From time to time I encounter some sort of a written piece in English that’s hard to read for the simple reason that the author of that piece isn’t using contractions.
The moment I start reading the letter, e-mail or an article – whichever is the case – the full verb in its entirety, where it should just read its contraction after an apostrophe, is just standing out like a sore thumb.
Just compare the following two sentences which are just two versions of the same e-mail sent by Jimmy:
“Hello Jane, I’m writing to let you know that I’ve managed to squeeze in the items that hadn’t been delivered so they’ll be arriving tomorrow.”
“Hello Jane, I AM writing to let you know that I HAVE managed to squeeze in the items that had NOT been delivered so they WILL be arriving tomorrow.”
I don’t know about you – for me, however, the full verbs make for a much harder reading and I just can’t shake the feeling that the person who sent the e-mail isn’t Jane’s work colleague Jimmy but some other cold, distant and super-formal impostor pretending to be Jimmy!
Myth: Contractions Are Not Used in Written English
See how I’m trying to make my point by purposefully not contracting the auxiliary verb and “not” in the headline? Normally I’d write “aren’t used” – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it!
It’s just that this myth of contractions being something you don’t use in written English is something that’s oftentimes communicated to English learners and also in the educational system in general.
As a result what tends to happen is – people would avoid using contractions in their e-mails, letters and articles without realizing that they’ve been following the wrong advice.
Just do a Google search on “English contractions” and you’ll immediately spot a number of search results that will tell you that contractions aren’t appropriate for written English.
The moment I see it, I can’t help but to cringe inwardly and it makes me wonder who came up with this totally misplaced piece of advice…
Reasons Why You Want to Use English Contractions
Whether you like it or not, but the fact of the matter is that every-day written English is pretty much like spoken English – contrary to the common misconception that they’re something completely different.
Just pick up any novel that’s written in English, or any other book for that matter. Or even a newspaper. Just scan a couple of pages paying attention to contractions, and you’ll realize within a few seconds that they’re used all over the place.
No author or news reporter will write “You have got to move faster”. The heck, I would even struggle to get the meaning of the sentence at first if a contraction wasn’t used there! They would most definitely say “You’ve got to move faster”.
Another example. Do you think for a second that the following sentence “Sometimes I’d wonder why I’ve never got to do the things I’ve always wanted to do…” would read just as nicely if you expanded all the words and printed the sentence the following way: “Sometimes I would wonder why I have never got to do the things I have always wanted to …”?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve just gotta admit that the first sentence reads much easier, it sounds friendlier – as if spoken by a friend – and also you’ve gotta consider the fact that when you read something that wouldn’t be used in a real life conversation, you may struggle to perceive the meaning of the sentence.
We wouldn’t hear people say in real life “I would wonder”; it’s much more common to hear people say “I’d wonder”, so when you have to read the expanded sentence “I WOULD wonder”, your mind has to stop for a split second to process the meaning of that word combination.
Well, obviously I’m not saying that the perception would be hampered big time to a degree where the communication would be rendered impossible; I’m merely trying to point out that your brain operates based on what it sees, reads and hears on a daily basis and if anything is out of ordinary, it may slow down our perception ever so slightly.
So, who was the person inventing this myth that contractions are only used in spoken English and was there any reason for him or her to do it?
Well, obviously it’s pretty much impossible for us to tell who it was, however, having thought about the reasons for this myth I came up with the following theory…
Contractions Are Not Used in Legal and Formal Texts And At Some Stage Someone Decided to Expand It To Written English in General!
So that’s the distinction my friends – SUPER FORMAL TEXTS.
Just pick up any utility bill or a contract and read into it a little bit – you’re far less likely to find a contraction there compared to some other form of written English material geared towards the masses such as news articles or popular books, or indeed – blog posts.
You know the typical “terms and conditions” agreements that we all have to accept before signing any contracts or opening accounts on various websites? They all fall under the same “legal language” category, and if you were to read into them, you’d rarely find contractions; language used in that type of writing is purposefully made sound very formal, cold, matter-of-factly and strict.
It’s like a judge ordering you to do something and emphasizing every single word they utter so as to avoid any possible misinterpretation!
Which brings us to the last point – stressing something.
Yes, if you want to stress something in a sentence, you can definitely omit a contraction and use the full word instead, and I bet the reader’s attention is going to be drawn to that word for sure – just like a said, an omitted contraction stands out like a sore thumb and it’s guaranteed to do the job – if emphasizing a certain word was your initial intention.
So, for example, if you want to stress that due to the missing parts your department can’t meet the quarterly budgetary requirements, you can type in an e-mail: “I’d also like to point out that due to the undelivered parts our department has NOT been able to meet our budgetary guidelines for the quarter.” So basically instead of writing “hasn’t been able to” you write “has NOT been able to” as a way to emphasize the negative impact of the delivery mistake.
The bottom line is – unless you work in a legal department of a company serving legal notices to customers or you want to emphasize something, use contractions in written English just like you would in spoken English!
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!