Did your teacher tell you not to use contractions when you speak English? Were you told it’s not proper English to say words like “can’t” or “they’ve”?

As a native speaker and English pronunciation coach I’m here to tell you the exact opposite. You SHOULD use contractions when you speak. In fact, if you don’t use contractions when you speak English, you’ll sound too formal. You might even sound annoyed.

Contractions are the result of putting two words together to make one word. An apostrophe replaces the missing letters.

For example: He + is = he’s or I + am = I’m.

Contractions are not slang

Contractions are not considered improper English. Whether it’s the Queen of England or the pizza delivery guy, everyone uses contractions when they speak. This is because it’s efficient and convenient.

English is a stress-timed language. Words that carry the most relevant information in a phrase get stressed; the other words are unstressed. This creates the rhythm of English. Contractions shorten unstressed words and keep the rhythm flowing.

Listen to the following sentences and decide which sounds more natural: 

 He should not drive so she will take him to the airport.

He shouldn’t drive so she’ll take him to the airport.

I am sure there will be snacks at the party.

I’m sure there’ll be snacks at the party.

The second sentence in each example is how native English speakers talk. Notice how contractions keep the focus on the stressed words. Less content-heavy words like ‘will’ and ‘am’ don’t receive equal stress. It’s almost like they get “absorbed” into the word in front of them.

Avoiding contractions can send the wrong message

The first sentence in each example above sounds stiff and formal. If you speak like this, people might get the impression you’re being rather serious. Native English speakers usually avoid contractions only if they have to correct someone or clarify a point.

For example, “I said he should NOT drive.” “There WILL be snacks.”

The bottom line: You will sound friendlier, and your speech will sound more natural, if you use contractions.

Practice for better understanding

If you were taught to avoid contractions in your English classes you probably never heard many examples of contractions in conversation. You may struggle at times to understand what native speakers say when they use contractions you’re not familiar with. Using contractions will train your ear to understand native English speakers better.

Download this free useful guide of common English contractions used when speaking.

Download your FREE 2 page English Contraction Guide

Learn which contractions are spoken, but never used in writing.

thumbnail of Common English Contractions

 

Practice saying these contractions in sentences and you’ll be one step closer to improving the clarity of your spoken English.

 

mma-nyc-72 by kris krüg used under CC
Should you use English contractions when speaking?

2 thoughts on “Should you use English contractions when speaking?

  • June 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm
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    Hey Karen. Great post and great point! This happens a lot when I work on dictations with English learners – even if there’s a contraction in the dictation, they write out the full, uncontracted form. I always have to reinforce that with dictations, you write what you hear, not what you would write in formal, written language. So there’s no need to write “cannot” even though you heard “can’t”. In fact, if you write out the full form, you won’t get used to the fact that we mainly use contractions and that you should expect to hear and use them. Thank you for clarifying that they’re not slang! Such a huge misconception.

    Reply
    • June 7, 2017 at 10:23 am
      Permalink

      Thanks, Cara! Yes, what you wrote is very true. It can be difficult to break a rule you were taught when learning English. It’s very common for even advanced English learners to see a contraction in print and continue to pronounce the uncontracted form. It can take a lot of practice sometimes to break the habit and feel natural using contractions when speaking. Contractions really do make a big difference on how natural English sounds.

      Reply

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