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Contracted Forms of Verbs

In spoken English and informal writing, contracted forms of verbs or otherwise verb contractions are often used. In official texts, for example in scientific and legal literature, the use of contracted forms of verbs is avoided. Verb contractions are also called "short", "shortened", "reduced" forms of verbs.

Generally recognized verb contractions are available only for auxiliary and modal verbs, with the exception of the verb "be" (see below), which can be used in short form and as a main verb.

In general, in modern English, verb contractions are formed in two ways:

  1. By omitting the initial letters of a verb and attaching it to a personal pronoun, for example: "I am" → "I'm".
  2. By merging a verb followed by a shortened negative particle "not" that is "n't", for example: "must not" → "mustn't".

Contracted Forms of "Be"

Contracted forms of the verb "be" are formed by omitting the initial letters of the verb. Typically, contracted forms are formed when used with personal pronouns. A truncated verb and pronoun are separated by an apostrophe ('):

  • I am → I'm [aɪm]
  • he is → he's [hɪ:z]
  • she is → she's [ʃɪ:z]
  • it is → it's [ɪts]
  • you are → you're [ju:r]
  • we are → we're [wɪ:r]
  • they are → they're [ðeɪr], [ðeər]

And obsolete forms used with the pronoun "thou":

  • thou art → thou'rt [ðʌurt]
  • thou beest → thou'st [ðʌust]

In determining the pronunciation of the contracted 's (that is, whether to pronounce it as [z] or as [s]), one should be guided by the pronunciation rule of the ending -s for forming the plural of nouns.

The peculiarity of the verb "be" is that it can be used in a contracted form not only as an auxiliary and modal verb, but also as a main verb:

  • I'm looking for a new job now. ("be" as an auxiliary verb)
  • I think, he's to see a doctor as soon as he can. (as a modal verb)
  • We're in the hotel currently. (as a main verb)

In the third-person singular, the verb "be" can also form a contraction with interrogative adverbs and pronouns, with conjunctive words, as well as with the introductory "there":

  • Why's he doing this to me?
  • Who's ready to go?
  • I take it that's a no?
  • So there's that.

Also, in the third-person singular, the contraction form of the verb "be" can be used with proper names and common nouns, which, however, is an extreme colloquial form and is more often found in oral speech than in writing:

  • Nelly's my daughter. (Nelly is my daughter.)
  • My daughter's very friendly and that's adorable.

The second way to form a contraction with the verb "be" is to use the shortened negative particle "n't" [nt] (from "not"):

  • am not → aren't, amn't, an't, ain't
  • is not → isn't
  • are not → aren't, an't, ain't

And obsolete forms used with the pronoun "thou":

  • art not → artn't
  • beest not → beestn't, диалектное: bisn't
  • I aren't their sort.[1]
  • I don't say, but if thou beestn't as mad as a cappel-faced bull, let me smile no more.[2]
  • Bist(1) thee a-goin' to pay -- or bisn't?" said the fellow, beginning to bully.[3]

The contracted negative form of the verb "be" (similar to the contracted form without negation) can be used as an auxiliary, modal and main verb:

  • What aren't the media telling us about? (auxiliary)
  • Children aren't to be moulded, they are to be unfolded. (modal)
  • Just knowing what to do isn't enough. (main)

From the above examples it is clear that in some cases in a negative sentence a contraction can be formed in two ways:

  • "We aren't locals." and "We're not locals."

Both options are equivalent, but the second method can be used to highlight the negation, compare:

  • He isn't a fool, he is clever.
  • He's not a fool, he is an idiot. ("not" is emphasized when pronounced).

Past tense forms of the verb "be" form contractions only with the help of "n't", without negation contractions are not formed:

  • was not → wasn't
  • were not → weren't

Obsolete verb forms used with the pronoun "thou":

  • wast not → wastn't
  • wert not → wertn't

Ain't

"Ain't" [eɪnt] is a contraction for "am not", "are not" and "is not". The use of "ain't" was widespread in the 18th century.[4] Later in the 19th century, "ain't" also began to be used as a contraction for "have not" and "has not". "Have not" and "has not" had the contraction "hain't", which, due to the loss of sound [h] was transformed into "ain't". The use of "ain't" as a negative form for any person and number of the verbs "be" and "have" has given it a reputation as a colloquial contraction:

  • I ain't going to tell you again. → I'm not going to tell you again.
  • We ain't done any harm to him. → We haven't done any harm to him.

An't

"An't" [ʌnt] is a contracted form for "am not" and "are not". The contraction "an't" came into use at the end of the 17th century and was then transformed into "ain't" and was initially used as a contracted form only for "am not". "An't" is rare in modern English.

Amn't

The use of the contracted form "amn't" ['æm(ə)nt] is found in Irish and Scottish English[5], as well as in some dialects of the United States[6], more often in interrogative sentences when it comes before a pronoun:

  • Amn't I talking to you?[7]
  • Amn't I after telling you(2) that, said Donal.[8]
  • I amn't sure. It is probably too earli to say - anything can happen.[9]

Contracted Forms of "Have"

Contracted forms of the verb "have" are formed according to the same principles as of the verb "be" – by omitting the initial letters of the verb. Typically, contractions are formed when used with personal pronouns. A truncated verb and pronoun are separated by an apostrophe ('):

  • have: I've; you've; we've; they've
  • has: he's; she's; it's
  • had: I'd; you'd; he'd; she'd; we'd; they'd
  • have not → haven't
  • has not → hasn't
  • had not → hadn't

Obsolete forms used with the pronoun "thou":

  • thou hast → thou'st
  • thou hadst → thou'dst
  • Now I will give thee other two ships, and even then thou'lt need all the strength thou'st got.[10]

Obsolete forms of the third-person singular verb:

  • hath not → hathn't [həθnt]

Contracted forms of the verb "have" are used only when it serves as an auxiliary verb:

  • He's come.
  • She hasn't heard it.
  • They hadn't reached agreement.

