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As my limited experience in English indicates, more contractions are used in spoken English than in written. Moreover, too many contractions favor casualness. Compare:

  • I would not have come.
  • I wouldn't have come.
  • I wouldn't've come.

However, I've encountered plenty of contractions in formal contexts (textbooks, serious speeches, etc), which makes me unsure about associating contractions with informality.

What is the exact correlation between using contractions and formality?

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    At first I thought it was a typo: "What is the correlation between contractions and fertility..." ;-0 – Jim Nov 8 '15 at 17:55
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    The exact correlation is that informality is primarily spoken, and not written. The closer the spelling of a written sentence resembles the actual sound of the speech (not a simple task -- as you know, English spelling is a very bad representation of English speech), the closer it verges on informality. Contrariwise, using fewer contractions is generally one mark of formal behavior. There are lots of other factors, however. – John Lawler Nov 8 '15 at 17:57
  • People use contractions for saving space, convenience, their preference, etc. You are asking too broad a question. – user140086 Nov 8 '15 at 17:58
  • @JohnLawler You mean contractions are not inherently informal, right? And that means that there could be a very formal speech (especially) or piece of writing with lots of contractions. – Færd Nov 8 '15 at 18:08
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    I would've weighed in on this question, but right now I can't, so I won't; that is, unless someone who isn't too busy and isn't pressed for time will encourage me to make the time even if I can't right now afford the time. I hope I haven't made myself difficult to understand, because I wouldn't want to confuse someone who didn't grow up speaking English and isn't comfortable with someone who hasn't any compunction in using contractions, at least when they're called for, unless of course they aren't, though I honestly can't think of a situation in which they mightn't be appropriate . . .. – rhetorician Nov 8 '15 at 18:10
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Generally speaking; yes. In cultural examples native speakers often use fewer contractions in their speech when they want to be certain of being understood. This doesn't apply exclusively to contractions though. Words like "yeah" and "naw" while not contractions, are often replaced with their more proper equivalents. "Formality" isn't predicated on lack of contractions, but a formal setting usually makes them less appropriate.

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