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I tried to persuade X to go, but I couldn't.

I came across someone writing a sentence ending in a contraction, similar to the one above, and someone else saying that it's uncommon, and that "but I could not" would be better. Is that the case?

I know that contractions shouldn't be used in formal writing, but that's not what I'm asking about. There's a similar question on English Language & Usage, but I'm not sure that nohat's answer is what all English language learners would like to read.

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    RE: I know that contractions shouldn't be used in formal writing... I'm uncomfortable with that blanket statement; that standard is being relaxed somewhat. I've written more about this matter in this ELU answer. – J.R. Feb 18 '13 at 10:06
  • @J.R. That's a great answer with sadly few upvotes... +1 and great answer to link to on this question. :) – WendiKidd Feb 18 '13 at 17:41
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Ending a sentence with a contraction is entirely valid in normal English.

I tried to force myself to eat the last bite of cheesecake, but I just couldn't.

Oh, go on. I'll eat this whole chocolate bar, even though I know I shouldn't.

No, really. I mustn't.

Really. Don't do it. Just don't.

Put a spider in her bed when she's sleeping? You wouldn't!

You two are going out, be we aren't.

Your ice-cream is tasty, but this one isn't.

You want to go to the mall? Yes, let's!

I can't remember sending that email, but I must've.

I didn't do it, but I could've.

The time now is eight o'clock.

How may I help you ma'am?

Greets, y'all! (warning: not standard English)

In fact, in the above, use of the non-contracted forms instead of the contracted-forms sounds stilted, although your point will still get across.

Note that there are some contractions where, as Bill points out in the comments below, one would not normally make use of them at the end of a sentence:

She's not going home for Christmas but I am (not I'm).

She's not going home for Christmas but we are (not we're).

You hadn't eaten a chocolate pudding, but I had (not I'd)

That experiment isn't awesome this project is (not project's)

That idea won't work, but this will (not this'll).

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    However, you can't do it in this sentence: "She's not going home for Xmas, but I am" cannot be *"She's not going home for Xmas, but I'm". – user264 Feb 18 '13 at 8:20
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    These are good examples. You might want to point out that, at least in cases like these, "x not" would sound stilted even in formal writing (although these particular examples aren't likely to appear in formal writing). – barbara beeton Feb 18 '13 at 14:04
  • @Matt: I don't get it. All your "valid" examples are contractions of not, and all your invalid ones are contractions of verbs, yet you haven't actually mentioned this at all. But this answer gets 7 upvotes, while I get a downvote for not only setting out the rule here, but also pointing out the (only?) exception to the rule illustrated by your examples. – FumbleFingers Feb 19 '13 at 5:53
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OP is already aware that using contractions isn't always appropriate (in formal writing, for example), so the only issue here is grammatical constraints on the use of contractions at the end of a sentence.

In general, you can contract not to n't at the end of a sentence, but you can't contract a verb form except if it's an auxiliary verb associated with an immediately-preceding "primary" verb.


Per discussion on wordreference.com, #3 here is a practical example of that exception:

1: John hasn't won the lottery, but I've. NO
2: John hasn't won the lottery but I have. OKAY
3: John didn't win the lottery, but he could've. OKAY

...where in #1 and #2 the verb have can be seen as an "auxiliary" form - but since it's not modifying another verb immediately before it (such as could in #3), it can't be contracted.

I haven't been able to find any authoritative source covering this particular issue, so the "rule of thumb" as given is simply my own phrasing to cover all valid/invalid examples I can think of. If anyone knows of a usage that doesn't fit my rule, please post it in a comment, rather than silently downvoting the answer.

  • The ELU question linked to by the OP covers the grammatical constraints, and in particular see nohat's answer for a citation. I agree that when it's grammatical is the interesting point, but since the OP linked to the above ELU question, they must already know the answer; as far as I can tell, the only thing left to say is "Yep, pretty common." – snailcar Feb 20 '13 at 0:20
  • @snailplane: Firstly, OP here implied that nohat's answer wasn't at the right level for learners. Understandably, since it's quite complex in both concepts and termonology (he's a linguist, after all). The most technical term I've used is "auxiliary verb", as I'm trying to answer at a more appropriate level. Also note that only my answer explains in simple terms what contractions are allowed. The one here doesn't mention 've, and nohat just says it can't be thus used; I've shown how it can, and why (which is what learners need to know, even if they're not upvoting this answer! :) – FumbleFingers Feb 20 '13 at 2:24
  • Fair enough, and I didn't mean to imply anything negative about your answer. The main reason I commented was because you said "I haven't been able to find any authoritative source covering this particular issue", but I thought the source in nohat's answer covered it; therefore, I thought you hadn't noticed the link. – snailcar Feb 20 '13 at 2:37
  • @snailplane: Well, I'm at a loss. I can't see that the other answer here explains anything; it just gives various over-similar examples. So you wouldn't be able to extrapolate anything about the validity of other contractions it doesn't list. But it gets 8 upvotes, whereas I get 2 downvotes (masked by 2 upvotes). I'm having a lot of trouble working out if I should be here at all. – FumbleFingers Feb 20 '13 at 2:51
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    Well, for what it's worth, I just added my vote. – snailcar Feb 20 '13 at 2:54

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