The apostrophe in English is a very valuable sign. I want to know about the way it is used to omit letters of a word. I often see authors omitting letters in dialogues (in books, articles, blogs, scripts):

  • They had to take 'em away. ('em=them)
  • I was down 'n' broken last night. ('n'=and)
  • We were ridin' to town yesterday. (ridin'=riding)

Why is it done so and how bad is it in dialogues (especially in books)?

  • 2
    It's pretty bad. The general advice for learners should be to avoid such contractions. None of the examples are "natural", and they don't save any time in the written form anyway. There're nothing at all unusual about It's and don't in my preceding sentences, but it would just look stupid if I'd written precedin' in this one. The only real justification for 'em, 'n', ridin', etc. is in "reported speech", where the writer wishes to explicitly convey that his subject speaker has a regional accent, is uneducated, or similar. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '16 at 14:08
  • @FumbleFingers but that's exactly what I often see in books. – SovereignSun Dec 5 '16 at 14:25
  • No you don't. Your first two examples also include "errors" that no native speaker would be likely to make, so it's unlikely you've ever read exactly those words, let alone often. And the last one is extremely unlikely in any context - it might just about occur in reported speech, but it's not easy to imagine why anyone would want to do it (if you wanted to indicate "substandard speech" there, We wuz riding to town would probably be more likely). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '16 at 14:47
  • @FumbleFingers Those aren't book sentences. But I remember reading Harry Harrison and Ray Bradbury and they had such stuff there! – SovereignSun Dec 5 '16 at 15:08
  • I remember reading Harry Harrison and Ray Bradbury too, but I doubt you'll actually find a single instance of [verb]in' in the collected works of either, except where it's reported speech. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '16 at 16:13

Authors in literary works like to add flavor to their characters. One of the way they do this is by giving the characters accents. An easy (if not only) way to show this accent is by changing the spelling of the words in the character's dialogue sections.

So, omitting letters (or misspelling the words), is a way of showing that someone speaks with an accent and allows readers to read the text in their head (or out loud) with the similar accent.

This is commonly done in both books and scripts.

You'll usually find that, while the dialogue may have these elisions or misspellings, the rest of the text will have standard English spellings.

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In real life, speakers often smooth or cut off the ends and beginnings of words. This happens a lot with common pronouns and auxiliary verbs.

An author trying to recreate in text form the way people speak in real life will use these to indicate that the omission of letters was not a mistake.

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