I recently submitted my product design coursework to my teacher, for them to check that everything was okay. And besides from the few spelling mistakes that I'd made, the only other thing I was told to do was to change all of the contractions to being two separate words.

This meant going through and changing all of the "it's"s to "it is", the "we're"s to "we are" and so on. This was because, and I quote, "The exam board see it as more correct to not use things such as contractions."

So is this really the case, is it more correct not to use an apostrophe for omission? Or is this just a miss understanding between my teacher and the exam board?

Personally I'd have though it to be the other way around, as in French it is grammatically incorrect to say "ce est" or "que elle". These should instead be written as "c'est" and "qu'elle" respectively.

Any thought on the matter would be appreciated.

  • 2
    Most style guides for formal writing say to avoid contractions because they are too informal. – Jim Jan 22 '17 at 19:44
  • Use whatever style guide your organization prescribes. If you have no such organization and no style guide, do whatever you like. Primarily opinion-based, on either an individual basis or among style guides. – Drew Jan 22 '17 at 20:38
  • There's no way one can compare a mandatory elision as it the case in French when a word ending in a e caduc is omitted if the following word begins with a vowel sound, and English contracted forms that are optional in certain contexts. – None Jan 23 '17 at 10:11
  • When my teachers told me - and they did, often - ‘The exam board won’t like things such as that’ I might ask for clarification but that would be from them, not another party who wouldn’t be up to speed with the board’s style. Then rather than argue, I asked for as much more information about other ‘things such as ’ to steer clear of as I could extract… – Robbie Goodwin Feb 5 '17 at 18:25

I agree with Jim's comment that style guides generally discourage contraction. The way I suggest you tackle it is to think of it in terms of an author's authority.

In most "formal" settings - e.g., academia, professional writing, etc. - the author does not have full control over style or "form." An editor, a teacher, or simply the general rules governing the field dictate how to handle contractions. Unless specifically permitted, it is safer not to use contractions.

In most informal settings, such as a blog post, it's up to you (and here up to me) to make that call.

The French case is deceptive in this regard. You are right that "ce est" is plainly incorrect. Yet, in any formal setting, "c'est" is not used. You may have to use "ceci est", "cela est", or "ce qui est" in order to avoid the contraction. In English, it is less complicated in my opinion.

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  • 3
    "c'est" is not used in formal settings? I am not a native French speaker, but I haven't heard of that. This Wordreference forum post seems to contradict it: forum.wordreference.com/threads/… – herisson Jan 22 '17 at 20:18
  • It can if the phrase calls for it. So "c'est ainsi" ("that's how it is") would be a case where you keep it because of the expression. My high school teacher in France would however circle in bright red any use of "c'est" even in our homework. – farhang Jan 22 '17 at 20:39
  • There's no contraction in c'est. It is a compulsory elision. – None Jan 23 '17 at 9:54
  • @sumelic As a native French speaker I can tell you that in most cases using Ceci est" or "cela est" instead of *c'est sounds pedantic. I only use it if I want to insist. – None Jan 23 '17 at 10:03

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