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I've heard people specify not to use contractions in order to maintain a degree of professionalism. I've heard this mentioned by fellow students while in school as well.

I've never heard this with regards to online writing, thank goodness, but I don't understand why it's considered informal or low brow to use them.

It seems to me that not using them should be considered unprofessional. It's my understanding that language should be succinct, especially if you're trying to convey class or intellect. Avoiding contractions just seems like something only a child would do on their homework to add words to an essay.

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.........innit. –  Edwin Ashworth Apr 26 '13 at 18:44
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As usual, one can find someone in authority to condemn any feature of natural language. The solution is to find some other authority to depend on; people who would tell you that simply demonstrate that they don't know what they're talking about. –  John Lawler Apr 26 '13 at 18:47
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Most professionals I know use contractions all the time. Contractions of words in the world of business are called jargon (and it is the bane of the corporate world). –  Matt Apr 26 '13 at 19:11

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Excerpt from Chicago Manual of Style:

Most types of writing benefit from the use of contractions. If used thoughtfully, contractions in prose sound natural and relaxed and make reading more enjoyable.

Excerpt from Modern American Usage:

The common fear is that using contractions can make the writing seem breezy. For most of us, though, that risk is nil. What you gain should be a relaxed sincerity—not breeziness.

More reading here.

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Even traditional opposition to contractions isn't as broad and monolithic as most people imagine. For example, I've never heard that modern formal writing opposes the use of good-bye (from "God be with ye") or Halloween (from "All Hallow Even") or o'clock (from "of the clock"). More recently, I suspect, many people writing for scholarly or professional audiences allow themselves to use e-mail (from "electronic mail") and T-bill (from "Treasury bill"), among other contracted forms.

Usage commentators who condemn contractions tend to focus on two classes of such terms: contractions that include an apostrophe to signify the omission of one or more letters (such as I'm, don't, and we'll) and contractions that appear closed up but (often) duplicate a late consonant and (almost always) end in a vowel (such as coulda, gimme, gonna, gotta, hafta, oughtta, outta, sorta, and wanna).

I've noticed a tendency to blame opposition to free use of contractions on self-appointed grammar and style experts. But I think at least some of the blame rests with dictionaries, which have been very slow to acknowledge the existence of many such terms. In particular, Merriam-Webster's didn't begin to acknowledge many common apostrophe-containing contractions (including don't, I'm, o'clock, and we'll) until the Third Collegiate Dictionary (1916). And—as I discuss in my answer to How often do people say "gotta", "wanna" or "gonna" in English speaking countries?, the Eleventh Collegiate (2003) doesn't provide entries for such common terms as gimme, gonna, gotta, and wanna as contractions for "give me," "going to," "got to," and "want to," respectively.

These omissions must surely reflect some level of disapproval by the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster's with regard to the validity of the common words thus ignored, although I have no doubt that a desire to avoid opening the floodgates to a whole class of previously omitted words that would then have to be covered in the dictionary plays a role as well.

It is hardly surprising that words that fell into this underclass until less than a century ago—or that fall into the same underclass today—are objects of hostility from authorities on polite, formal, are scholarly writing. The process of reinforcement is ultimately circular, however, which means that don't, I'm, and we'll, are well on their way to acceptance in formal writing after 97 years of rehabilitation (and eventual approval) by Merriam-Webster's and other dictionaries, but also that gimme, gotta, and wanna have a long way to go.

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