Writing and diction

Style lesson — Contractions

(c) 2012  Earl L Haehl Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

We are creatures of habit. That is pronounced “we’re creatures of habit.” One of the problems with modern English writing is the contraction. And as I looked back through my posts over the past few years, I find that I have been a chronic offender.

It is easy to get that way and back when I was writing for newspapers in the late Pleistocene, contractions were encouraged to save space. And they have antecedents in history and literature. Sam’l Johnson, DHL, had a publisher who saved two letters by using an apostrophe as did Dan’l Webster. I was unable, however, to convince the English department of this.

Back about the end of May, I resolved to correct this lapse in my writing style because I am writing for a general audience and should not rail against those practices I follow. You note that I have not resolved to give up circumlocution or complex sentence structure because I wish my readers to be able to decipher and translate such style—it helps in understanding lawyers, politicians and flacks as well as pedants such as myself.

Part of the problem with contractions is the fact that the contraction of “it is” can be confused with the possessive form of “it.” Actually there are two contractions for “it is”; it’s and ’tis. They are fine in poetry and music. “’Tis” is also appropriate in dialog to enhance character. The possessive form of “it” is “its” with no apostrophe. Or to use them all in one sentence. ‘Tis a sad thing when a machine thinks it’s appropriate to disobey its operator.

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