Why Are English Contractions Important?

It has been pointed out before on Really Learn English, that even though you speak well and have good grammar and vocabulary skills, something (or somethings) still may be missing.

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These missing pieces continue to be the barrier in between natural and unnatural sounding English. Today, we'll review one of those missing somethings, which is the English contraction.

Whether you have been learning English for a long time or have just begun, you have most likely heard many native English speakers using contractions when speaking. 

Contractions, or shorter forms of a word that are made by replacing a letter/sound with an apostrophe ( ' ), are very important when it comes to not only learning English but understanding English as well. 

Using (and understanding) these shortened words will help you follow a conversation more effectively, and demonstrate that you have a higher level of fluency when it comes to pronunciation.

Although there are hundreds of words that are contracted every day, we are going to focus on one main word today: "not"

But first, it's important to point out two things here. The first thing is that when contractions aren't used, it can show that you are a non-native English speaker. This is because of how common and often contractions are used. 

Number two, and most importantly, when you don't use contractions, you are telling your listener that you are trying to emphasize the words you are saying. This means that when you don't contract "not", for example, you are putting a strong emphasis on this negative word, which means you could be angry, upset, or feeling negative.

So that's why contractions are highly important.


Let's see why and look at the example, "I won't go there today."

With the contractions and word stress, the sentence would be spoken like this: "I won't GO there today." 

However, if we did not use contractions, then the sentence would be spoken and emphasized as, "I will NOT go there today." 

When spoken in this way, the emphasis would be on the word "not" because it is an important content/function word giving meaning.  With this emphasis on "not", you might seem upset or like you are trying to tell someone that you really do not want to go.

Below you will be able to read other common contractions with "not", as well as sentences to practice. It's important to get comfortable reading these sentences aloud (with contractions) to ensure the ability to use them later on while speaking naturally.

  • with the verb "to be"

    • is not=isn't, are not=aren't, was not=wasn't, were not=weren't

  • with the verb "do"

    • do not=don't, does not=doesn't, did not=didn't

  • with modals
    • should not=shouldn't, cannot=can't, could not=couldn't, would not=wouldn't

Example sentences:

  1. Lucy isn't going to the game, so Taylor and Jim aren't either.

  2. I didn't want to go the concert in the rain because there wasn't a covered area.

  3. People shouldn't be disrespectful to each other, so don't be rude to strangers.

  4. Don can't wait to travel to Brazil for the Olympics this year, because he couldn't make it to the World Cup.

Important note: You will want to limit the use of contractions in writing – only use when writing informally. Contractions should not be used in formal writing. 

About the author: Jennifer Nascimento is the founder of English Outside the Box, and creator of English Pronunciation for Portuguese Speakers. Through her blog, Instagram, and online classes, Jennifer highlights the use of real English in natural context which provides students with an 'outside the box' learning experience.

To get even more pronunciation practice and achieve the next level of English fluency, join this article's author Jennifer Nascimento and her colleague, Elena Mutonono in Breakthrough Pronunciation. Breakthrough Pronunciation is an online 10 day workshop. Sign up today and get instant access to an exclusive Facebook group and useful information daily before the challenge begins. You can sign up here.

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