Are the short forms of verbs "To be" and "To have" common in written English? For example "She has a baby" is probably more common than "She's a baby" in both spoken and written English. The short forms of the verbs "To have" and "To be" as auxiliary verbs are common in both speech and writing. For example "It's been ten years." "She's arrived." (She has arrived and She is gone) "She's gone." "She's been away" (She has been away)

"She is a baby" and "She's a baby" are common in both speech and writing. Am I right?

2 Answers 2


In conversation, more than 70% each of uses of "be" and "will" are contracted, about 55% of uses of "have", and only about 15% of uses of "would". In fiction, the figures are about 45%, 50%, 10%, and 5% respectively. In news reporting, they're about 10%, 5%, 5%, and 1%. In academic writing they're about 1% each, or less. (Source: Longman Corpus of Spoken and Written English, cited in Longman Grammar of Spoken & Written English. Note: the corpora of conversational usage and of news reporting are both BrE-only. The book shows a graph so I can only read off the approximate figures.)

Longman Grammar of Spoken & Written English states:

Have is much more likely to be contracted as an auxiliary verb (in the perfect aspect, as in We've arrived) than as a main verb (e.g. I've no idea). Further, the contraction of have is more common than [of] has or had.

"'s" can mean "is", "has", or occasionally "does" ("What's it do that for?").

It's fair to say that there's a strong tendency to avoid 's (=has) in contexts where it might be misinterpreted as meaning "is".

On "have" as a main or lexical verb: LGSWE comments that simple negation ("I haven't") is common with "got" in BrE conversation. But without "got" it is a "conservative (or even old-fashioned) choice" that "occurs rarely in British English conversation and almost never in American English".

It is interesting, though, that LGSWE's (corpus-based) example of lexical "haven't" is "I haven't a clue", and they also included "I've no idea" as an example (see my earlier quote), which was something I came up with independently in an earlier comment before reading this bit of the book. There may be certain phrases where lexical "haven't" is more likely to occur (but probably only in BrE), even though it might feel a little old-fashioned (to most speakers) in other contexts.


Contraction of “be” is very common in informal writing and speech.

AmE only contracts “have” as an auxiliary verb, not as a main verb, whereas BrE contracts both uses.

Contractions are usually avoided in formal writing and speech.

  • 2
    Nobody in British English zones would say 'she's a baby' meaning she has a baby, because it would be interpreted as meaning 'she is a baby'. Contracting 'have' in this way is severely old-fashioned in British English. Sep 30, 2020 at 14:20
  • @MichaelHarvey I’ve heard modern BrE speakers contract “have” as a main verb in cases where it isn’t ambiguous. As an AmE speaker myself, I don’t know their exact rules.
    – StephenS
    Sep 30, 2020 at 14:25
  • 1
    I don't know the exact rules either (at least without giving it a lot more thought) but I would find nothing unnatural in, say, "I've no idea". But we wouldn't say "she's a baby" when we meant "she has...". We could say "she's got a baby", though, with the same meaning.
    – rjpond
    Sep 30, 2020 at 14:57
  • @rjpond I can say “I have no idea” or “I’ve got no idea”, but I can’t say “I’ve no idea” even though it’s not ambiguous like “she’s” would be. Yet I understand it fine if a BrE speaker says it.
    – StephenS
    Sep 30, 2020 at 15:09
  • @MichaelHarvey: but I can imagine She's a baby with her in that sense. It's just the ambiguity that rules out youre example.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 30, 2020 at 16:51

You must log in to answer this question.

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