Can I Use Contractions in my Writing?

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Q: I know that grammatically we shouldn’t use contractions at all unless it’s‑in speech, but I see that many nonfiction bestselling authors use them. What are the current guidelines for their use?—Henry

A: Contractions aren’t wrong—they’re just less formal than the expanded forms. Using them depends on your audience. They’re far more acceptable today than they were when your grandpa was just a dad, and there’s nothing wrong with contractions in the right context. And sometimes there can be a good deal wrong without them. As you can probably see, Writer’s Digest uses them quite frequently. Our style is to employ conjunctions when they flow naturally and make the sentence smoother.

If you’re writing a college term paper or a professional study, however, you should probably avoid them. As for novels, short stories and other forms of writing where your own style is required, it’s up to you whether you can, cannot or can’t use them.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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