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I've seen a contraction of two words. I can't see why it wouldn't be possible to contract twice. Is it possible and how should it be punctuated?

Update: Ok, to sum up the answers so far

  • This appears in spoken British and American English
  • It is from one of the lower registers of English
  • Even if spoken this way sometimes, it isn't really written as a double contraction, except as written speech in fiction.
  • And from my own googling in Wiktionary, it appears most written forms are old British words, often nautical like fo'c'sle.
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Are their grammarians in fo'c'sles? –  Jared Updike Aug 6 '10 at 4:58
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It's fo'c's'le, though the apostrophe after the s is sometimes omitted. Forecastle. –  TRiG Oct 30 '10 at 4:13
    
@Jared Updike: Whose grammarians? –  Piskvor Oct 30 '10 at 11:45
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@Piskvor: ha ha... apparently not me! It was meant to be a pun on 'Are there atheists in foxholes?' –  Jared Updike Oct 30 '10 at 19:38
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12 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

This is not grammatically correct, but you may hear it in speech. Native speakers tend to slur words together and leave out pieces of words even if they wouldn't write that way.

EDIT: I should say that double contractions are not used in writing. They may be "grammatically correct", but a American professor would not allow you to use them in an essay. Typically, contractions should be avoided for formal writing.

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Why is this grammatically incorrect? I + have = I've, and have + not = haven't, so why is I'ven't strictly incorrect? Who wrote we can't doubly contract? Is it principally "I'ven't" doesn't feel right to you? If so, then it's not incorrect. This flexibility is what makes the English language so powerful. –  David Foster Aug 5 '10 at 21:24
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@David, that is also what makes it one of the hardest languages to learn. At least it isn't tonal! –  Arlen Beiler Aug 5 '10 at 21:32
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My two sources of what is "right" in English are dictionaries and professors/teachers. You won't find "I'ven't" in the Oxford dictionary, and it's very unlikely that a professor would let that slide in an essay. –  mouche Aug 5 '10 at 21:35
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It might be impossible to find such a piece, but that doesn't change the fact that every English teacher I've ever had told everyone that using contractions in formal writing was Very Very Bad. The words were also underlined. –  kitukwfyer Aug 6 '10 at 0:57
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Perhaps I shouldn't've said anything. –  David Foster Aug 6 '10 at 8:01
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The example you give is not done in American English. You can't contract non-auxiliary "have". "I've not a clue if this is possible" is also not grammatical in American English. It may be in British English, though.

I copied this from a comment I left below, because I think it clarifies what I'm trying to say:

I've" is a fine contraction, just in American English you can only use it to replace "I have" when "have" is used as an auxiliary verb (e.g. in conjunction with a past participle). "I've been there" is OK. "I've a dog" is not. In the example "I'ven't a clue"—"I haven't a clue", the verb "have" is not auxiliary, so it can't be contracted with the pronoun "I".

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No one's called me on saying "I've not" or "I'ven't" yet... –  kitukwfyer Aug 5 '10 at 21:08
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@kitukwfyer if you do that, you should know that you risk it coming off at best as a pseudo-British affectation and at worst as simple misuse. –  nohat Aug 5 '10 at 21:12
    
I think it's generally because I talk too quickly and mumble a lot. :) –  kitukwfyer Aug 5 '10 at 21:14
    
@nohat, I've never heard that before! I've is a common contraction (more often a common "leave out". "I got to go" instead of "I've got to go") –  Arlen Beiler Aug 5 '10 at 21:35
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"I've not a clue" is OK in British English, but tends to be limited to (a) certain regions, or (b) the past. To me as a Londoner, it sounds very old-fashioned, but it may be appropriate to use if you're from elsewhere in the UK. –  Steve Melnikoff Aug 26 '10 at 12:17
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I don't think you can get away with "I'ven't" in writing either. However, I think I've read "'tweren't," "'twouldn't," and "'twasn't" before. I'm guessing, though, that double contractions like that are never technically correct. Colloquially speaking, if you're understandable, anything goes.

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Those sort of contractions starting with T (either by front contraction of it or rear contraction of the) are very common in Northern England, particularly the Yorkshire area. You can get quite pantomine with: "'twas", "'twasn't". –  Orbling Dec 15 '10 at 17:14
    
"Not technically correct"? Nonsense! –  tchrist Feb 5 '12 at 1:39
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I guess this isn't entirely formal standard English, but I'm pretty sure "y'all're," "y'all've," and "y'all'll" are accepted in areas that use "y'all" as the second person plural.

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"If y'all'd started when I told you to, y'all'ld've already been done by now!" - No, I'm not making that up. I've never seen it written before, but I've heard (and said) things like it my whole life. –  Dennis Williamson Aug 12 '10 at 21:19
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I would avoid doing that in any serious writing, but if you are looking for ways to do this creatively to affect a regional dialect, etc. I would suspect any text by Mark Twain would be a good source to find examples of this.

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"Fish 'n' chips" and similar phrases with "'n'" technically have a double-contracted "and."

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"rock'n'roll" has a double contraction too. The difference with what asked from the OP is that the double contraction is not done on a verb. –  kiamlaluno Aug 13 '10 at 19:09
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Personally I wouldn't call that a double contraction, because you rarely, if ever, have the single contraction form (i.e. 'nd or an'). –  DisgruntledGoat Sep 7 '10 at 10:44
    
I'd say that in Australian English (at least my Adelaide version) we sometimes say Fish 'nd Chips and Rock 'nd Roll, but I doubt any one would normally type the d. –  Mark Hurd Feb 17 '11 at 9:55
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Two of my favorite double contractions are "couldn't've" and "shouldn't've", both of which are flagged by my spell checker, but seem completely correct to me.

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What about when you get something like "y'all'dn't've" O_o (You all would not have) –  Ullallulloo Oct 21 '10 at 22:37
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Then you have achieved an admirable level of efficiency. ;) –  mskfisher Oct 21 '10 at 23:41
    
I use shouldn't've a lot, I have to say - in informal typed conversation. That is how we say it colloquially in London, as in "Ya shouldn't've done that mate." –  Orbling Dec 15 '10 at 17:29
    
What about I'm'nt (I'm not) same idea, but it sounds completely wrong to me. –  rmx Feb 3 '11 at 16:23
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Nobody seems to have mentioned it, but what you'd be more likely to here in BritEng is "I 'aven't".

As Steve Melnikoff commented, "I've not" is sometimes used in the UK, though his example reads strangely to me; I'd have suggested something like "I've not seen him before".

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+1 'aven't is common, though ain't is used more. –  Orbling Dec 15 '10 at 17:18
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I wouldn't use I'ven't in speech or writing. I've not perhaps, I haven't more likely. I do use, in both speech and writing, I'd've. I'd've thought this would be more common.

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When you say "I've done it" it's pronounced something like [aiv donit] (with the stress on [ai]), but when you say "I haven't done it" it's pronounced something like [ai (h)avent donit] (with or without an h sound, with the stress on [av]). Since the initial "h" is very weak in English anyway it's superfluous to omit it with an apostrophe unless you're making a point about exactly how someone pronounced it.

If you're saying [ai hav donit] (with stress on [hav]), you should write it "I have done it", with or without the italics depending on how important the emphasis is.

(By the way, I'm not a native speaker, this is how I see it with my foreign eyes. I'm sure the phonetic spelling is all messed up, but I hope you understand it anyway...)

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Not sure if it counts, but o'clock is a contraction of "of the clock".

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