As French, I'm used to see that most of the time elevated language is not used when writing in French forums: it's often preferred to speak short. Not surprisingly it appears that the same applies to English in the same contexts.

But recently I realized something more: I observe that English writers, most often, not only use short expression but also precisely write reproducing the oral language, e.g. it's for it is, I'm for I am and so on.

So for a long time I'm used to do the same, but finally it puzzles me, since it does not ultimately shortens one has to write... and sometimes even complicates it.
For example writing you're is IMO not easier than you are: space and "a" come more fluently under the fingers than the apostrophe.

In other words, I feel that this use does not respond to a desire to shorten and facilitate the drafting, but a kind of agreement that would be generally respected.

I would be glad to have comments about that.


After reading some of the questions tagged contraction, I came to feel contractions, in English, are not reserved for the current language, but on the contrary would ultimately be the most common rule, including high language.

For a French, this is quite surprising, because for us contraction is absolutely reserved to oral language, and even then not totally accepted as "correct" speaking (but this tends to change for some tens of years).

  • @Damkerng T. Thanks for having edited my question: I discovered this contractions flag, so I went to watch the corresponding messages. From some of them, I got an idea that results in an enlargement of my question, as stated by my edit. – cFreed May 14 '15 at 23:38
  • What you wrote about French is not actually correct. Francophones don't write *de le whenever they'd say du, and they don't write *je te aime whenever they'd say je t'aime. – snailplane May 15 '15 at 7:39
  • Very interesting remark: in my mind, the examples you mention belong to a distinct category from the one I pointed out. Not easy to be clear in a few words, but I try: in French, write (and say) de le is absolutely incorrect grammatically speaking, while in English (at least AFAIK) I am is not a fault, even if I just learned that the general rule is to write I'm. >>> – cFreed May 15 '15 at 7:59
  • >>> In other words: in French we use to have a general convention that applies both to 1: grammatical definition, 2: spoken and written language, and all other contractions are considered as a degradation against the rule; in English it seems that there's a difference between 1 and 2 above. – cFreed May 15 '15 at 8:00
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    But historically, they were optional contractions, resulting from changes in spoken French. Nowadays, they're obligatory, even in writing :-) Written language moves in that direction over time, always lagging behind speech, but following it nonetheless. (If it didn't, you'd still use Latin as a written language!) It just happens that these English contractions aren't quite so far along, and they're still optional. Go back a few hundred years, and these English contractions were rarely written, even though they were common in speech. Two hundred years from now, who knows? – snailplane May 15 '15 at 8:02

(Native American English speaker here.)

Writing you're instead of you are is actually following standard written English, not merely reproducing the sound of speech.

On most on-line forums in English, the usual custom is to follow the standard conventions for written English, in an informal register—not to write carelessly or sloppily, and not to attempt to accurately convey the sound of casual speech. There is still a distinction between written and spoken language. For an illustration of the negative reaction to people violating the conventions of written English on an on-line forum, see here.

Written English, even at a high level of formality, includes a set of standard contractions, though not all the contractions that people use in casual speech. I don't have a complete list, but aren't, don't, hasn't, haven't, won't, can't, shouldn't, who's seem to me the most suited for formal writing; I'm, you're, he's, she's, it's, there's, I'll, you'll, he'll, she'll only slightly informal; it'll, there'll, I'd, you'd, he'd, she'd, it'd, should've, would've less formal but still part of the written language. C'mon is right at the border: a written convention that exists only in very informal writing. Here are a few that occur frequently in speech but are normally excluded from writing: ain't, gonna, shoulda, 'nother, and omitting the final g from any present participle, as in goin'.

Many people do write sloppily on on-line forums, but I think that's mostly because of carelessness, hurry, and/or ignorance of written conventions, not because of a deliberate attempt to adhere to a convention of reproducing casual speech accurately. It actually takes care, art, and knowledge of written conventions, like the use of the apostrophe, to reproduce speech accurately in writing. So, you're more likely to see your or youre in careless writing where standard written English would call for you're. Another example is writing should of for should've; that results from not even understanding that it's a contraction.

