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An Ode to Contractions, the Key to Your Voice

Apostrophe
apostrophe, by jimmiehomeschoolmom on Flickr (CC-a licensed)

Way back in school, you were probably taught that contractions had no place in your essays and reports. School was to be for formal writing. You put two spaces after every period, you compiled a perfect bibliography, and so as not to sound like a kid you banished the contraction to the lowly realm of notes to pass to your friends while your teacher blathered on about spelling and grammar.

But this is now, people. You’re not in school. Or maybe you are, but you’re also online. And for all the varied things you write that aren’t written to a teacher, please, for the love of gods, use contractions.

Don’t know what a contraction is? It’s when you combine two words into one, indicating the combination with an apostrophe. “You are” is contracted into “you’re”. “Do not” becomes “don’t”. “I am” becomes “I’m”. (If you have trouble deciding to use “it’s” or “its”, remember that the one with the apostrophe is a contraction. Same goes for “you’re” and “your”, and for “they’re” “their” and “there”.)

Writers who don’t use contractions sound like robots. So yeah, I’m gonna just go for broke and say it: CONTRACTIONS MAKE US HUMAN.

If you’re at all concerned about connecting with your readers, give some thought to your use of contractions. If people tell you your writing doesn’t sound like you, go see if you’re using contractions.

And for the love of all that is holy in style and usage, when you comment on something online – which is perhaps the most informal of all types of online writing – use contractions. (Brother, this is for you! No more, “You are nuts,” on my Facebook wall, okay? Okay.)

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Jessica

I agree with everything you've said! The best personal writing is done when we're all “acting natural”, or at least like we're not in a schoolroom. :)

I also think there's some merit to NOT using contractions occasionally as part of one's voice. If I'm trying to express something particularly abhorrent or upsetting or if I'm feeling very prissy, not contracting stuff is a cool way to express that. (“I cannot understand why blah blah”, or “I do not like liver”, for example.)

Lindsey Stephens

Reminds me of Data on Star Trek. He was the android, and he couldn't use contractions.

SisterDiane

Amen! One of my collection of pet writing peeves.

And, makes me think of the contraction-free genius of Guys and Dolls:

Teddi

Maybe I'm just not as good as a jr high kid with my cell phone, but when I try to text (and sometimes that's to respond to social network stuff), my contractions sometimes go funky. It is far easier for me to text “you are” than “you're” since my cell phone has decided that it likes to say “you'7e” instead. Sometimes there's a reason for my droid-sounding-ness!

JelliDonut

Hitting the “agree” button

Rosaline

Wow, what a strong opinion. I guess this is one of the reasons why people DO NOT leave comments very often – ie fear someone will be more interested in writing style as opposed to content. Having to worry about style takes away from the fun of enjoying blogs just for the fun of it. I enjoy your blog but will now unscribe as I may leave a comment someday and after sending the message realize I DID NOT use contractions.

Renee

I for one welcome our new human overlords.

Cool though robots may be… I AM NOT A NUMBER! Or should that be “I'm not a number” ? Sometimes contractions are context-dependent, but I agree: for the most part, they're fab. ;)

Renee

I for one welcome our new human overlords.

Cool though robots may be… I AM NOT A NUMBER! Or should that be “I'm not a number” ? Sometimes contractions are context-dependent, but I agree: for the most part, they're fab. ;)

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