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Topic: Contractions

I recently saw someone saying contractions should only be used in first-person pov and dialogue on another site.  I use them all the time and see others use them so I went in search of an answer.  I found articles that said yes and no, one even said in any kind of business or formal writing they shouldn't be used but in fictional writing, they can be used.  The more I looked the more confused I got so instead of having my head explode I have decided to ask on Booksie.  Some of you say you are professional editors, others have been published so what is the rule?

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Re: Contractions

According to professional journalists or reporters, if you are reporting about something you must use a mark "Copied verbatim" in every case you are quoted of someone. If you do any changes, such as the use of bold or italic font, you must mark it clearly to understand that you have changed someone's quotation. When your source has misprinted words or wrong commas, for example, you must use a mark "(sic)" (or [sic]).
For example:

Copied verbatim
"I laike [sic] bicycles."

Russian reporters (for example, in newspapers) always use "Copied verbatim" marks and never change the source of text. It doesn't matter how illiterate it is. In English, I saw them only in old books (and good ones as far as I understood) around the 50s and older.

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Re: Contractions

I use contractions when writing informally or for dialogue because that is the way people talk.  I never use contractions in formal letters or documents. I haven't (or have not if you prefer) followed any rules in this respect. I just write in the style that seems natural for the purpose.

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Re: Contractions

I don't use contractions if I think that the intonation of conversations is a categorical tone.
A calm tone: "I don't think so," he has disagreed.
A categorical tone: "I do not think so," he has strong disagreed. Or "I DO NOT think so," he has strong disagreed.
I am writing as actors on the theatre, or the film would say in various situations with the copy of intonation.

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Re: Contractions

Yes, I agree with Roman. When writing dialogue in fiction, the use or lack of contraction can indicate the character's mood without need for an adverb.

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Re: Contractions

Contractions?!
OMG! Is someone having a Baby?!

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Re: Contractions

No, HJ. Perhaps you are thinking of extractions.

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Re: Contractions

Extractions are for oil?
Does one not have contractions before giving birth?
Oily babies! Ugh!

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Re: Contractions

OK. You win.

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Re: Contractions

I don't think contractions are natural:
"Maybe he would clarify to her what is happening and how legal it is."
Is everyone thinks that "how legal it's" is natural? Usually, I don't use them at the end of the sentence.

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Re: Contractions

RomanBoukreev wrote:

I don't think contractions are natural:
"Maybe he would clarify to her what is happening and how legal it is."
Is everyone thinks that "how legal it's" is natural? Usually, I don't use them at the end of the sentence.

It depends on how you use it.

"Maybe he would clarify to her what is happening and how legal it is."
"He doesn't need to clarify; trust me, it's very legal and very cool."

The above example, both your sentence and my reply, both sound natural. You're correct in that it doesn't sound right putting that contraction at the end of that sentence, but that's not to say you can't. Just that it's situational smile

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Re: Contractions

After seeing that I was not going to get a clear answer I contacted two English teachers.  They both agree the use of contractions in any form of formal writing, like a business letter, is not a good idea.  In personal letters to friends and family, it is ok.  In any kind of fictional writing, it is permitted but some editors and publishers frown upon it.

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Re: Contractions

I don't argue, you're right, C. J. Davis. That's almost no situation when contractions are bad except for the end of the sentence, beginning of questions and some other examples.
Like: "Are you sure?" is natural.
"Re'you sure?" is weird.
I read one example when wrong contractions (like this one) help to create newspeak of Aliens in English. I don't remember the name of the author, some sci-fi novel. You can use wrong English intentionally if you want to make Aliens, for example.

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Re: Contractions

"Dear Sir/Madam,
It's come to my attention that one of the dogs in the garden is rather terrified and will not eat whilst the woodpecker is in the tree. Let's work together to ensure the safe migration of the woodpecker, thereby aiding the dog to live a full and satisfying life. I can't thank you enough for your continued support in these matters, if there's anything I can do to help the cat in your house, don't hesitate to ask.
Kind Regards,
Obscure."

Ignoring the random content that sprung to mind, would anyone criticise a formal letter if any of the above contractions were used? I don't think using a contraction (except a select few, such as 'C'mon', etc) abuses the language in any way.

I think when it comes to formal writing, what is more important than whether or not you are using contractions is to ensure your writing is as clear and as concise as it can be.

15 (edited by HJFurl 2019-07-25 06:41:21)

Re: Contractions

The Voice of Common Sense!
Thank you, Obscure!
HJ

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Re: Contractions

In Obscure's example, I don't think the contractions sit well in the same letter as formal phrases such as 'in these matters'. It's a bit like wearing sandals with a tuxedo. The example could be written formally or informally but - sorry Obscure - the mix of the two is jarring. It has an uneducated look about it. In my opinion - which means that I have no idea what I am talking about but this is what I think - the question is not whether it is OK to use contractions, but whether to write formally or informally. We are all writers here. We should be capable of knowing what looks best for the purpose.

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Re: Contractions

HJFurl wrote:

The Voice of Common Sense!
Thank you, Obscure!
HJ

Common is all I'm capable of wink

To Joe:
I think the question is whether it is okay to use contractions in terms of writing formally or informally. By your own admission, using contractions look uneducated and informal when contrasted with 'formal phrases' such as 'in these matters'.

