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When is it not possible to use the contracted form of have?

Can I contract have in this sentence?

My parents have just arrived

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  • By "contracted", do you mean contracted in spelling, like "My parents've...", or do you mean reduced in pronunciation? In your example sentence, "have" can be reduced in pronunciation, but should not be contracted in spelling.
    – gotube
    Feb 3 at 5:21

4 Answers 4

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In normal speech, most people pronounce unaccented have as /əv/, and so it would make sense to write it "'ve".

But in fact, this is not common except in I've and they've, (where it loses the vowel and sounds like /v/), and in the forms would've, should've and could've.

You can find other examples occasionally, but they're not common. For example, in the iWeb corpus there are 36 instances of people've, compared with 20820 of should've, and 449 594 of they've.

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    So it's also correct to say We've just arrived, right?
    – Simona T
    Feb 2 at 10:42
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    Yes, if you're representing speech, or are writing informally.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 2 at 11:15
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    It used to be quite common for novelists to use unconventional spelling to represent regional dialects ands colloquial or 'uneducated' speech, but it fell out of fashion because it makes the dialogue difficult to read. So, as Colin says, people actually say "parents've" but it's not usually written like that. Feb 2 at 14:58
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    @Hearth: What part of the world do they say "I'dn't've"? I've never heard that, and I don't think I would understand it if I had.
    – TonyK
    Feb 2 at 21:37
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The 've contraction works with:

  • I've = "I have"; and
  • they've = "they have";
  • you've = "you have";
  • we've = "we have";

  • (one) must've = "(one) must have";
  • (one) should've = "(one) should have";
  • (one) could've = "(one) could have";
  • (one) would've = "(one) would have".

Those not listed above, including "my parents have", cannot usually be contracted in the same manner.

My parents have just arrived

You may alternatively choose to refer to your parents as "they" and therefore use "they've" in your sentence.

My parents (they) have just arrived.

- They've just arrived.

- Who?

- My parents.

- They must've been traveling all day.


In addition to whether it is possible to be used, it should also be noted that contractions such as these are generally more informal and something should be avoided. When writing an academic paper, for example, it is often advised to use the full phrase ("I have" or "should have") instead of opting for the contraction.

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    "Anything that is not "I've" or "they've" ... cannot ever be contracted" - What about you've, we've and they've? Feb 2 at 11:33
  • Well, that's embarrassing! Must've (wink) been a "brain fart".
    – myacorn
    Feb 2 at 14:01
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    You've missed "could've" and "would've" too. Trying to think of any more but I think that might be it! Some writers use double contractions in words like "wouldn't've", "can't've", etc. but these are nonstandard and I think in the minority. This is often how they are spoken, however.
    – Muzer
    Feb 2 at 17:34
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    may be worth saying explicitly that this applies to writing, but that in speech, the unstressed form is common in a much wider set of positions and so in informal writing (e.g. instant messaging), something like parents've wouldn't necessarily be so strange
    – Tristan
    Feb 3 at 10:05
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As far as I'm aware, verbs are usually only contracted when they are:

  • auxiliary, e.g. 'are' in they're leaving, and
  • unstressed (they can be attached to a stressed word but remain unstressed, themselves), and
  • informal/casual (or formal when quoted verbatim).

Examples: (bold text indicates stress/emphasis)


[with the verb 'to have']

I've seen it — A simple statement of fact; can be contracted
I have seen it — An emphasis to contradict or reaffirm; can't be contracted

I've got money* — as above
I have got money* — as above
*There's an exception in en-US, where they favour using 'have' as a main verb, which does not get contracted:
I have money / I have money


[with the verb 'to be']

I'm going to the party — contraction attached to stressed word, contraction not stressed
She's going to the party — as above
But, in answer to the question, "Who's going to the party?"
I am — main* verb, no contraction even though not stressed
She is — as above
— You can't answer the question solely with *I'm or *She's.

*Due to ellipsis (here, I am is short for I am going) the auxiliary verb functions as the main verb.


A similar emphasis rule appears with the adverb, 'not':

I didn't eat the cake
I did not eat the cake


I'm happy to be corrected and make edits as necessary.

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  • Your answer is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't address the issue that both of the other answers do, that 've is unusual after nouns. It therefore doesn't answer the question posed.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 2 at 14:42
  • To be fair, I think I have added some clarity in relation to the question, "Have or 've? When can we not contract "have"?". In a case like this, I don't think there's any harm in taking a step back and expanding a little on the opening question with a broader answer about contractions, especially when the specific, narrow question has already been answered. It might help the language learner nail down a simpler, more fundamental rule which answers this and several other questions they might otherwise have.
    – Spiritman
    Feb 2 at 14:57
  • I think the issue with nouns is that there are very few plural nouns that end in a vowel, and the contraction works better with a preceding vowel sound (which "I", "you", "we", and "they" end with).
    – chepner
    Feb 2 at 18:09
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    Re en-US: Not only do we use "have" as the main verb in that case, we usually don't contract it. The contracted form looks like en-GB to me.
    – Kevin
    Feb 3 at 0:19
  • @Kevin, thanks, I'll edit that.
    – Spiritman
    Feb 3 at 18:26
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One thing to remember is that there is a difference between speech and writing. In writing, there is a clear separation between using a contraction and not using one. If you don't have an apostrophe, it's not a contraction. But, in speech, people often drop syllables and otherwise change their pronunciations when talking fast, even when there is no standard way to express that in writing.

So, if I am talking naturally, I might say something that sounds sort of like

My parentsa just arrived.

but you would write it as

My parents have just arrived.

In transcribed speech, there are many such "hidden contractions". In the past few decades, you have started to see "gonna" in writing, but but most newspapers still use "going to" even when "gonna" is a better written approximation of the sounds the person made.

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