Troublesome Contractions (e.g., I'd've)

Can you really make “Kim Is” into “Kim's”?

Bonnie Mills, read by Mignon Fogarty,
May 1, 2009
Episode #168

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Grammar Girl here.

Today's topic is troublesome contractions.

Author of this week's podcast Bonnie Trenga writes,

This episode’s about contractions. Or would it be better to say, “This episode is about contractions”? While we’re in the neighborhood, we’ll talk about some other potentially problematic contractions. What’s the fate of “I’d’ve,” with two apostrophes in one contraction, or “there’re,” a mouthful of an abbreviation of “there are”?

Contractions That Involve “Is”

First, we'll talk about contractions that involve the word “is.” You’ve probably learned from previous episodes that a contraction is the combination of two (or sometimes more) words into one, and that you use an apostrophe to represent the missing letter or letters.

Run-of-the-mill contractions you’ll encounter in everyday reading or speaking include “I’m,” for “I am”; “she’ll,” for “she will”; and “o’clock,” for “of the clock.” Most contractions pose no problem, but contractions that involve the word “is” can cause confusion or ambiguity (1).

You’ll encounter a problematic “is” contraction when you’re contracting it with a noun. Take, for example, the contraction of the words “the dancer” and “is,” which becomes “the dancer’s.” If you said, “The dancer’s flushed,” meaning “the dancer exerted herself and her face became red,” someone listening to you (instead of reading) might think you meant that some dancers flushed a commode. It would be easy to think that the contraction was a plural noun. In this case, it would be better to spell things out: “The dancer is flushed.”

In another example, it’s easy to misread the contraction as a possessive construction, which inconveniently uses an apostrophe too. Take, for example, “The man’s mad.” At first you might expect the word after “man’s” to be a noun, as in “the man’s hat” or “the man’s beard,” so when you read the word “mad,” you do a double take. To save readers from confusion, you should probably spell out the contraction: “The man is mad.”

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.”

Contractions That Involve “Had” or “Would”

Next, we'll talk about contractions that involve the words “had” or “would.” These can also be troublesome because you can interpret contractions to mean two things (2). 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.

So if you find yourself using a contraction with an apostrophe plus a “d,” consider spelling it out instead. Although your sentence might be perfectly clear to you, it might not be so clear to someone reading it for the first time.


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