in the science field. As such, avoid using them in any scientific assignments such as this.
  • Guidelines don’t mention anything about it
    • A good rule of thumb is that when you have to ask yourself if it’s okay to use contractions, avoid them! You won’t be penalized for not using contractions (unless your boss, teacher, or professor directly tells you that you MUST use them…in that case, please use them so you don’t get penalized!). Better safe than sorry, right?

When can I use contractions?

I know that there seem to be a lot of instances where we should avoid contractions. Have no fear! There are definitely instances where it’s okay to use them!

  • Blog posts and any form of social media
    • Blog posts and social media are ways that we connect with other people! These settings are seen as being more laid back than an essay. As such, you are free to use contractions!
  • Quotes or dialogue
    • If you’re writing an essay and quoting something that includes a contraction, it’s okay to use a contraction! As with anything that you’re quoting though, give credit to the original speaker so that you are properly citing your sources. This is a golden rule that you can follow, even when you’re writing a formal paper.
  • Informal writing, free-form writing, and poetry
    • Anything that is seen as an informal assignment or a free-form and creative piece of work falls under the category of being able to use contractions!

I could go on, but to avoid rambling, I’ll end this post here. I hope this information helps! Feel free to comment and ask me if you have any further questions! I’m always open to receiving ideas for future posts, so any comments with suggestions are always welcomed!

~Write on!


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