• 3-minute read
  • 28th May 2018

What Are Contractions?

If you’re heavily pregnant and noticing a tightness in your uterus at regular intervals, congratulations! You’re probably about to go into labor. However, if you’re looking for advice on that issue, we’re afraid you’re in the wrong place. The “contractions” we’re interested in are words.

But what are these contractions? And how can you avoid errors when using them in your writing? Read on below to find out!

What Are Contractions?

A contraction is an abbreviation formed by combining two words. For instance:

Could not = Couldn’t

I am = I’m

Where is = Where’s

As shown above, we use an apostrophe to indicate that letters have been dropped from the new word. All contractions are formed like this, so make sure not to miss the apostrophe out!

When to Use Contractions

Contractions are very common in speech. As a result, you can use them in writing if you’re aiming for an informal, friendly tone. They’re also very useful in fiction, especially dialogue.

However, since contractions are informal, you should not use them in formal writing (e.g., college papers and technical writing). The one exception to this is “o’clock” if you’re writing down a time in full (this is actually a contraction of “of the clock”).

What time of the clock is it?

Watch Out for These Sneaky Words!

Finally, we’ll end on a list of common contractions that are regularly misused or that could be confusing. Look out for these terms in your writing and make sure that you’ve got them right:


What It Means

Common Errors


It is or it has

Don’t confuse this term with the possessive determiner “its” (no apostrophe).


They are

Not to be confused for the possessive determiner “their” or the adverb “there.”


We are

Not to be confused with the past tense verb “were” or the adverb “where.”


You are

Not to be confused with the possessive “your.”



The full form of this term is written as a single word, so make sure not to write “can not” in formal writing.


Will not

This term is technically short for “woll not,” since “woll” is an old-fashioned spelling of “will.” And although “will” became standard for the positive form, the “o” spelling became standard for the negative contraction.

With these terms, if you’re not sure whether the contraction is correct, try using the expanded version in the sentence. For example, while “we’re” and “were” look similar written down, there is an obvious difference between “they were happy” (grammatical) and “they we are happy” (ungrammatical).

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