As with the verb "be", the verb "have" can be used to express negation in two ways:

  • I've not done it yet. = I haven’t done it yet.

The contracted verb "have" in the third-person singular form, forming a form that coincides with the contraction of the verb "be", can be used not only with personal pronouns but also with any subject:

  • The story's just begun. = The story has just begun.
  • What's been seen cannot be unseen. = What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Also, in the third-person singular, the shortened form of the verb "have" is often used with interrogative adverbs "how", "when", "where", "why":

  • Where's he gone? = Where has he gone?

The interesting thing is that in the above example, "where's" can mean both "where has" and "where is" without changing the meaning of the sentence: "Where has he gone?" = "Where is he gone?", see "Formation of the perfect aspect using the verb "be"" in "Perfect aspect".

It should be noted once again that the verb "have" is not used in a contracted form if it is a main or modal verb, including with the negation "not":

  • I've to go there. → I have to go there.
  • I haven't any pen. → I don't have any pen. = I have no pen.
  • We hadn't to ask for help. → We didn't have to ask for help. – Нам не пришлось просить о помощи.

Contracted Forms of "Do"

Contracted forms of the verb "do" are used only when it serves as an auxiliary verb:

  • do not → don't
  • does not → doesn't
  • did not → didn't
  • Don't pay him any mind. – Не надо обращать на него внимания.
  • She doesn't live here anymore. – Она здесь больше не живет.

Sometimes in common parlance "don't" is used instead of "doesn't":

  • She don't live here anymore.

Obsolete forms of the verb used with the pronoun "thou":

  • dost not → dostn't
  • didst not → didstn't

Obsolete forms of the third-person singular verb:

  • doth not → dothn't [dʌθn't]

Without negation, the Contracted form of "do" occurs only in the interrogative form with the personal pronouns "you" and the obsolete "ye": "do you" → "d'you" [dju]; "do ye" → "d'ye" [dji:]:

  • What d'you want?

Contracted Forms of Modal Verbs

Without negation (particle "not"), contractions of modal verbs proper are used only with personal pronouns. A small number of modal verbs, when contracted with the particle "not", take on a non-standard form and pronunciation:

  • can:
    • cannot → can't [cʌnt / cænt]
    • could not → couldn't
  • may:
    • may not → mayn't
    • might not → mightn't
  • must: must not → mustn't
  • need: need not → needn't
  • shall:
    • shall → 'll
    • shall not → shan't [ʃʌnt / ʃænt]
  • will:
    • will → 'll
    • will not → won't [wɔunt]
  • would:
    • would → 'd
    • would not → wouldn't

General Notes on The Use of Verb Contractions

When forming negative interrogative forms of auxiliary verbs, the truncated particle "not" is written along with the verb:

  • Has she not heard it? = Hasn't she heard it?
  • Did you not know? = Didn't you know?

But, when forming a negation with modal verbs, moving the particle "not" can change the meaning of the sentence:

  • How can you not be with us?
  • Why can't you be with us?

Contractions without the particle "not" are not used in short answers:

  • Are you joking?

    • Yes, I am.

    or:

    • No, I'm not.
  • but not:
    • Yes, I'm.
  • Will you help me?

    • Yes, I will.

    или:

    • No, I won't.

    but not:

    • Yes, I'll.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is "'d" "Had" and When Is "Would"?

After "had" comes a verb in the participle II form:

  • I wish I'd done that. = I wish I had done that.

After "would" comes the infinitive without the particle "to":

  • I'd do anything Just to hold you in my arms. = I would do anything Just to hold you in my arms.
  • I'd like to talk to you. = I would like to talk to you.

There is also an idiomatic modal expression "had better" ('d better) which is also followed by an infinitive without the particle "to":

  • I'd better go. = I had better go.

Is The Contraction "It'd" Used in English?

Yes, the contraction "it'd" is used in English and is pronounced ['ɪtəd][11]:

  • It'd be better if we finished it today.
Notes
1) "Bist" – spelling variant "beest".
2) "Amn't I after telling you" – Irish English, same as "haven't I just told you": "to be after doing something" = "to have (just) done something", usually used in relation to the recent past.
Citation
1] Winston Graham. "Ross Poldark" (1945; original U.S. title: "The Renegade")
2] Thomas Hardy. "Under the Greenwood Tree".
3] Richard Jefferies (1848-1887). "The Toilers of the Field".
4] Oxford Dictionaries: "ain't", date of access 16.03.2017 (архив).
5] Sentence first: "Amn’t I glad we use “amn’t” in Ireland", date of access 12.01.2022 web.archive.org.
6] Wiktionary: amn't, date of access 31.10.2016.
7] Anne Emery. "Death at Christy Burke’s", 2011.
8] Sean O’Casey. "Inishfallen: Fare Thee Well", 1949.
9] Iain Fraser Grigor. "A Nation in Want of a Grievance: Essays From Turn-of-the-Century Scotland", 2014.
10] Unknown Icelanders. "Njal's Saga (The Story of Burnt Njal)".
11] Cambridge Dictionary: it'd in English, дата обращения 12.01.2022 web.archive.org.

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