28 November 2010

The contractions are getting closer together...

I recently read a post where the blogger used the word "must've" as a contraction of "must have," and a commenter carped that the term was "jarring."  It may have been disconcerting to the reader, but was not (as far as I know) grammatically incorrect; Grammar Girl offers a brief discussion of "troublesome contractions" -
Most contractions pose no problem, but contractions that involve the word “is” can cause confusion or ambiguity. You’ll encounter a problematic “is” contraction when you’re contracting it with a noun... In short, it’s best to avoid contractions with the verb “is” when you are using it with a noun, including a proper name. “Kim’s here” (Kim-apostrophe-s) isn’t wrong, but it just isn’t as clear as “Kim is here.”

Both “had” and “would” are contracted with an apostrophe plus a “d,” as in “I’d already been there” (for “I had already been there”) and “I’d rather not go” (for “I would rather not go”). Sometimes readers (or listeners) can become momentarily unsure whether you mean “I had” or “I would", for example, and they have to spend extra time working out what you mean...

It’s not a good idea to contract two things inside one contraction, as happens with “I’d’ve,” a contraction of “I would have”. It would be better to say, “I’d have” or perhaps not even use a contraction at all...

Also among that list are contractions such as “could’ve,” “should’ve,” “would’ve,” “might’ve,” and “must’ve,” because they encourage people to believe the proper pronunciations are “could of” and “must of,” which are incorrect. It’s better to spell these out when you are writing them, though O’Conner’s book acknowledges that you'll probably find yourself using these contractions in regular speech.
A quick check of this blog shows only one usage of the terms in that last paragraph (and that in the lyrics of Pink Floyd's "Us and Them"), but personally, I wouldn't worry about using them because readers of this blog would not be misled by the contractions. 

Further details and discussion at Grammar Girl.


  1. One of my most frequently used new contractions is "I'mma", as in "I'm going to". I'm sure it would make grammatical purists clutch their pearls in horror, but it makes texting a whole lot faster!

  2. Neh...I'm not sure I agree with the condemnation of "should've," "would've," etc., providing they're pronounced properly. It's poor pronunciation that turns them into "should of" and "would of." The contractions are certainly better than "shoulda" and "woulda."

  3. The only contraction I've ever found jarring (only encountered in print once) was "who're" for "who are". I trust I don't need to explain.

    Incidentally, what does Grammar Girl think "Kim's here" could mean besides "Kim is here"?

  4. I've always admired writers who are able to bring the feel of casual speech to their work - especially in dialogue situations. In a formal letter, I wouldn't use a contraction; I was taught never to use one in a formal text as it is, but wouldn't hesitate to use one in a casual context. Avid readers conquer heteronyms in written work without missing a beat, and after reading unedited internet commentary, most of us can discern improper use of their, they're, and there without a stutter.
    With "creative" writing so prevalent and so freely published, writers should have access to as many tools as possible to convey their message.

  5. Contractions that reflect the way words are actually pronounced make casual writing a million times easier to read in a fluid manner, in my opinion.

    I even approve of the indulgent "couldn't've" for "could not have" because it's so much closer to how we actually speak that phrase. Think about it, would you really say, "I could not have come anyway"? Or are you more likely to pronounce it "I couldn't've come anyway." I'm most definitely the latter. Of course it depends on the emphasis for a particular situation, but I like that I have the contracted version as an option that truly reflects how I would speak the words in certain circumstances.
    ~ Gwen

  6. It made my day to see someone "jarred" by an old-fashioned but correct contraction.

  7. In our local paper we have a section called "text the editor" much like the "letters to the editor". Texters who take the time to spell out their words often say "could of" and "would of" and "should of". I agree with grammar girl that "the contractions encourage people to believe the proper pronunciations are..."

  8. Speaking of rock bands and contractions; how about the outstanding J. Geils single "Musta Got Lost".

    Though a Google search for the song lyrics does return hits with the title of the song listed as "Must of Got Lost" as well as "Must Have Got Lost".


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