Are double contractions, such as following, formal (ie allowed in formal documents/papers)?

  • it'll've for "it shall have" or "it will have"
  • mightn't've for "might not have"

How about multiple contractions such as y'all'd've for "you all would have" ?

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    Contractions of all kinds are avoided in formal writing. – Michael Harvey May 8 at 8:40
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    Multiple contractions appear to be more common in the southern U.S. I mean, it's just an attempt to put the drawl in writing. You may like this related video about triple contractions (from Merriam-Webster). – Peter A. Schneider May 8 at 13:12
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    Not only are they not formal, they are rarely seen in written form at all (except perhaps when quoting the dialog of someone with a strong Southern drawl). I'm a native speaker, and it took a bit of puzzling to even figure out what your examples were supposed to mean. So no, I wouldn't've used them in writing :) – BradC May 8 at 18:13
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    I would avoid using "y'all" in any formal writing, regardless of the number of contractions surrounding its usage. Unless maybe, and just maybe, you're only addressing locals from particular areas of the US. – Ricardo van den Broek May 8 at 19:25
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    Just to be clear, your final example is not a proper generalization of the prior pattern, because y'all'd've is necessarily ambiguous (and not representative of spoken contractions, which is what contractions are for) in a way the other contractions aren't. How is anyone supposed to know you meant "would" instead of "could" or "should" there? – mtraceur May 8 at 20:53

No, double or multiple contractions are not formal.

While some style guides support the moderate use of common contractions, even single contractions are sometimes discouraged in formal writing. See MLA style on contractions and this roundup of views on contractions.

Edit to address some of the points in the comments:

  • In formal writing, it is appropriate to use contractions if you are quoting a line of text or speech that contains contractions, or if the topic you are discussing is the use of contractions.

  • O'clock is standard and formal.

  • Diacritical marks in words like Qur'an, Hawai'i and Xi'an are not contractions and are not discouraged.

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    There are a few words which etymologically are contractions and which have apostrophes, but which are nonetheless the standard spellings and which would be acceptable in formal writing. The most common is o'clock, also Ma'am used verbally in the military, the police etc, and addressing royalty (according to Debrett's), and rarer words bos'n, sou'wester. Many transliteration schemes for other languages use apostrophes eg Qur'an. – jonathanjo May 8 at 10:27
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    besides their formality I also find it hard to pronounce double contractions... – Laurent S. May 8 at 12:03
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    @MartinBonner - I've seen 'bosun' though I would suspect it is a back-formation, as bos'n is short for boatswain, with no 'u' in sight.Having said that, focsle without apostrophes is common enough too, as opposed to fo'c'sle.... & gunnel [I bet there are a lot of maritime words the same has been done to over the years] – Tetsujin May 8 at 12:43
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    I'm not sure anyone even thinks of o'clock as a contraction these days. The expansion is never used, it's nearly lost to history. I'd call it an idiom that takes the form of a contraction. And ma'am is more like an abbreviation, since it doesn't combine two words. – Barmar May 8 at 16:18
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    "fo'c'sle" might be the most standard use of an actual double contraction. – chepner May 8 at 19:55

I agree with Katy's answer that in quite formal contexts even individual contractions are frowned upon. But, since you ask about double contractions, you may be interested in writing that is informal enough that contractions are acceptable, but still somewhat formal. And, generally, your intuition is valid that doubling up contractions increases the informality. For instance, a news article about trade negotiations is generally written in a fairly formal style, but contractions are often shown in quoted speech. But, if someone said "wouldn't've" out loud, that would show up as "wouldn't have" in the article.

On the other hand, the way you write dialogue in a novel is part of your style. You may want to convey more about how the speech is being delivered than what comes across in standard, cleaned-up prose. I would still advocate restraint. Complicated contractions, like dialect respellings, tend to stand out and can distract the reader.

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    Yes, I'd consider double contractions to be eye dialect: representations of actual speech patterns, appropriate for dialog, or for representing how your own speech might sound, for example, in informal communications with friends. As a simple way to save characters in writing, where no spoken dialog is conceived, I don't think they'd be used. – CCTO May 8 at 19:06

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