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Common Grammatical MISTAKES with Contractions

English is hard. It's always been that way. In fact, despite it being the most spoken language in the world, it's place on the Top 20 Hardest Languages to Perfect list isn't surprising, right? With all the exceptions, its not-so-strict rules, and so many words of describing the same thing (fact: English has the most synonyms for a word than any other language!), it's not that difficult to see why.


Oh, and the contractions! How could we forget those little nuisances? They're some of the most used features of modern English. I've already used 8 contractions just in this introduction so far! (and we're about to use a whole lot more)

In this post, I'll be showing you 7 common grammar mistakes when using contractions.





IT’S / ITS

It’s simple when you know what it is (excuse the pun!).


The contraction “it’s” can be confusing for people when they don’t know or understand the context. Why is this? This contraction can often be mistaken for another part of speech, the word “its”, and vice versa. The subtle difference between the two is the apostrophe: one has the apostrophe between the T and the S, and the other doesn’t have an apostrophe at all.


Consider these sentences: which word do you use?

  1. The dog is beautiful, ____ black coat is very shiny.

  2. The dog sat on ____ bed.

If you’re sharp, you would’ve noticed both sentences use the same one: its. No apostrophe. How do we know? The word its is a possessive pronoun, meaning it shows ownership between the subject (the dog) and whatever the subject’s relating to.


Whose bed? The dog’s bed.

The dog’s bed = its bed.


The problem is, however, that we have another English exception here. When we talk possessive pronouns, we use an apostrophe and an S after the subject’s name to show possession:


Christopher’s website.

The dog’s bed.


But in the case of its, we allow an exception to be made and to forget the apostrophe. Why? I assume it’s because the apostrophe was already taken by another pronoun-based word as a contraction: it’s. Whoever decided English clearly thought we’d be less confused by not having two it’ses (this is odd, as this scenario still happens).


The contraction it’s is an abbreviation of it is. Apparently removing two characters is supposed to make things easier, not confusing.


You can’t say “The dog sat on it’s bed ”, because that doesn’t make sense.

The dog sat on it is bed? I don’t think so.


Thankfully, we do have one strong “law”, so to speak, that we can rely on. One that, last time I checked, doesn’t have any exceptions whatsoever:


Contractions always have apostrophes.


So remember, its is the possessive term. Consider that the T and S aren’t separated by the apostrophe, like you wouldn’t want to be separated by something special that you own. It’s is the contraction, and has the apostrophe. If a sentence with it’s makes sense with you saying “it is”, it means that it’s the appropriate term. (pun intended!)




THERE’S / THEIRS

And here’s another point of confusion between contractions and pronouns. Thankfully here, there’s a pretty noticeable difference in spelling, plus an apostrophe. But just because that’s the case doesn’t mean people don’t still make mistakes!


Let’s use an example. Which word would you use for which sentence?

  1. ________ the dog’s bed.

  2. The dog is _________.


The first sentence uses there’s—the contraction—and the second uses theirs, the possessive pronoun. How do we know this?


Let’s try expanding the contraction in both sentences:

  1. There is the dog’s bed.

  2. The dog is there is.


As you should be able to tell, the first sentence makes way more sense than the second one, because it makes use of the preposition (“there”), the verb (“is”), and then the subject (the dog’s bed). Where is the dog’s bed? There.


Theirs shows ownership—it’s a possessive pronoun, after all. The first sentence can’t have “theirs” because it doesn’t contain a verb. Without the verb, you can’t understand the sentence. Sentence two, however, does have a verb: “is”. Thus, you can use theirs at the beginning. Whose dog is it? Theirs.


When trying to figure out which to use, remember there’s is the contraction. Expand it and if the sentence still works, then you’ve got the right word. Keep in mind that theirs is a possessive pronoun. When using it in a sentence, ask yourself: “To whom does [subject] belong to?” This will help you use there’s and theirs correctly.




THERE’S / THERE’RE

Let’s take a closer look at the there’s contraction. There is another error that this contraction is involved in. And let me tell you something—this contraction is misused often. A lot of people don’t even know how to use there’s in the correct manner and use it instead of the phrase “there are” and its contracted form, there’re.


What’s the big difference? “There is” is singular, “there are” is plural.


It really is that simple, yet it’s so often used in error. The problem with this one is that even with expanding, people just don’t get it. More often than not, you’ll come across there’s being used to describe a plural term.


  1. There’s so many ways to write something.

  2. There’s the dogs playing.

  3. There’s all the pencils I lost.


Ahem, correction:

  1. There are so many ways to write something.

  2. There are the dogs playing.

  3. There are all the pencils I lost.

Seeing this, it should now make sense why it wouldn’t work in contraction form either. Though this is true, “there’s” still occurs when referencing plural terms.


Yet time and time again I find myself wondering how on earth people could so blatantly get these wrong. Did you know that in the Into the Unknown scene from Disney’s Frozen II, Elsa (Idina Menzel) actually misuses there’s for there’re?!


The lyrics go like this:

There’s a thousand reasons…(I should go about my day, and ignore your whispers…)

Now, how many reasons are there? A thousand.


This is not used to criticise Disney, the creators of Frozen, or anyone involved in the production of "Into The Unknown".

Reasons” is undoubtedly in plural form, yet there’s is used in place of there’re. And now knowing that are must be used for plurals, we can easily see that this was a grammatical mistake.


So, how can we remember to use the correct one?


