Updated: Apr 16
One of the most underused (by non-native speakers) and underrated parts of the English language is contractions, which are shortened forms of words or phrases. While most ESL learners are familiar with common contractions like "isn't," "can't," and "I'm," there are several lesser-known contractions that can help you sound more fluent and natural when speaking English. Before examining the specifics, let's consider the following benefits of using contractions:
Sounding More Natural: Utilizing contractions can make your speech and writing sound more natural and less robotic. It mimics the way native speakers communicate in casual conversations, making you sound more fluent.
Improved Flow: Contractions enhance the flow of your speech, making it more fluid and easier to follow. They remove the need for pauses between words, enabling you to speak at a more consistent pace.
Enhancing Informality: US culture is highly informal, so most day-to-day conversations and business meetings are conducted with informal language. Mastering the use of contractions can make you feel more comfortable in casual conversations and social situations.
Saving Time and Effort: Using contractions saves time and effort, both in speech and writing. They allow you to communicate your thoughts more quickly and with less effort, helping you become more efficient in your communication.
Here’s a quick guide to some of the more common contractions along with some you’ve probably never heard of.
1. ’S - Is
While 's is commonly known as the contraction for "is" in phrases like "it's" (it is) and "he's" (he is), it can also be used as a contraction with thousands of other nouns or pronouns. Example: The cat's hungry. The meeting’s at 9am. The weather’s better today.
2. They'd - they had / they would
"They'd" can be a contraction of either "they had" or "they would." Understanding the context in which it is used will help determine its meaning. “They’d be happy to give you a hand.”
3. She'd - she had / she would
Like "they'd" and "I'd," "she'd" can be a contraction of either "she had" or "she would." Context is crucial in determining the intended meaning. “She’d lived in Austin before moving to Spain.”
4. ain't - am not / are not / is not / has not / have not
"Ain't" is a versatile contraction, but it is often considered too informal or nonstandard. You probably won’t use it, but it’s good to know since ain’t frequently shows up in movies and music. Example: (From the movie Blade Runner 2049) "You've never seen a miracle. Ain't that right?"
5. 'Cause - Because
"'Cause" is a contraction of "because." It's often used in casual speech and informal writing but might be considered too informal for formal contexts. Example: “They’re late ‘cause they got lost.”
6. 'Til - Until
"'Til" is an informal contraction of "until" and is used all the time in everyday speech and informal writing like text messages. Example: “The restaurant’s open ‘til midnight.”
7. Ma'am - Madam
Ma'am is a contraction of the word "madam" and used to be considered a polite form of address for women, particularly in formal situations or when addressing someone older or of a higher status. Nowadays it’s considered old-fashioned but it’s good to be aware of it if you watch old movies or TV shows. Example: “Excuse me, ma'am, can you please help me with this?”
8. Y'all - You all
Y'all is a contraction of "you all" and is mainly used in the southern U.S. as an informal way to address a group of people.
Example: “Are y'all coming to the barbecue tonight?”
Bottom line: if you want to blend in with your native English-speaking colleagues and friends, you’ll use contractions—almost all the time!