Using Contractions: Do You Write the Way You Speak?

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We’ll explore the appropriate use of contractions, offering insights and guidelines to help writers use them effectively.

What are contractions?

Contractions are shortened forms of words or phrases created by combining two words and replacing one or more letters with an apostrophe.

For example, can’t is a contraction of cannot. Another example would be to use it’s instead of it is, or it has. Using contractions is common in spoken and written English. When writing seems more conversational, it helps the reader feel included in the writing, as if they’re listening to what’s being said.

Who uses contractions?

Americans do. In fact, they often “speak” and even “think” using contractions. I do, and if you’re being objective, so do you.

When we edit nonfiction writing, we’re amazed at how often writers tell us, “I write the way I speak.” However, we rarely find that to be true. When we edit their manuscripts, we typically find they’ve used surprisingly few contractions.

Moreover, nonfiction writers commonly write as though they’re supposed to avoid using contractions. Several clients have expressed concern that no one will take their work seriously if they use them. Writers can sometimes be confused about usage. So, let’s consider how to navigate this aspect of our writing effectively.

When is it appropriate to use contractions?

Informal Writing:

Using contractions is widely accepted and encouraged in informal writing, such as personal emails, blog posts, social media updates, and many nonfiction books. They help to create a relaxed and conversational tone, making your writing more engaging and relatable to readers.


When writing dialogue for fictional characters, contractions mirror natural speech patterns and contribute to the authenticity of conversations. Using them in dialogue can enhance character development and make interactions feel more realistic.

Informal reports and articles:

In certain informal reports or articles, such as opinion pieces, personal narratives, or lifestyle blogs, contractions can help establish a friendly rapport with readers and maintain their interest.

Nonfiction books:

Many nonfiction books, especially those written in the first person, use a more informal or conversational style. As such, contractions are appropriate.

When is it appropriate to avoid contractions?

Formal Writing:

Examples of formal writing include academic essays, professional reports, or business correspondence. Formal writing often requires a more precise and authoritative tone, better achieved through full words rather than contractions.

Technical or Legal Documents:

Writers undoubtedly omit contractions in technical, legal, or other documents where clarity and precision are paramount. In these instances, full words may provide greater clarity and convey the intended meaning accurately.

Emphasizing Formality:

In situations where you want to emphasize formality or professionalism, such as job applications, cover letters, or formal invitations, using full words can help convey a sense of respect and decorum.

Here are some general guidelines for use.

Know Your Audience:

When deciding whether to use contractions, you will undoubtedly want to consider your audience’s expectations and preferences. Adjust your writing style accordingly to communicate effectively with your readers.

Maintain Consistency:

Whatever decision you make regarding contractions, strive for consistency throughout your writing. Inconsistent use can disrupt the flow of your text and confuse your audience.

Additionally, here is a helpful list if you’re unsure about the proper location for the apostrophe in a contraction.

Revise and Proofread:

Always review your writing carefully to ensure that your use of contractions aligns with the tone and purpose of your piece. Proofreading and editing for clarity and coherence are essential to producing polished and professional writing.

One final suggestion.

Occasionally, a writer could have a short phrase in which two different contractions would be permissible. For example, consider the phrase “I would not.” You could choose to write “I’d not” or “I wouldn’t.”

“I’d not” could be consistent with how a fictional character would speak. However, in nonfiction, I would choose to write “I wouldn’t” because it’s more commonly used and appears informal but not casual.

Using contractions in your nonfiction work will help your writing seem more conversational and engaging to the reader. If you write in a more relatable manner, your writing may begin to draw a larger audience.

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About the Author: Cox Editing Services

David Cox is a Co-owner of Cox Editing Services. As an editor, he writes about the lessons he’s learned from successful writers. The habits and practices that can help aspiring writers become better and more productive at their craft.