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[Friday 25 January, 2013]
Note that a contraction isn’t the same as an elision. An elision simply omits a sound (see elision for examples). In a contraction, one word loses a sound (or sounds) and so gets joined onto another word. In some languages, the sounds of the two words can be completely fused, as in French du from de le. A complete list of the contracted auxiliary verbs is ’m (am), ’s (is, has), ’re (are), ’ve (have), ’d (had, would), ’ll (will), and the various negative forms: aren’t, isn’t, wasn’t, weren’t, haven’t, hasn’t, hadn’t, don’t, doesn’t, didn’t, can’t, couldn’t, mayn’t, mightn’t, shan’t, shouldn’t, won’t, wouldn’t, mustn’t. Note that two of these are ambiguous: ’s and ’d.
When is the contracted form used? It’s partly a matter of style, as the entry says, but the use is also conditioned by the context. You’re much more likely to get ’s when the preceding word is a pronoun, there, or here; you’re more likely to get is when the preceding word is a noun. There are also usage variations to take into account. She is not going can contract in two ways: She isn’t going and She’s not going (note you can’t do both at once: *She’s isn’t going). The former is more common in most dialects (though not in Scotland and some parts of the North of England). Mayn’t and shan’t are very rare in British English, and would hardly ever be used in American English.
Contractions also appear as a marker of nonstandard usage, especially when an author is trying to represent dialect or very informal speech. The is often contracted in this way, for example (to t’). Examples include y’all, see’d, t’other, we’s hae (‘we shall have’ - used by Joseph in Wuthering Heights), th’wast (an example from The Return of the Native), and Tha’d better (an example from Sons and Lovers).
RG 18; SGE 3.13-16; CGEL 3.23, 31-6

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