Contraction (linguistics)

In linguistics, a contraction is the formation of a new word from two or more individual words. This often is a result of a common sequence of words, or, as in French, to maintain a flowing sound.

In English, contractions are usually but not always either negations or combinations of pronouns with auxiliary verbs, and in these cases always include an apostrophe. Negations are generally in the form of doesn't for does not, or wouldn't for would not, where the apostrophe stands for the missing "o" in not. The second category is generally in the form of pronoun + to be, as in "It's cold today" or "We're going downtown," where the apostrophe again stands for a missing vowel, either "i" or "a". The second category also often uses a form of to have, as in "He's gone to bed" or "We've finally gotten there." In this case, the apostrophe stands for the missing "h" plus "a". It should be noted, though, that only British English allows a to have to contract when it is the primary verb (as with the phrase "I've a date today").

Many people writing English confuse the possessive form of the pronoun it with its contractions. The possessive form has no apostrophe (its), while the contraction of it is or it has does have an apostrophe (it's). See List of frequently misused English words.

Outside the English contractions described above, contractions are virtually the same concept as portmanteaus.

The French language has contraction forms similar to English, as in "C'est la vie" ("That's life"), where c'est stands for ce est (it is). In general, any word-final, non-silent "e" will contract if the following word begins with a vowel. For example the common words "que" (qu'-), "je" (j'-), and "de" (d'-).

Spanish also has some contractions, such as trecientos (three hundred) for tres cientos. Spanish also has two mandatory phonetic contractions: al (to the) for a el, and del (of the) for de el.

Both French and Spanish use a form of contraction combining the article le (French masculine form of the) or la (Spanish feminine form of the). For instance, in French, there is the phrase "L'etat, c'est moi" (Louis XIV: "I am the state," or, literally, "The state, it is me").

In German prepositional phrases, one can often merge the preposition and the article; for example, von dem becomes vom, zu dem becomes zum, or an das becomes ans. Some of these are so common that they are in fact mandatory. In informal speech, also aufm for auf dem, unterm for unter dem, etc. are used, but would be considered wrong if written.

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