I know as an English teacher, contractions are supposed to be frowned upon. Avoiding contractions in formal writing is important. Avoiding them in informal writing makes the work sound awkward and stiff.
What’s the difference between informal and formal writing?
Informal writing: novels, poems, friendly letters, texts to friends.
Formal writing: term papers, newspaper articles, speeches, textbooks. In short, anything that isn’t a novel, poem, friendly letter or text.
What’s the big deal with using contractions in formal writing?
The big deal is IT’S FORMAL. Think of it like the difference between dressing for prom or dressing for a casual party. You’re not going to wear ratty jeans and a T-shirt to prom. (At least I hope not!) Nor are you going to wear a tux to a casual party.
In formal writing, the author does not directly address his/ her audience. There is a degree of separation not found in informal writing. One avoids the use of I in formal writing, as well as avoidance of the pronoun you. It is impersonal and usually non-fiction.
Contractions are strictly forbidden in formal writing—anathema, the plague. A pox on contractions!
Informal writing is more about engaging the reader, involving him/ her in the story, poem, letter or text. It’s a very personal involvement, using I and you freely. There is no degree of separation as the goal is to bring the reader into the writing/ reading experience.
Contractions give a casual aspect. They’re relaxed, laid back, cool. People think and speak in contractions. Avoiding their use in dialogue makes it sound really weird. (Example, Lt. Commander Data in Star Trek the Next Generation)
Listen to conversations and you’ll immediately understand what I mean. I very much doubt you’ll hear strict adherence to formal literary conventions in the grocery store or at your favorite restaurant.
Meanwhile, embrace contractions, making friends with them. They’re fun! Contractions are our friends. Play with them, you’ll see what I mean. Leave those stuffy old nouns and verbs behind. Hoorah for contractions!
© Dellani Oakes