Why can we contract "it has" to "it's" in some sentences but not others?

For example:

Why is this correct

It's been moved (It has been moved)

this incorrect

It's four legs (It has four legs)

and this correct

It's got four legs (It has got four legs)

What are the differences here?

2 Answers 2


When "has" is functioning as a main verb, it isn't contracted.

It has four legs

The verb is "has". That is the main verb. The contraction is not possible.

It has been moved.

The verb is "has been moved", and "has" is an auxiliary. The contraction is possible.

It has got four legs

The verb is "has got", and has is an auxiliary. The contraction is possible.

This is how we tend to use contractions when speaking fairly carefully. When speaking quickly, "has" as a main verb tends to be reduced to /əz/ (especially in British accents) This might be written as "'s". This is probably not a style that English Learners need to emulate in writing.

With negative verbs, the contraction "It hasn't been moved" is far more common than "It's not been moved" (this is perhaps typical of Scottish dialects). As a main verb, do-support is used: "It doesn't have four legs".

  • 9
    He's no reason to be be suspicious; he's no reason to desert and every reason not to; the man behind the blueprint to bring Marks and Spencer to Limerick says he's “no reason to believe” the retailer won't come to the city. Maybe it's a British/Irish thing. Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 23:50
  • 19
    @MichaelHarvey In AmE, we don’t contract have/has as main verbs, even when there’s no ambiguity. I’m used to BrE speakers doing it, but it still sounds weird to me.
    – StephenS
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 1:28
  • 6
    @MichaelHarvey To me, "He's no reason to be suspicious" would most likely be interpreted as "He is no reason to be suspicious". The second is more clear it must be "he has"
    – MCMastery
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 5:10
  • 6
    @MCMastery that’s funny, I would interpret ‘he’s no reason to be suspicious’ as he ‘he has no reason to be suspicious’. I guess it varies quite a bit. Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 10:55
  • 7
    @MichaelHarvey: No, because it can make sense that someone might not be a reason to be suspicious. "Look at these people in the camera footage: he's no reason to be suspicious, but she certainly is." Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 17:30

It's could be read as It has or It is. Hence -

It's a leg (It has a leg) or (It is a leg). This is ambiguous, so you must make the meaning clear with It has.

It's been moved (It has been moved) but not (It is been moved). No ambiguity, so it is correct to say It's.

  • 4
    Another ambiguity, in the OP's 2nd sentence "It's four legs" sounds like a possessive, as in "its four legs were all painted blue". Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 4:25
  • 5
    Ambiguity can't be the issue here, because the non-use of "it's" for "it has" in certain cases (in U.S. English) is perfectly mirrored by the non-use of "I've" for "I have" in those same cases, even though that one has no ambiguity. (And it hopefully goes without saying that English has no rule against ambiguity. Ambiguous sentences, in fact, are the norm.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:44
  • 3
    Following up on @ruakh’s comment, it’s not too hard to construct examples where we contract is/has despite resulting ambiguity. “No, he’s eaten” could be the answer to “Is Tom hungry?” or “Did Tom escape the tiger?”
    – PLL
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 22:36
  • 2
    Really, this is wrong. Ambiguity is utterly ubiquitous in English, and it's certainly not the "reason" for 's rules.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 17:39
  • 1
    I do not deny that ambiguity abounds and that it is not always bad. I merely argue that to distinguish between ambiguities, some effort must be made to write clearly.
    – Anton
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 18:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .