Contraction (grammar)

This article is about contraction in the grammar of modern languages, which involves elision. For contraction in Ancient Greek and the coalescence of two vowels into one, see crasis. For the linguistic function of pronouncing vowels together, see Synaeresis.

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 and sounds.

In linguistic analysis, contractions should not be confused with crasis, abbreviations nor 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.

The definition overlaps with the grammatical term portmanteau (a linguistic blend), but a distinction can be made between a portmanteau and a contraction by noting that contractions are formed from words that would otherwise appear together in sequence, such as do and not, whereas a portmanteau word is formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the portmanteau describes.


English has a number of contractions, mostly involving the elision of a vowel (which is replaced by an apostrophe in writing), as in I'm for "I am", and sometimes other changes as well, as in won't for "will not" or ain't for "am not". These contractions are commonly used in speech and in informal writing, though tend to be avoided in more formal writing.

The main contractions are listed in the following table (for more explanation see English auxiliaries and contractions).

Full form Contracted Notes
not -n't Irregular forms: "ain't", "won't", "shan't", "amn't". "n't" can only be attached to an auxiliary verb which is itself not contracted.
let us let's
I am I'm
are -'re we're /wɪər/ or /wɛər/ is, in most cases, pronounced differently from were /wɜr/.
does -'s informal, as in "What's he do there every day?"
have -'ve
had -'d
did informal, as in "Where'd she go?"
will -'ll
of o'- used mostly in o'clock, where it is mandatory in contemporary use
of o' as in "cup o' coffee," "barrel o' monkeys," "Land o' Goshen," "lots o' luck"
it 't- Archaic, except in stock uses such as 'Twas the night before Christmas
them 'em Actually from hem, which is not the same word as them, a Norse loan.[2][3]
you y'- Informal, as in "Where are y'all at?"

Some other simplified pronunciations of common word groups, which can equally be described as cases of elision, may also be considered (non-standard) contractions (not enshrined into the written standard language, but frequently expressed in written form anyway), such as wanna for want to, gonna for going to, y'all for you all, ya'll for ya all in the South, and others common in colloquial speech.

In subject–auxiliary inversion, the contracted negative forms behave as if they were auxiliaries themselves, changing place with the subject. For example, the interrogative form of He won't go is Won't he go, whereas the uncontracted equivalent is Will he not go?, with not following the subject.


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

Full Form[4] Transliteration[5] Contraction[4] Transliteration[5] Notes[4]
之乎 tjə ga tjᴀ In some rarer cases 諸 can also be contraction for 有之乎. 諸 can be used on its own with the meaning of "all, the class of", as in 諸侯 "the feudal lords."
若之何 njᴀ tjə gaj 奈何 najs gaj
於之 ʔa tjə ʔrjan 於之 is never used; only 焉.
之焉 tjə ʔrjan tjan Rare.
于之 wja tjə wjan Rare. The prepositions 於, 于, and 乎 are of different origin, but used interchangeably (except that 乎 can also be used as a final question particle).
如之 nja tjə njan
曰之 wjot tjə wjən
不之 pjə tjə pjət
毋之 mja tjə mjət 弗 and 勿 were originally not contractions, but were reanalyzed as contractions in the Warring States period.
而已 njə ljəʔ njəʔ
胡不 ga pjə gap 胡 is a variant of 何.
也乎 ljᴀjʔ ga ljaʔ Also written 歟.
也乎 ljᴀjʔ ga zjᴀ Also written 耶. Probably a dialectal variant of 與.
不乎 pjə ga pja 夫 has many other meanings.

Contractions also appear in Cantonese, for example, 乜嘢[6] and 咩.


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 cec'- (demonstrative pronoun "that"), these words are quequ'- (conjunction, relative pronoun, or interrogative pronoun "that"), nen'- ("not"), ses'- ("himself", "herself", "itself", "oneself" before a verb), jej'- ("I"), mem'- ("me" before a verb), tet'- (informal singular "you" before a verb), le or lal'- ("the"; or "he/she", "it" before a verb or after an imperative verb and before the word y or en), and ded'- ("of"). Unlike with English contractions, however, these contractions are mandatory: one would never say (or write) *ce est or *que elle.

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 conjunction si ("if") is followed by il ("he", "it") or ils ("they"), which begin with the same vowel sound i: *si ils'il ("if it", if he"); *si ilss'ils ("if they").

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

In informal speech, a personal pronoun may sometimes be contracted onto a following verb. For example, je ne sais pas (IPA: [ʒənəsɛpa], "I don't know") may be pronounced roughly chais pas (IPA: [ʃɛpa]), with the ne being completely elided and the [ʒ] of je being mixed with the [s] of sais. It is also common in informal contexts to contract tu to t'- before a vowel, e.g., t'as mangé for tu as mangé.