Here's one more example: writing tetnus for tetanus is unconventional even though it's occasionally done on-line and it faithfully reflects some people's speech. A writer wanting to reproduce speech would write tet'nus or tet'n'us depending on how many syllables there were. Writing tetnus suggests that you don't know the spelling and are trying to spell it as you pronounce it. (It could be a typo, but there's a strong pressure in American speech to reduce the second syllable.) So, writing tetnus violates written convention and therefore comes across as careless or ignorant. Writing tet'nus to convey casual pronunciation follows written convention but would be extremely unusual in an on-line forum because we don't normally try to convey the sound of casual speech in writing. Normally you would write tetanus even if you pronounce it with two syllables.

  • Wow! That's a pretty rich answer, thanks a lot. I'm quite surprised to learn that contraction is the rule even at a high level of formality. First because there is nothing equivalent in French, as I already mentioned, but also because at school we had never been informed of anything about that, and again because Google translation doesn't use it. So just a question, since you said you're American: is it the same rule in England? – cFreed May 15 '15 at 7:17
  • I should not have my last question before reading the other post you put a link to: it contains the answer, so don't consider. Thanks again. – cFreed May 15 '15 at 7:27
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    It is interesting to note that for some languages, the written language is closer to or further from the spoken language. I feel that written French is further away from spoken French, and written English is closer to spoken English. I think that difference might be relevant to how the OP perceives the written English language. – snailplane May 15 '15 at 8:09

Native speakers of English generally write like they talk, except when conditions warrant that we do otherwise (for example, formal writing). To do otherwise would be a betrayal of how we actually communicate in everyday English.

It's not a matter of space-saving, but a matter of communicating naturally.

I don't agree that aren't, don't, hasn't, haven't, won't, can't, shouldn't, who's are acceptable in formal writing. I would spell out all these contractions in formal writing.

I can't compare this to what's done in French, and I'm not sure that would be desirable on a place which seeks to give answers usable to all learners.

Every contraction in this answer represents normal everyday English whether written or spoken.

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    I don't agree with the first two sentences. I, like many other native speakers, say things like "gonna" and "wanna" frequently when I talk, but I pretty much never use these spellings in writing. I also find the negative contractions in -"n't" acceptable in formal writing. (What is your definition of formal? We might have different definitions.) – sumelic Jun 18 '16 at 22:24
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    Thanks for this alternative point of view. Compared to the other answer I'd already got it enforces my previous guess: seems that different English speakers may follow differents "standard rules", even in formal writing. And the @sumelic's comment adds yet another distinct point of view. That's quite surprising for me, since in French we don't have any variation in formal writing. And even sloppy writing only shows either abbreviations or unintenitonal fouls, but never elisions other than the regular ones. – cFreed Jun 18 '16 at 22:43
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    It might also be important to recognize that writing practices on the internet/forums will differ depending on the website, subject matter, and audience. I find that newer generations might utilize contractions and written informal speech far more frequently than older generations. And the website/audience can have an impact: Google forums tend to write far more formally than Reddit, for one example. There is a wide range of acceptable informality in English, I find. – Kasenjo Jul 15 '16 at 11:34
  • @cFreed Indeed English has a continuum of formality rather than simply formal vs. informal or written vs. colloquial. To see how contractions are used in ordinary formal writing, look at non-fiction books. Here's a chapter with a contraction in the first word, which also has a drop cap! At higher levels of formality, the set of conventional contractions shrinks, until it nearly disappears in, say, legal contracts. But even in law, authorities disagree; see this article and search for "contractions". – Ben Kovitz Jul 15 '16 at 17:53
  • @BenKovitz Yet another intersting enlightment. With all answers and comments I already got, it enforces my ascertainment that, really, there is absolutely no general rule about that in English. While at the opposite in French (at least in France), contractions correspond only to a (rare) deliberate willing to mimick oral language (even in SMS, where they look for shortness, writers use abbreviations but not contractions). Thanks for these references. – cFreed Jul 15 '16 at 20:45

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