A Word on Contractions
*This post originally appeared on my previous blog on October 31, 2014
Don’t, won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t, it’s (which will have a post of *its* own), and more.
I believe in high school I was told it was better to use two words than one contraction. If I remember correctly, I did not use one contraction in any of my college application essays. This practice varied throughout my college career, and while now I prefer not to use contractions, I don’t completely avoid them. Many people, if not most, use contractions when they speak and write. But is this wrong?
According to the AP Style Guide and the Chicago Manual of Style, contractions are acceptable when speaking and informally writing, but if you are preparing an academic paper, leave out the apostrophe and use both words. The Chicago Manual of Style also indicates that contractions are sometimes a stylistic feature, and could diminish an author’s tone or purpose if taken out during editing.
My advice: use contractions only if you can identify the words making up the contraction, and avoid them in professional or formal academic situations. Unless of course, their acceptance is made clear.
Here’s a test: Identify the two words that make up “won’t.”
Oh, and don’t use “ain’t.” The statement “ain’t ain’t a word if it ain’t in the dictionary” is negated by the fact that it is defined in some dictionaries. However, it is NOT (I’m not using the contraction here for) intelligent English, and in my opinion, should NOT be used at all. “I am not” or “they are not” are also easier to say than the weird “ai” arrangement. So do yourself a favor and avoid it at all costs.
I use contractions often in my blog posts. Goes to my informal tone there. But I agree–anything more formal or academic should have the words separated out.