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Contractions in Writing: When to Use Them and When to Avoid Them

Contractions are quite commonplace in today’s spoken and written English. A contraction is the combination of two words into a shortened form with the omission of some internal letters and the use of an apostrophe. For example, “I’ve” is the contraction for “I have.” As you can see, the “h” and “a” have been omitted and the remaining letters of the two words have been connected by an apostrophe. For a longer list of commonly used English contractions, see the post entitled Commonly Used Contractions.

Now that we know what a contraction is, we must determine when we should avoid them or use them. The answer lies in the formality of the document that you are preparing. If you are engaged in formal writing, I would suggest that you avoid using all contractions. This includes cover letters, résumés, theses, essays, etc. Because the use of contractions seems more informal, you should avoid them in any instance in which you want to portray a professional, respected image.

However, some types of text benefit from the inclusion of contractions. Specifically, if you want your text to have a more informal, conversational tone, sprinkling some contractions throughout your writing can help you accomplish this. These types of text may include fictional stories or novels, dialogue, or personal letters or emails.

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