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Introduction to contractions

Apostrophes are great at standing in for missing letters, allowing us to shorten words. Paige and David discuss contractions and the Principle of Least Effort. 

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hello Grammarians, hello David. - [David] Hello Paige! - [Paige] So today we're gonna talk about contractions which are another use for our friend, the apostrophe. So David, what is a contraction? - [David] So something that apostrophes are really good at doing is showing when letters are missing from a word. Right, so let's say we have something like the two word phrase "I will". So in linguistics, I'm told there's this idea called the principle of least effort, but I'm not a linguist, Paige, you are. What is the principle of least effort? - [Paige] So that's kind of a fancy way of saying people like to be lazy. - [David] Sure. - [Paige] Which is, you know, tends to be accurate across language, so you know, we can say something like "I will", but honestly that kind of takes a lot of effort to say, right? - [David] I have to articulate the mouth in this particular way. It's just easier to just collapse all of that into one, you know, one syllable, one sound to say "I'll". And when we do that, we use an apostrophe to indicate the missing letters. That missing "w" sound. That's a contraction. So most model verbs, right, if you remember model auxiliaries from the verb section. We use those a lot in English. And so it's really easy to combine those with most words or pronouns into a contraction. So you could take the phrase "she would", which is a lot of letters to say. Takes a lot of letters to write. And we can turn that into, with the help of our friend the apostrophe, the word "she'd" means the same thing. - [Paige] Yeah, that's pretty amazing. I mean this tiny apostrophe stands in the place of all of these letters. - [David] Yeah it's doing a lot of work. Have I got a deal for your, Paige. How would you like three letters for the price of four? 'Cause you can shorten, you know, something like "he is" to "he's". - [Paige] Right. Yeah, I mean, that's what the principle we were talking about is all about. Like "he is" isn't that hard to say, but "he's" is a lot easier. - [David] So this is pretty straightforward, but there are some kind of strange uses of contractions. Some strange uses of the apostrophe that don't seem as immediately evident on their face. So for example if you contract the phrase "will not" into a single contraction, it doesn't turn into "willn't", it turns into "won't". - [Paige] So in this case the apostrophe stands in the place of this "o", but all these letters disappear, and they're kind of unaccounted for. - [David] It's weird, it's like the Bermuda Triangle of punctuation marks. They all just kind of got sucked up into that apostrophe. - [Paige] Yeah. - [David] Never to be seen again. - [Paige] Who knows where they went. - [David] But there aren't a ton of those. There's "won't", there's "don't", but not to take away from our original point. This is what the apostrophe does when it's working to contract. Right, it just takes letters from the middle of the word, and it takes them away, it stands in for the fact that there are letters missing. - [Paige] You got it. - [David] Cool. - [Paige] So "I will" goes to "I'll", "She would" becomes "she'd", "He is" becomes "he's", and "will not" becomes "won't". So that's contractions. You can learn anything. - [David] David out. - [Paige] Paige out.