You say we're all writers and 'we should be capable of knowing what looks best for the purpose', but it is clear we don't - this forum post wouldn't exist if we did.

Language is always evolving, and my argument is that contractions should not be considered informal, that it's is no less formal than it has. I struggle to understand how using language correctly can come across as uneducated. If 2x=4x/2, how can one be inferior?

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Re: Contractions

Contractions can be used at the end of a sentence especially in dialogue
'Cool, it is not' can become 'Cool, it isn't.'
And I'm in full agreement with Obscure. The only time that I'd make a point of not using them would be in a very formal letter.

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Re: Contractions

I seem to be outnumbered here but I still think it's a mistake to mix pompous "business" language with informal language. Obscure's example would have been OK if it were entirely informal or entirely formal, but phrases such as "It's come to my attention" instead of "I've noticed" or "It has come to my attention" don't look good. They really don't.

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Re: Contractions

The use of contractions makes writing feel more friendly so using it in a letter explaining you are planning to sue somebody will give the wrong feel to the letter.
As far as a writer knowing what looks best, that may be true, but what looks best and what actually follows the rules of the English language aren't always the same.  I've been writing for years and I still find at times stuff I write looks good to be, but is grammatically incorrect.  Am I a bad writer? Probably, but there are a lot of good writers that have the same problem.

Now I started the topic because I wanted to see what others thought.  I was hoping somebody could actually come up with a rule, but it seems we are stuck on using contractions in formal writing.  The writing on here is 99% of the informal type so why do we care what the rule is or isn't for formal writing?

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Re: Contractions

Ian  D.  Mooby wrote:

Now I started the topic because I wanted to see what others thought.  I was hoping somebody could actually come up with a rule, but it seems we are stuck on using contractions in formal writing.

I don't know your English teachers, but I would say about my teachers. American native speakers, by the way. They say something like, “There are no exact rules. It depends on the style guide that you use.” Publishers may use the various style guides. You would buy one or several books about the style guide to learn this topic.
For example, where is an exact rule about quotes or double quotes in English? Some style guides say that you must use “these quotes,” and others are that you must use ‘these quotes’ of the first level. Some style guides say that you “form the double-quotes ‘something like this.’ ” if you need in quotes of the second level. Other style guides say that you must avoid any double-quotes. Some of the style guides say that you need an italic font to create an emphasis of names, titles, ranks, degrees, and some of the style guides say that you need quotes into it.
I think that English is a rich language in style guides, and grammar and style guides are not the same. What a rule you're talking? It depends on the style guide that you use. If you're interested in a particular publisher, write or call them to learn what the style guide they're using.

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Re: Contractions

To Joe: I'll concede that the language I used may appear unnatural since I was trying to make a point. With thought, although I don't see the difference between 'It's come to...' and 'It has come to...', in a formal letter I would probably use the latter, because our writing styles are often influenced by what those around us think, and I would not jeopardize my integrity at the expense of my ego. It's the same reason why I follow the rule of no or little adverbs in fiction. Language is, by its very nature, a communicative medium and so you have to adhere to, or at the very least, account for, the audience. I assure you, for example, that were I to write a formal letter to you, there would not be a contraction in sight.

Ian  D.  Mooby wrote:

Now I started the topic because I wanted to see what others thought.  I was hoping somebody could actually come up with a rule, but it seems we are stuck on using contractions in formal writing.  The writing on here is 99% of the informal type so why do we care what the rule is or isn't for formal writing?

Sorry, I thought you were asking for both formal and fictional and everything in-between. I agree with Roman about it not being so much about rules but about guidelines, so if that's what you're looking for, I propose these guidelines:

Formal: No, or few, contractions. (No one will argue why you have not used contractions, at least).
Fiction: Contractions are fine, so long as consistency is sound. (A historical king wouldn't use certain contractions). If you can pick up a modern fictional book and not find a single contraction, I would be extremely surprised.
Non-fiction: Personal and/or audience preference.

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Re: Contractions

Obscure wrote:

Fiction: Contractions are fine, so long as consistency is sound. (A historical king wouldn't use certain contractions). If you can pick up a modern fictional book and not find a single contraction, I would be extremely surprised.

Also, in fiction, I would use or wouldn't use the contractions to imitate/ copy non-English languages. For example, I use the contractions in my recent French story because their sentences in French consists of one-syllable technical words, e.g. Il ne semble pas être intéressant (He doesn't seem to be interesting). I wouldn't use the contractions in Arabian dialogues, because Arabic has no contractions in their grammar. I used "C'mon" in the Russian dialogues; we have something like this and use it to sound more colloquial and informal. In our case, it's not a contraction but a popular wrong word.

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Re: Contractions

Maybe I misunderstood your earlier post, Obscure but, for the record, I agree with your latest post 100%. It's not so much a matter of rules as a matter of writing in a manner appropriate to the task at hand, such as a story, a job application, a poem, a friendly letter, a technical report, a letter of complaint, etc. Whether or not a contraction is appropriate in any of theses is a matter of judgement on the part of the writer. I agree with what you said about adverbs, by the way.
As Ian said, we are mainly concerned with fiction here so my answer to his question is that there is no rule regarding contractions, but I would advise sticking to those that are commonly understood.