by Barbara McNichol
Contraction: Two words that have been contracted (pulled together) into one word. E.g., let’s (let us), he’d (he had), we’re (we are), etc.
My colleague Karen Saunders received this query from a subscriber to her ezine and asked for advice on this author’s contraction conundrum.
My latest (4th) book is coming out in September. I just got the edits back from my publisher. I got a lot of glowing remarks BUT the one thing they changed is this: They took out every contraction in the book. Literally, every “you’ll” and “let’s” and “she’s” was wiped from existence.
This is my first book with this particular publisher. None of the others I’ve worked with were this anal about contractions. My feeling is when I want to relate to my target audience of parents and be more conversational, I tend to use a contraction. When I’m giving advice or explaining a principle, it tends to be more formal. In my opinion, removing every contraction takes away some of the flow of a sentence.
Can you give me your thoughts on this issue?
I agree with you; it’s acceptable to use contractions in your writing. As you describe your book, it has a casual discourse and contractions should not distract the reader.
Patricia O’Connor states in Woe is I:
Isn ’t it time we admitted that the contraction has earned its place in the sun? It has all the qualities we admire in language: it’s handy, succinct, economical, and everybody knows what it means.” However, she does list “out of bounds” contractions that take away from narrative writing. Here are a few that make writing go “thud”: ain’t, could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, it’d, that’d, that’ll, there’ll, when’ll, why’d. And stay away from gonna, gotta, and wanna unless they’re in dialogue.
William Zinsser, in On Writing Well, advocates the use of contractions:
“Your style will be warmer and truer to your personality if you use contractions such as ‘I’ll’ and ‘won’t’ and ‘can’t’ when they fit comfortably into what you’re writing.” (See his quotations later in this ezine.)
June Casagrande writes in The best punctuation book, period:
“Contractions in news and book styles are common and acceptable. Judgment calls on whether or not to use them are usually based on the general tone of the publication and the writer’s voice.” For academic and science writing that is more formal, she suggests avoiding contractions. (Note: Always consult the publisher’s style guidelines.)
Helen Wilkie, speaker, author, workshop leader:
“I’m with you and the author of the book. Contractions help build a human contact with the reader. However, I must say I can’t deal with gonna and wanna. I don’t see these as contractions, but just mistakes. Or am I just old fashioned?”
In most nonfiction books, contractions actually aid readability because they move the reader’s eye faster than without them. They help set a casual rather than formal tone and add authenticity, particularly in dialogue. After all, when people speak, they use contractions most of the time.
Overall, contractions improve the flow of the sentence. As both a reader of nonfiction books and an editor, I prefer them!
What’s your preference and why? Share your thoughts here.