Here are five tips for using contractions in business writing and other semi-formal material. If you’re unsure if contractions are appropriate for your content, please review “Are Contractions Okay in Business Writing?” before utilizing these tips.
1. Aim for natural-sounding contraction usage rather than consistency.
Unlike most writing usage issues, contractions don’t have to be consistent throughout the text.1 Instead, written contractions should mimic natural conversation, which often mixes contractions with complete words in order to emphasize particular parts of sentences:
That’s not my favorite place to go for coffee, but that is my favorite place to go for chai.
I’m going to the mall, but I am not going to max out my credit card.
2. Avoid uncommon and multi-apostrophe contractions.
Uncommon contractions (e.g., it’d and who’re) and multi-apostrophe contractions (e.g., he’d’ve and she’d’ve) are easily understood in conversation but can be difficult to read.2 To avoid confusion, stick with commonly written single-apostrophe contractions such as I’m, it’s, that’s, can’t, don’t, won’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, aren’t, you’ll, and hadn’t.
3. Don’t mistake possessives for contractions.
As a general rule, the apostrophe s turns nouns and some indefinite pronouns (e.g., everyone and someone) into possessives—not into contractions:
Jason’s car has a flat tire. (Jason owns the car.)
Someone’s jacket fell on the floor. (Someone owns the jacket.)
To learn more about apostrophe s usage, visit “Solving the Apostrophe S Puzzle: Guidelines for Possession, Contractions, and Plurals.”
4. Use contractions to tone down strong sentences.
The not contractions (e.g., won’t, can’t, don’t, and aren’t) can relax the tone of sentences that may otherwise sound bossy or unfriendly; this is particularly true for negative or imperative sentences:
I can’t attend your presentation this afternoon because I need to finish this report. (Instead of “I cannot attend your presentation …”)
Don’t forget to return the file by the end of the day. (Instead of “Do not forget to return …”)
However, as mentioned in “Are Contractions Okay in Business Writing?,” contractions should not be used in truly formal writing—this includes instructions that can impact safety and security:
Do not heat this metal container in the microwave. (Instead of “Don’t heat this…”)
Passengers cannot leave their seats until the ride comes to a complete stop. (Instead of “Passengers can’t leave…”)
5. Expect pushback from some of your readers.
If you receive negative feedback about your contraction usage, don’t get down on yourself; instead, evaluate your writing to make sure that you’re not overusing contractions or using them inappropriately. As much as negative feedback hurts, it can promote valuable improvements in your writing.
Realize, too, that some members of the grammar police just don’t like contractions in business writing no matter how seamlessly those contractions are woven into the text. So, if you’re confident that contractions are appropriate for your business and that you’re using them effectively, keep calm—and keep on contracting!
1. Bryan A. Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage. 4rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016) 216.
2. Garner, Garner’s Modern English Usage, 216; The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 5.105.