The way you use contractions (e.g. Do not vs Don’t) tells your reader a lot about you. If you are not clear on how to use them,
- You will convey that you haven’t done a lot of writing in your life
- Your language may sound unnatural
- Your sentences may lose some of their power
- You may even waste a job opportunity
So, What Are Contractions, Anyway?
Contractions are a way of using an apostrophe to splice two words into one, eliminating a syllable. For example :
- Do not = Don’t
- Have not = Haven’t
- We are = We’re
Three Simple Rules to Know When To Use Which
The More Formal Your Writing, the Less Frequently You Should Use Contractions
If you’re writing an email to your new classmate, you could write:
“Hey, Chuck. We’re going out tonight. Don’t be shy and join. I should’ve called you yesterday, but couldn’t.”
This is fine because Chuck is your classmate. He won’t be offended at the use of a contraction or two in every sentence.
If you’re writing a cover letter to include in your resume, then it’s a different story:
“I am confident in my abilities and do not like to slack off. I should have emailed you first. I could not imagine a better job than the one I am applying for.”
These sentences may not be masterpieces of cover letter writing, but they illustrate several cases in which contractions could be used, but were not. Also, it is better to limit your use of contractions in college essays. When not sure, just don’t use a contraction.
Listen to the Music of Your Sentences
Sometime a contraction just sounds better than not using one:
I do not know a better way to say this.
I don’t know a better way to say this.
Which one sounds a little better?
I have not done any work yet.
I haven’t done any work yet.
Again – which sentence sounds better to you? The second one in each example is a better choice because it’s easier to pronounce and is, therefore, better received, especially in speech.
Avoid Contractions When Trying to Emphasize a Point
No, you do not want to be late again!
Here, we’re emphasizing the word not and , therefore, should write the word in full.
I have not been unfair!
Again, we’re emphasizing the word not, and shouldn’t contract.
He is coming tomorrow (instead of “He’s coming tomorrow”).
We’re emphasizing that he is in fact showing up as opposed to not showing up.
Finally, Two Contraction Mistakes to Avoid like the Plague:
1. Writing should of instead of should’ve
If it sounds like “should of,” just write should’ve – plain and simple.
2. Writing your instead of you’re
If you mean you are, then write you’re
If you mean “yours” as in “it belongs to you,” then use your
If you make these simple rules your own, you’ll enjoy:
- Better grades
- More respect from professors who are tired of these mistakes and poor style
- A better job, if you’re smart when writing your cover letter
Question? Comments? Post ‘em here.