If expanding still doesn’t work for you, just remember that S is for Singular, so use there’s for singular nouns. Remembering there’re should be easy after that.




YOU’D / YOU’D

A little more confusing is the You’d vs You’d scenario: you had, and you would. Both words are contractions with a subject and a verb, and both can be used in a very similar context.


Would is an auxiliary verb, meaning it is mostly followed by a present tense action verb (eg. write, swim, eat), or a present tense auxiliary verb like “have”.

You would is referring to an act that someone in the second person has the capability of doing and in the situation has a high chance of doing that.


Had is a past participle, which means it’s an action that happened completely in the past. It cannot have any link to the present (or future) in any way. The present tense version is the auxiliary verb “have”.

You had refers to an action that happened entirely in the past, carried out by someone in the second person.


Considering this, which contractions fit in each sentence?

  1. You’d have eaten that if I hadn’t stopped you.

  2. You’d already eaten that by the time I arrived.


The first sentence refers to you would. See the present tense auxiliary verb after “you’d”? Because the rest of the sentence is in past tense, this is indicative of would—a past tense verb.

The second sentence is you had. Like Sentence 1, the rest of the sentence is also in the past tense, but we know it has to be “had” because there isn’t a present tense verb after “you’d”!


In conclusion, the differentiation is rather simple. Just look out for a present-tense verb after the contraction! If there is one, you know the answer is would. If it’s not present tense, your answer is had. And remember one of the best ways to decipher the problem is to expand the contractions!! If it still makes sense, you know you’re on the right track!


So before we move onto the next point, try this one out to see how well you can decipher contractions from what you’ve learnt so far:


You’d think you’d already seen the musical.


Good luck!




ELIZABETH’S / ELIZABETH’S

Let’s take things up a notch. What’s the difference between Elizabeth’s and Elizabeth’s? One is possessive, the other is a contraction. They both look identical, so the answer must be in the context.

First, let’s take a look at each one in a sentence, expanding the contracted ones to get a better understanding of the situation:

  1. Elizabeth’s dog, Gerald.

  2. Elizabeth is a dog owner.


First, let’s take a look at Sentence 1. In it, Elizabeth’s is a possessive noun. Whose dog Gerald? Elizabeth’s. And by there not being any determiners (a, an, the…) before the subject (“dog”), we know that it cannot be a contraction, thus making it a possessive noun.


Sentence 2 uses the contraction Elizabeth is. Sometimes it can be confused with the similar present-tense verb, has. The simplest way to figure it out in contracted form is to look at the context. Are you describing the subject; who they are? Use is. Are you describing an item or person in the subject’s life? Use has.




YOU’RE / YOUR

According to Oxford International English, this is the third most commonly made mistake in English! So to start us off, I’d like you to figure this out yourself. Find which sentence in the following list is incorrect:

  1. Your so funny.

  2. You’re dog is adorable.

  3. Your swimming really fast.

  4. Your really good with grammar.

  5. You’re ice cream is melting.


How did you go? If you’re sharp, you wouldn’t have been caught by my trick question because ALL the above sentences are incorrect! Allow me to explain the difference between your and you’re.


Your is a possessive pronoun, like its and their. If you are referring to something that the second-person subject is in possession of, you use the word your. It turns the attention from the subject to whatever the the item is that the subject has. For example:

“Your shoelaces have come undone,” Jimmy told Steve as they walked down the path.

Whose shoelaces were undone? Steve’s shoelaces.

If you were Steve, it would be your shoelaces that were undone.


You’re is a contraction—it has an apostrophe and an E at the end. The expanded form is you are and is used to describe the subject or their character.

You are amazing.

You are really good at that.


But what if we forget the difference between your and you’re?? Simple:

When in doubt, EXPAND!


You are shoelaces have come undone” doesn’t sound quite right, does it? That’s how you’ll know if you’ve used the right word or not. If you’ve got the word your but you aren’t sure, simply replace it with you are and see if it works. If not, then you’ve got the right word.




WOULDN’T’VE / WOULDN’T HAVE / WOULD NOT HAVE

Wouldn’t’ve is very common in everyday dialogue, but rare in writing. While technically it is grammatically correct, it should be a term to avoid when writing formally.


Wouldn't have is already a contraction for would not have. It shows the unlikelihood of the subject doing or possessing something. This is mostly used in writing, both formal and informal.


Wouldn’t’ve is what you could call a “double contraction” because it’s the contraction of a contraction: wouldn’t have. In writing, wouldn’t have is reasonably common. In day-to-day dialogue, we like to shorten the already-shortened contraction to wouldn’t’ve for convenience.


There is no stark right or wrong in this scenario, but it is helpful to adhere to some guidelines for English grammar. When writing something that will be published (a novel, newspaper article, speech, etc.), stick to wouldn’t have. While wouldn’t’ve shouldn’t have the red underline, it’s quite unfavourable in the literary world and should be kept for informal colloquialisms.


Instances when you can use wouldn’t’ve would be if you were quoting someone else who used it or if you were writing creatively (such as enhancing a character’s voice in a novel).


Allow yourself as a writer to be unique, while sticking to certain guidelines.


CONCLUSION

So there you have it: 7 common grammatical mistakes in the English language when using contractions. Be sure to check your manuscript for these errors and/or complications so you can thrive and write something that is worth the reading.


If you find that you’re guilty of some of these errors, don’t stress! A writer never stops learning. If someone cannot learn anything more about writing, they clearly aren’t a writer.


 


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