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Contractions and Apostrophes.

You might’ve /maɪtəv/ already guessed that this article looks at how apostrophes indicate sound in contractions (he’s, we’d, I’d’ve etc.) – a key area of connected speech. Students often tell me that they either find contractions too hard to use or they prefer not to use them because they feel they sound too casual. However, even the most formal native speakers will use them, so it’s a key skill both in terms of listening and speaking, it also contributes significantly to fluency. Here we highlight 10 key contractions in English speech and how we’d’ve thought they sound:

1. ‘have’

The auxiliary verb ‘have’ contracts to /v/ after a vowel sound (I’ve /aɪv/ or /əv/, we’ve /wiv/ etc.):

I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten your name.

‘Have’ contracts to /əv/ after a consonant (would’ve /ˈwʊdəv/, could’ve /ˈkʊdəv/ etc.):

Who knows? He could’ve slipped out the door.

2. ‘has’ & ‘is’

As an auxiliary, ’has’ and ‘is’ contract to ’s’ (it’s, he’s, she’s etc.). Contractions with ‘has’  and ‘is’ follow the ’s’ endings rule. If the preceding word ends in a voiced sound, ’s’ will be pronounced as /z/ (he’s /hiz/):

Tell me he’s not going to be late again, is he?

If the preceding word ends in a voiceless sound, ’s’ will be pronounced as /s/ (Jack’s /dʒæks/):

Er… Jack’s got an interesting new haircut.

3. ‘am’

‘Am’ contracts to /m/:

I’m going to the shop. Do you want anything?

4. ‘are’

’Are’ after ‘we’ as in ‘we’re’ is pronounced as /wɪə/. ’You’re’ is pronounced as /jɔ:/ or /jə/. ‘They’re’ is  pronounced as either /ðeə/ or /ðə/:

We’re going on our honeymoon.

In the above cases, if the next word starts with a vowel sound, the ‘r’ in the spelling will be pronounced, giving /wɪər/, /jɔːr/, /jər/, /ðeər/ and /ðər/:

Well, they’re only going if you’re going.

5. ‘will’

‘Will’ contracts to /l/ after vowel sounds (I’ll, you’ll etc.):

I’ll be there at around 9 o’clock.

Whereas after consonant sounds it contracts to /əl/:

It’ll be fine in the end. Don’t worry.

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6. ‘not’

‘Not’ is contracted to ”nt’ and pronounced /nt/ if it follows a vowel (don’t, aren’t, can’t etc.):

Don’t eat all that now. You’ll be full before lunch.

…but if written after a consonant, we pronounce it as /ənt/ (wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, hadn’t):

I wish I hadn’t eaten all that food.

7. ‘had’ & ‘would’

Both ‘had’ and ‘would’ can contract to /d/ after a vowel sound (they’d, we’d etc.):

If only they’d remembered to close the front door.
Who knew we’d ever get this far?

After a consonant sound, ‘had’ and ‘would’ contract to /əd/ (it’d, John’d):

The washing was wet because it’d rained the night before.
John’d warned her about the loose lid on the blender, he was sure of it.

8. ‘will + have’

Double contractions are very common in speech, but are not written in standard speech. In this case the contraction ”ve’ has been added to the end of the contraction ”ll’ (I’ll’ve, you’ll’ve etc.):

My solicitor says we’ll’ve closed the deal by this time tomorrow.

9. ‘would + have’

When we make sentences with would and have, we tend to contract ‘have’ rather than ‘would’ e.g. ‘He would’ve been a doctor, if he’d gone to university’. The pronunciation rules for ‘have’ and ‘would’ contractions apply:

If it wasn’t for the rain, It would’ve been a perfect day.

It is also possible to contract both ‘would’ and ‘have’ together:

He’d’ve been a doctor, if he’d gone to university.

10. ‘modal verb + not + have’

Modal verbs like ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘must’, ‘should’ etc. can also be contracted. The same pronunciation rules for the contraction of ’have’ and ‘not’ will apply:

It couldn’t’ve been George. He’s on holiday in Morocco.