I am a native English speaker. I've noticed that there seem to be very strong rules about when to use contractions, but I haven't seen these rules enumerated anywhere. For instance, I think nearly every native speaker would say this is wrong.

"Who's going to the movies?"

But is there a rule that you can't have a one word sentence be a contraction? No. E.g.

"What's your best advice on whether I get insurance from FlyByNite.com?"

Is OK.

There seem to be quite a few of these rules. Are they listed somewhere?

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    As snailboat's answer at that link points out, you cannot contract any element if it takes stress. Dec 19, 2014 at 14:26
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    @StoneyB Hmm, major problem here then as "am" will not normally take stress in this position! Dec 19, 2014 at 14:46
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    @StoneyB Consider these examples: (1) Who's coming to the party? I am! (2) You're not doing that are you? I am. The auxiliary is unstressed ( - not destressed) in (1) and stressed in (2). Lot's of people round here seem to be confused between strong forms and stressed syllables! They're not the same. You can have an unstressed strong form of a verb :) Dec 19, 2014 at 15:56
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    For those who may be interested, there are at least a couple ELU questions related to this matter: No. 500 and No. 78882.
    – J.R.
    Dec 19, 2014 at 16:03
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    @Araucaria I come to this out of metrics, where the terminology is obviously different. To be or not to be, that is the question: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer ... In my world, the first be, not, that, question, whe-, no-, mind, suf- take primary stress, and the second be, is, tis take secondary stress; all of these require full vowels, whereas the destressed syllables can all take reduced vowels. ... If you can you recommend an authoritative source for linguistics terminology, I'll be happy to adopt that. Dec 19, 2014 at 17:55

1 Answer 1


It's OK to contract an auxillary verb (have, has, will, am, is, are, was, were) to its subject if the main verb exists in the sentence. Otherwise, don't do it.

In the first example, the contraction either should not occur or you need to specify the main verb. Answering "I'm going" is OK. Answering "I am" is OK. Answering just "I'm" makes it sound like you haven't finished the sentence.

In the second example, not is not an auxillary verb (it's an adverb modifying imperative "do"), so it's fine.

However - going back to the first example, the rule doesn't apply if not is involved. So you can answer "I'm not." to your first example.

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