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I've often seen "how's" used as short for how is - such as "How's your wife feeling?" or "How's the weather where you are?"

I'm pretty sure the above is grammatically correct. However, it's also common to use "how's" as short for "how does", such as "How's it feel to be a student?"

Is this second usage grammatically correct, or just a colloquialism?

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You seem to be making the false assumption that colloquialisms are not grammatically correct. Contractions are a natural part of spoken language in any language in the world—it’s part of the very fundament of speaking that we contract things that provide little necessary information. That does not make them ungrammatical in any way; quite the opposite, in fact.

A better question to ask would be when and where it is appropriate to contract ‘how does’ to ‘how’s’.

As you yourself say, it is exceedingly common to do so in normal, informal, spoken language, and I would say there is no reason whatsoever not to do it in a colloquial situation, apart from wishing to add a particular feel, effect, emphasis, etc. to what you’re saying. In other words, it is quite on par with contracting ‘how is’ into ‘how’s’.

The more formal you get, the more likely it will become that ‘how’s’ (whether for ‘how does’ or ‘how is’) will be seen as unduly informal and not appropriate to the situation. And in writing that’s not meant to reproduce spoken language specifically, I would avoid it entirely.

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    I agree the broad thrust of all this, but I don't think "How's it feel?" is quite on a par with "How's your bad leg?". It's a somewhat more extreme contraction, which arguably implies it's "more colloquial". And even where 's = is, as in the previous sentence, there can be differences. I'm inclined to think that in, say, "If the Queen's coming to visit it's important to make sure your toilet is clean" the first contraction is more informal than the second. And whilst I can't say it's always the case, I think can't is often "less informal" than many other contractions. – FumbleFingers Jan 10 '14 at 15:46
  • Thanks for the answer - I'm aware that it's appropriate in some cases and not others, but I was just wondering whether, strictly speaking adhering to the rules of English grammar, it's a correct use of an apostrophe or not? – berry120 Jan 10 '14 at 16:10
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    @FumbleFingers: Make sure you're not hearing a class/register difference between How's it feel? and How's your bad leg?. They are both totally normal in the US, and our students are equally confused about them. The fact is that deleting material erases distinctions marked with it, so there is a gread deal of neutralization, like he'd meaning he did or he would, and we seem to take it in stride in speech. It's only in writing that the apostropocalypse threatens. – John Lawler Jan 10 '14 at 17:25
  • @John: I'm pretty sure I know what you're getting at there, since I think deleting material erases distinctions marked with it explains why I'm tempted to "reconstruct" "If I'd have known you were coming I'd have baked a cake" as "If I had have known...". Which doubtless you find as ridiculous as "How is it feel?" sounds to me. But even though my "logical" brain can see what's going on, I can't easily retrain my "inner parser" to reconstruct the full form in my example. – FumbleFingers Jan 10 '14 at 17:43
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    I think anybody saying that something is "technically speaking, (in)correct" should be required to state the technical details of the regulation involved, and why they apply to this particular item. Anyone citing a zombie rule will have their brains eaten. – John Lawler Jan 10 '14 at 22:32

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