In colloquial Israeli Hebrew, the preposition את (/ʔet/), which indicates a definite direct object, and the definite article prefix -ה (/ha-/) are often contracted to 'ת (/ta-/) when the former immediately precedes the latter. Thus ראיתי את הכלב (/ʁaˈʔiti ʔet haˈkelev/, "I saw the dog") may become ראיתי ת'כלב (/ʁaˈʔiti taˈkelev/).


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 definite 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)

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

The words dove and è are contracted into dov'è ("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 él, meaning to him, and de él, meaning his or, more literally, of him).

Other contractions were common in writing until the 17th century, the most usual being de + personal and demonstrative pronouns: destas for de estas (of these, fem.), daquel for de aquel (of that, masc.), dél for de él (of him) etc.; and the feminine article before words beginning with a-: l'alma for la alma, now el alma (the soul). Several sets of demonstrative pronouns originated as contractions of aquí (here) + pronoun, or pronoun + otro/a (other): aqueste, aqueso, estotro etc. The modern aquel (that, masc.) is the only survivor of the first pattern; the personal pronouns nosotros (we) and vosotros (pl. you) are remnants of the second. In medieval texts unstressed words very often appear contracted: todol for todo el (all the, masc.), ques for que es (which is), yas for ya se, dome for de ome = de hombre (of/by man) etc.

Though not strictly a contraction, a special form is used when combining con with mi, ti or si which is written as conmigo for *con mí (with me), contigo for *con ti (with you sing.), consigo for *con sí (with himself/herself/itself/themselves).

Finally, one can hear pal for para el and pala for para la, but these forms are only considered appropriate in informal speech.


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 amá-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, aufm for auf dem, unterm for unter dem, etc. are also used, but would be considered to be incorrect if written, except maybe in quoted direct speech, in appropriate context and style.

The pronoun es often contracts to 's (usually written with the apostrophe) in certain contexts. For example, the greeting Wie geht es? is usually encountered in the contracted form Wie geht's?.

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. (One must remember, however, that German wir exists alongside Bavarian mir, or mia, with the same meaning.) 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 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 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 sociolect to sociolect—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 "dække" (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 Bokmål could become (note that this is essentially a combination of contraction, fast speech and dialect) "dånesæsæsjæl" (note the "å (Å)" and "æ (Æ)" letters and the "sjæl" ("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 non 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 ~っす (-ssu) for です (desu) and すいません (suimasen) for すみません (sumimasen). では (dewa) is often contracted to じゃ (ja). In certain grammatical contexts the particle の (no) is contracted to simply ん (n).

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

Original Form Transliteration Contraction Transliteration
~ている/~ていた/~ています/etc. -te iru / -te ita / -te imasu / etc. ~てる/~てた/~てます/etc. -te ru / -te ta / -te masu / etc.
~ていく/~ていった/etc.* -te iku / -te itta / etc.* ~てく/~てった/etc.* -te ku / -te tta / etc.*
~ておく/~ておいた/~ておきます/etc. -te oku / -te oita / -te okimasu / etc. ~とく/~といた/~ときます/etc. -toku / -toita / -tokimasu / etc.
~てしまう/~てしまった/~てしまいます/etc. -te shimau / -te shimatta / -te shimaimasu / etc. ~ちゃう/~ちゃった/~ちゃいます/etc. -chau / -chatta / -chaimasu / etc.
~でしまう/~でしまった/~でしまいます/etc. -de shimau / -de shimatta / -de shimaimasu / etc. ~じゃう/~じゃった/~じゃいます/etc. -jau / -jatta / -jaimasu / etc.
~ては -te wa ~ちゃ -cha
~では -de wa ~じゃ -ja
~なくては -nakute wa ~なくちゃ -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 ~なければ (-nakereba) can be contracted to ~なきゃ (-nakya) when it is used to indicate obligation. It is often used without an auxiliary, e.g., 行かなきゃ(いけない) (ikanakya (ikenai)) "I have to go."

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

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


In the Polish language pronouns have contracted forms which are more prevalent in their colloquial usage. Examples are go and mu. The non-contracted forms are niego and jemu, respectively. The clitic which stands for niego (him) as in dlań (dla niego) is more common in literature. The non-contracted forms are generally used as a means to accentuate.[7]


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


In Filipino, most contractions need other words to be contracted correctly. Only words that end with vowels can make a contraction with words like "at" and "ay." In this chart, the "@" represents any vowel.

Full Form Contracted Notes
~@ at ~@'t
~@ ay ~@'y
~@ ng ~@'n Informal. as in "Isa'n libo"
~@ ang ~@'ng

See also

For a list of words relating to Contractions, see the English contractions category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. Roberts R; et al. (2005). New Hart's Rules: The handbook of style for writers and editors. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-861041-6. :p.167
  2. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  3. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 Edwin G. Pulleyblank (1995). Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar. University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-0505-6.
  5. 1 2 Old Chinese reconstruction search containing William H. Baxter's reconstructions.
  6. "乜嘢". Retrieved 27 May 2016.
  7. (p.82)
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