When it comes to contractions, grammar rules are pretty simple. You drop some letters, add an apostrophe, and voilà: a contraction. I am becomes I’m. You are becomes You’re. This is all fairly self-explanatory. If you’re learning English, all you really need to do is memorize the list of possible contractions. And if you’re a native speaker, contractions are probably already ingrained in your brain. But in this article, I’m going to go beyond the basics of how to form contractions, and talk about when to use them and when not to use them.

Formal Writing

We’ve all heard that we should not use contractions in formal writing. And this still applies to certain contexts. But, generally speaking, the trend is moving toward more contractions. This is because contractions are gradually becoming more common. They sound more natural and conversational. On the other hand, writing that does not use contractions sounds more formal and stiff.

When To Use Contractions

With that in mind, I am going to recommend using contractions in most situations. Any non-formal communication should definitely use contractions. This includes notes and e-mails to your friends and family, advertising copy, pamphlets and brochures, online articles (like this Infobarrel article), and fiction writing. Most often, you should use contractions. In fact, even if you’re on the fence—if you’re not sure if you should use contractions or not—I would say to go ahead and use them. It’s usually better to sound natural than to sound unusually proper.

When Not To Use Contractions

There are only a few situations in which you should still avoid contractions and separate words like I am, and these are situations in which you wan to emphasize the formality and proper-ness of the situation. Some examples would include a cover letter for a job interview, a legal document, an instruction manual, and a business letter or memo. These are situations in which you’re better off sounding more professional than more conversational.

Going Out of Style

However: that said, keep in mind that stiff, formal writing like this is becoming less and less common. For example, many new start-up companies today encourage their employees to compose letters in an off-beat, conversational tone, because this kind of writing typically is more engaging and interesting to read. (Probably because it sounds more like the way we speak.) In the future, we might even reach the point where people always use contractions.

If you’re searching for any more guidance on similar grammar issues, check out more articles on themselves grammar and ellipsis grammar. Happy writing!