Posted by: episystechpubs | October 2, 2013

Editor’s Corner: Contractions of the less painful kind

Most of us use contractions when we speak; but in most technical and business writing we are taught to avoid being so “casual.” In fiction, contractions are a necessity—they make voices come alive in dialog and help move conversations along. Here’s some information on contractions from an article in DailyWritingTips:

Here’s a guide to the relative respectability of various contractions:

· ’d: a contraction of did, had, and would, considered mildly informal.

· ’em: a highly informal contraction of them (“You really showed ’em”).

· ’er: a highly informal contraction of her, though often in reference to an inanimate object rather than a female (“Git ’er done”).

· ’im: a highly informal contraction of him (“I saw ’im standing there just a minute ago”).

· ’ll: frequently used in place of will (“I’ll concede that much”).

· n’t: widely employed to replace not, as in couldn’t, don’t, isn’t, shouldn’t, and won’t, though ain’t is considered acceptable only in colloquial or jocular usage, and shan’t is considered stilted.

· ’m: appears only in a contraction of “I am.”

· ’re: readily takes the place of are in “they are,” “we are,” and “you are” (and, less often, and less acceptably, “there are” or “what are”).

· ’s: used in contractions of phrases that include has and is, but use with does (“What’s he say about that?”) is considered highly informal; also is a contraction of us solely in the case of let’s.

· ’ve: acceptable for contraction of have, but double contractions such as I’d’ve (for “I would have”) are too informal for most contexts.

· y’all: a dialect contraction of “you all,” widespread in the southern United States, to refer to one or more people, but too informal for most written content.

Any of these forms is appropriate for representing dialect, though in nonfiction it is usually interpreted as a demeaning caricature, and even in fiction it can become tiresome.

The illogic of inconsistent degrees of acceptability for contractions is demonstrated by the case of ain’t, which started out as a spelling variation, based on changing pronunciation, of an’t, itself an easier-to-pronounce form of amn’t (“am I not”). All three forms were long acceptable — an’t also stood in for “are not” and is the ancestor of aren’t — but while aren’t acquired respectability, and amn’t and an’t faded, the older ain’t was attacked as a vulgarity.

Regarding yesterday’s e-mail, this is for those of you who said “live studio audience” is not redundant. Here’s a place that offers entertainment that fits your needs perfectly:

Thanks to Ellen Ewing for this great photo of a high-quality zombie hangout.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor


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