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Recently, while chatting with a friend via text, my friend asked me, "Can you ask them tomorrow?"

I responded with:

I will when I go.

It occurred to me when writing this response that it would be really weird sounding to say:

I'll when I go.

However, it would have been normal sounding if I had said:

I'll ask when I go.

Is there any formal reason why the version without "ask" following "I'll" is incorrect? Or maybe it is correct, but merely awkward?

I suppose there may not be any explanation deeper than, "it just sounds weird," but any informative insights into why, ideally with examples of similar cases, would stand as an answer.

marked as duplicate by Janus Bahs Jacquet, RegDwigнt Dec 27 '13 at 12:56

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  • This is a possible duplicate of Is there some rule against ending a sentence with the contraction "it's"?. Also related: Shortest correct sentence in English (shamelessly plugging my own answer here). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 27 '13 at 12:35
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: The answer on the proposed duplicate is completely incomprehensible to me, and I'm not sure I believe the question is similar in any case. This is about a mid-sentence use of a contraction, the other question is about ending sentences with contractions. The other question is specific to "it's", this is not. – Questioner Dec 28 '13 at 5:36
  • The answer is not specific to any particular word or any particular location in a sentence. It is simply a matter of stress: any word that has primary stress in a sentence cannot be contracted. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 28 '13 at 10:01
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, I'm sure you're correct about that, but I don't see how it is clear that "I will" has primary stress over "when I go". It seems to me it could be either, depending on the context. If there's a reason why "I will" would always be the primary stress, that would seem to be an explanation worthy of answering this question separately from the other. – Questioner Dec 29 '13 at 7:34
  • Those are two clauses; both have primary stress because they're both verbs with no complements. Each clause has at least one primary stress (optionally more, depending on its structure)—you cannot have a clause with no primary stress at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 29 '13 at 12:03

I think that the contraction "I'll" (along with many other contractions) is only allowed when the elided vowel does not have prosodic stress. In a sentence like "I will ask", the word "will" has low intonation and prosodic prominence, so it can be elided into "I'll". On the other hand, in "I will when I go", the word "will" is at a higher pitch than the surrounding words and is (relatively) stressed, and thus cannot be elided.

The whole topic of how intonation is determined is complicated and I admit that I don't fully understand it, but I think the word "will" is usually less prominent when it precedes a verb and more prominent otherwise. One important exception is when it has contrastive emphasis, as in the following dialogue:

John: You're not going to go, are you?

Mary: Yes, I WILL go!

Note that Mary cannot say "Yes, I'LL go!" with the same meaning, because the word "will" has prosodic stress due to contrastive emphasis.

According to the Collins Cobuild English Usage (p158):

You cannot use any of the above contractions (i.e., contractions of the various forms of the verbs to be and to have, as well as will, shall and would) at the end of a clause. You must use the full form instead. For example, you say 'I said I would, not 'I said I'd'.

Since in your example will ends the main clause, it cannot be contracted.

  • 1
    But that's no different from the clause ending in the perfectly acceptable "I'll ask when I go". What an excellent question - what a shame it has been shut down and marked as a duplicate of what seems to be an only marginally related question. It seems to be that "will" can be contracted as a modal verb but not as the main verb: "I'll ask" has two verbs, but "I'll" only has one. However, you can say "It's [x]", but not simply "It's", although in this case there is still only one verb, but there is an object in the former. I'm starting to confuse myself... Anyone??? – nxx Dec 27 '13 at 22:48

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