Assuming that it is Standard American English to contract would as -'d, is it standard to contract did as -'d? For example:

  • I would really like to have a glass of single malt scotch right now.
    → I'd really like to have a glass of single malt scotch right now.

  • What did you do last night?
    → What'd you do last night?

My hypothesis is that the did → -'d contraction is perfectly acceptable when it follows a question word, otherwise it sounds awkward, or even bad. On the flip side, the would → -'d contraction is actually unacceptable when it follows a question word. In other words, the two are in complementary distribution, at least for the most part.

Note: my question was originally about the spoken Standard American English, but if there is any difference in acceptability between the spoken and written standard, I would be grateful to learn about it.

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    Are you asking about spoken or written English? They're different dialects. Aug 12, 2013 at 23:32
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    Standard English is an established term. Rather than putting it in quotes and then including endless pre-emptive apologies, just use the term and be done. Nobody will get emotional about an established term. And urging us to be civil casts a bad light on the site, implying that we are typically not civil.
    – RegDwigнt
    Aug 13, 2013 at 13:20

3 Answers 3


In spoken American English, I believe you can only contract "did" if it is an auxiliary verb, you can't use the contraction "didn't" instead, and "did" is not used for emphasis. This presents a lot of constraints on how the sentence can be constructed. For example:

I did tell you.

I'd cannot be contracted because "did" is used for emphasis.

Who did it?

Who'd cannot be contracted because "did" is the main verb.

Why did you not do it?

Why'd cannot be contracted because you could use "didn't" instead.

Who did you talk to?

Who'd can be contracted.

I believe the only valid contractions of "did" that this leaves is when it immediately follows a question word, is an auxiliary verb, and doesn't have a "not" associated with it.

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    As far as I can tell, these all collapse into the [d͡ʒə] pronunciation when used as Wh-word’d you (like in “didja” for did you). So questions end sounding like “Where’dja go?, How’dja do that?, Who’dja tell?, Why’dja run away?, Wha(t)’dja do that for?, When’dja get the new car?”. The only wh-word that doesn’t contract in that situation seems to be which, as in “Which did you see?” Maybe it’s that the standing [t͡ʃ] somehow blocks the collapse into another [d͡ʒ] immediately following it.
    – tchrist
    Aug 13, 2013 at 3:37
  • When I read those first two samples when I contract "did" to "'d" the word that is being said becomes "would" not "did". Is there just a lot of convention and tradition about when "'d" means different things? Or maybe I'm just crazy/wrong.
    – Paul
    Aug 13, 2013 at 11:04
  • @tchrist: I agree. "Which'dja" doesn't work. I think it'd hafta be pronounced [wɪtʃədʒə], which is almost a tongue twister. Aug 13, 2013 at 11:28
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    I find “Why’d you not do it?” perfectly fine as a contraction. Unusual, yes, but so is the uncontracted form—I would be very unlikely to say anything but, “Why didn’t you do it?”. Aug 13, 2013 at 16:34
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    @PeterShor I wouldn't go so far as to call it ungrammatical. It's simple informal; you're not going to find it with n-grams, but it's ubiquitous in common American speech. You mean you've never let out an I'd've (that's would have, not did obviously, but it's an example of non-standard contractions in speech)? Nov 25, 2013 at 18:34

I saw a past conversation on this question:


According to those who answered, there is a distinction to written usage versus spoken.

To summarize, it should not be written unless already historically well established. Since one does not see "What'd" often enough to call it well established, it should continue to be written out long handed.

  • Are you suggesting that it continue to be written out or are you really just suggesting that it continues to be written out? The first is a hypothetical-type command giving directions about how you think it ought to be done in the future, while the second is merely asserting that that is what is currently happening right now. Which did you mean?
    – tchrist
    Aug 13, 2013 at 3:26
  • Some other bodies of work greater than stackexchange would need to start using this notation. Until this happens, it should be written out long handed despite what is spoken in common place.
    – brianray
    Aug 13, 2013 at 4:57

I'd is a 'standard' written (British) English contraction for I would, and is acceptable in speech and in informal writing.

What'd is not a 'standard' written (British) English contraction: it is the two words "What did" being elided (merged) together in speech, and would be acceptable in written form only when exactly quoting what someone had said.

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    Um, how’s that not a contraction? I’d’ve certainly said it was.
    – tchrist
    Aug 12, 2013 at 23:39
  • In this case What'd is still a contraction. In fact, people say it all the time. I wouldn't even blink if I heard it in normal conversation.
    – Jacobm001
    Aug 12, 2013 at 23:42
  • @Jacobm001 That's what an elision is: the omission of some sounds to make a phrase easier to speak. Whether or not it is a valid contraction in written English doesn't necessarily depend on whether people enunciate "did" as a separate syllable. Aug 12, 2013 at 23:48
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    @ Peter Shor: The Shorter Oxford Dictionary. Aug 13, 2013 at 8:18
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    Absolutely. They're mainly used in writing to place greater emphasis on the subject of the sentence without adding conceptual complexity (such as adding clauses.) Aug 13, 2013 at 12:55

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