What’s Your Beef With Contractions?

A question for fellow writers. What do you have against contractions?

Now I won’t say contractions are amazing, but I’ve just noticed a conspicuous absence as I read some writers. Especially in marking up other people’s writing, I often can’t get more substantive because against the evidence of a hundred million English speakers, hundreds of whom’re competent, your first person narrator’s just apoplectic about apostrophes. Pay close heed next time you’re interacting with your fellow meatsacks, be mindful of your partner’s nuance. How often do we use contractions? Every time we can unless we’re explicitly choosing not to.

So I’ve entered arguments over this issue, often against more successful writers than myself. It’s a thick thing over which to pick a fight, yeah, but it’s also a constant shock how inarticulately people’ve chosen their longer-winded stance, pretending that their assault against apostrophal speech lends metaphysical weight to their words, or strengthens their intellectual suit, or somehow ends Chinese currency manipulation. It irks the heck from me instead as it spawns archaic stiltedness amid attempts to conjure a conversational feel, and somehow reminds me of Chinese Democracy.

Because it also took too long to get out, I think.

Of course it’s firmly down to a matter of voice. If your voice isn’t down with the contractions, look, I dig. But ask yourself:

“Isn’t there something more that defines my style than apostr-aversion?”

I’d count so many things as more critical characteristics of my voice over my choice to or to not contract, but I’ll admit I fall on the other side of the fence. My writing’s more consistently contracting than childbirth. I love the free flow of ideas, the free flow of words. And while it’s especially exaggerated in this essay, I’ll always keep in mind contractions make poetry of stodgy sentences, and their absence reads like a stutter. Put plain, forgetting contractions makes the all important read-aloud test that much harder to pass, because really, who speaks like that? Ever since my spoken word renditions of Anglo-Saxon Beowulf for High School students, I’ve paid mind to how my written words sound aloud, because that shit matters.

So explain to me, if you will, what is the beef people have with contractions? I’d adore another’s articulate opinion, either affirmative or against.

4 thoughts on “What’s Your Beef With Contractions?

  1. Very interesting subject you’ve picked here! I never consciously considered the matter myself, but now that I do think about it, I find myself right behind you.
    Whenever I write to someone, I use plenty of contractions. They come very naturally to me, and when I’m writing to someone, I’m only really writing down what the voice in my head tells me- and so the contractions remain. 🙂
    When it comes to fiction that I’m writing, sometimes a scene feels right, and I can hear it play out in my head- so the dialogues are written as I hear them- contractions and all. Other times, I’m just ‘thinking’ up my dialogues, but can’t quite picture them in my head, and I’ve discovered that in these instances I suffer the same stilted-speech that you’ve described here. It happens in other bits of writing as well.
    I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought- after all, I only just considered this.. But my theory is that I’ve just been trained to write in a more formal manner, which is what I tend to do when I’m still thinking. But when I’m writing less consciously, I write the way I speak. .

    1. You’ve got a point: Most of us are trained to write officially, so we default back to refraining on contractions when we’re feeling uninspired or unsure about where a scene is going. Great catch, I never thought of it!

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