My apologies if this has been asked and answered before.

I know that word classes can either be open or closed; for example, nouns are an open word class and allow for new nouns to be created to communicate new meanings.

I also know that contractions are not a part of speech in themselves, but I recently had a debate with a friend over whether it was grammatically correct to create new contractions the same way other words are. I was arguing that it is acceptable, and I wanted to use the point that contractions are "open" as nouns or verbs would be, but that isn't quite right. Is it grammatically correct to create new contractions? If so, what grammatical rule or property would allow it? The word in question, if it helps, was "how're", as in "How're you doing?"

Thanks for your time.

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    It is certainly legitimate to use an apostrophe to indicate elided letters when transcribing spoken English. If you're purely transcribing it's not up to you to judge the "correctness" of the language. If you are instead writing your own words, it's up to you to decide whether you want to reproduce how you might actually speak the words or instead adhere to a formal style. – Hot Licks Jan 2 '15 at 3:07
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    @Drew It's commonly accepted in linguistics that nouns, adjectives and verbs are open class in the sense that there are productive methods for producing new ones (e.g. suffixes and prefixes that turn words of one category into another), and new ones enter the language with great frequency. Other word categories (often called "functional categories", e.g. articles, auxiliary verbs, pronouns etc.) are thought to be closed class in that there are no productive ways to create new ones, and although languages can acquire new ones as a result of language change, new ones are very hard to come by. – Alan Munn Jan 2 '15 at 3:14
  • @Drew There is also substantial linguistic and psycholinguistic evidence for distinguishing the two sorts of categories. – Alan Munn Jan 2 '15 at 3:15
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    As to @Matt's question, when a contraction is formed it takes the role of one of its parts. When not is contracted with is the result becomes a frozen auxiliary verb isn't, which can be inverted with the subject: He is a carpenter, isn't he? But when he is contracted with is, the result becomes a subject pronoun he's, which can't be inverted but requires a participle following. There's a whole lot more to syntax than "Parts of Speech"; the traditional 8 are medieval science. We can do better than that these days. – John Lawler Jan 2 '15 at 3:38
  • @Drew en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Part_of_speech#Open_and_closed_classes "An open class is one that commonly accepts the addition of new words, while a closed class is one to which new items are very rarely added. Open classes normally contain large numbers of words, while closed classes are much smaller. Typical open classes found in English and many other languages are nouns, verbs (excluding auxiliary verbs, if these are regarded as a separate class), adjectives, adverbs and interjections. Typical closed classes are prepositions (or postpositions), determiners, conjunctions, and pronouns" – Roaring Fish Jan 2 '15 at 3:57

One definition of a contraction may be found here.

A contraction is a word or phrase that's (or that has) been shortened by dropping one or more letters. In writing, an apostrophe takes the place of the missing letters.

The page goes on to list their "Standard Contractions in English." There is a link to a Practice page for forming contractions. You will find some rules for the latter.

If there are standard contractions, there would be newly-formed, non-standard contractions as well. (Yes, OP, the construction is open.)

D'ya think if it ain't on the list you mayn't construct it? C'mon!

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  • all that is well and good, but there is still a part of Matt's original question that is unanswered. Namely: are all new contractions you could come up with acceptable? In speech, I suppose the question is whether a native speaker would discern what is being contracted. I might say what sounds like "squeat"; would you know that I meant "let us go eat"? My wife would know, but would my boss? – Brian Hitchcock Jan 2 '15 at 5:02
  • @BrianHitchcock- jeetyet? – Jim Jan 2 '15 at 19:36
  • @BrianHitchcock, I believe I answered his question by saying that contractions were "open" (OP's terminology). I sidestepped the notion of correctness by demonstration. "D'ya" is understood as "Do you"; "mayn't" is understood as "may not"; and "C'mon" is understood as "Come on." If the OP understands these and believes that his readers (or hearers) would also understand, then he has an answer to his question without an appeal to correctness. – rajah9 Jan 2 '15 at 20:03
  • There are also "numerical contractions" which are relatively new I think. For example i18n for internationalization where the number 18 is written in place of the 18 letters removed. – Jim Jan 2 '15 at 20:36
  • @Jim That seems more like an abbreviation than a contraction. – Barmar Jan 3 '15 at 0:15

I'd guess contractions are closed, but it has a lot to do with how you use the term "contraction". If you mean by the term any written form using an apostrophe to suggest an unpronounced vowel, then it would be open, because in casual pronunciation, in some dialect or other, many, many vowels can be lost, and how that is represented in writing is a question of a writer's style and ingenuity. For instance, the example "How're you doing?" might more typically be written down "Howra doin'?", without any orthographic apostrophe where the missing vowel is. Personally, I would not call this "contraction", because I reserve that term for a change which is conventionalized and applies only in a fixed, enumerable list of cases.

For instance, the vowel of "are" can be omitted quite freely, and what is left is either a syllabic or a nonsyllabic "r". However, when the "r" is nonsyllabic, in the particular combination "they're", the "ey" part loses the glide part of the diphthong, so it winds up sounding just like "there". This doesn't happen except with certain pronouns, so since it is grammatically restricted, I would call this a real contraction. Similarly, "he will" when written "he'll" can lose the glide part of the diphthong, so that it comes to be pronounced just like "hill". Now, that's a contraction.

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