IELTS Speaking | Can I use contractions?

Short answer: Yes, you can.

Long answer: The post below shows the most commonly used contractions in spoken English. Use these in your speech to sound more like a native speaker, but don’t use them in essays and other types of formal written English. I recommend using all of these in IELTS Speaking.

Contracting To Be – Present Tense

The following table shows the standard form of to be (what you should be using in IELTS Writing Task 2) on the left, with the contracted forms on the right. Although both are used in spoken English, the contracted forms are more common.

Standard FormContracted Form
I amI’m
You areYou’re
S/he isS/he’s
It isIt’s
We areWe’re
They areThey’re
There areThere’re

Simply replace the standard form with the contracted form in your spoken sentences:

Standard FormContracted Form
I am from Kerala, India.I’m from Kerala, India.
She is not happy with you.She’s not happy with you.
There are too many people on this bus.There’re too many people on this bus.

In addition to this, one pronunciation feature I rarely hear from non-native speakers is the use of ‘s instead of is after a non-pronoun. This is a common pronunciation feature in native English, and I strongly recommend using it.

Standard FormContracted Form
Nepal is in Asia.Nepal’s in Asia.
My favourite shirt is black.My favourite shirt’s black.
The train is too expensive.The train’s too expensive.

Contracting To Be – Negatives & Past Tense

If you want to contract negative forms of the verb to be, for all of them apart from am, you have two options:

Standard FormContracted Form v1Contracted Form v2
I am notI’m not
You are notYou’re notYou aren’t
S/he is notS/he’s notS/he isn’t
It is notIt’s notIt isn’t
We are notWe’re notWe aren’t
They are notThey’re notThey aren’t
There are notThere’re notThere aren’t

So there are actually three different ways you can use the present tense of to be negatively for all but the first person singular. These sentences all mean the same thing:

He is not my boyfriend.
He’s not my boyfriend.
He isn’t my boyfriend.

Although the past tense of to be isn’t typically contracted (some native speakers do shorten it phonetically, but it’s not seen as ‘good’ English, and I wouldn’t recommend it in an exam), it can be contracted when used negatively.

Standard FormContracted Form
I was notI wasn’t
You were notYou weren’t
S/he was notShe wasn’t
It was notIt wasn’t
We were notWe weren’t
They were notThey weren’t
There were notThere weren’t

It would be remiss of me not to add some examples for the negatives, so:

Standard FormContracted Form
I was not happy.I wasn’t happy.
It was not hot.It wasn’t hot.
He was not in Rome.He wasn’t in Rome.

Contracting To Have – Present Tense & Past Participle

Another verb that is often contracted is to have, but this is a weird one. When contracting to have in British English, we usually add got afterwards, which kind of negates the time savings we make from the contraction!

Standard FormContracted Form
I haveI’ve (got)
You haveYou’ve (got)
S/he hasS/he’s (got)
It hasIt’s (got)
We haveWe’ve (got)
They haveThey’ve (got)

So these ‘contracted’ forms are used as a simple replacement for to have. For example:

Standard FormContracted Form
I have a new phone.I’ve got a new phone.
Canada has beautiful mountains.Canada’s got beautiful mountains.
They have another class.They’ve got another class.

Note that in American English, it is often possible to leave out the word got when contracting to have. This has a whole other set of complicated rules, though, so I’m going to recommend that you stick with British English as above.

I have written got in brackets. I’ve written got in brackets. This is to denote that to have isn’t always followed by got. Note that when we use to have within the past participle, we can still shorten it as above but without the word got. For example:

Standard FormContracted Past Participle Form
I have eaten.I’ve eaten.
I have watched Trainspotting 15 times.I’ve watched Trainspotting 15 times.
I have been to Mexico.I’ve been to Mexico.

Contracting To Have – Present Tense Negatives

This one is fairly simple. All you need to do is add n’t to the verb and add got afterwards. In American English, gotten can also be used. There are two contracted forms that you can use.

Standard FormContracted Form v1Contracted Form v2
I have notI’ve not (got/gotten)I haven’t (got/gotten)
You have notYou’ve not (got/gotten)You haven’t (got/gotten)
S/he has notS/he’s not (got/gotten)S/he hasn’t (got/gotten)
It has notIt’s not (got/gotten)It hasn’t (got/gotten)
We have notWe’ve not (got/gotten)We haven’t (got/gotten)
They have notThey’ve not (got/gotten)They haven’t (got/gotten)

Note that when negative, the standard form in both American and British English needs got, just like the contracted form.

Standard FormContracted Form v1Contracted Form v2
I have not got a new phone.I’ve not got a new phone.I haven’t got a new phone.
Canada has not got beautiful mountains.Canada’s got beautiful mountains.Canada hasn’t got beautiful mountains.
They have not got another class.They’ve not got another class.They haven’t got another class.

Again, these contractions (minus got) can also be used when to have is present within past participles.

Standard FormContracted Past Participle Form v1Contracted Past Participle Form v2
I have not eaten.I’ve not eaten.I haven’t eaten.
I have not watched Trainspotting 15 times.I’ve not watched Trainspotting 15 times.I haven’t watched Trainspotting 15 times.
I have not been to Mexico.I’ve not been to Mexico.I haven’t been to Mexico.

Contracting To Have – Past Tense & Negative

When contracting the past tense of to have, we add ‘d to the end of the subject and got. Note that when using the past participle, we

Standard FormContracted Form
I had (got/gotten)I’d (got/gotten)
You had (got/gotten)You’d (got/gotten)
S/he had (got/gotten)S/he’d (got/gotten)
It had (got/gotten)It’d (got/gotten)
We had (got/gotten)We’d (got/gotten)
They had (got/gotten)They’d (got/gotten)

Here are some examples of the past tense of to have being contracted:

Standard FormContracted Form
I had got the flu.I’d got the flu.
She had got full marks.She’d got full marks.
Tom had got the starter.Tom’d got the starter.

And here are some examples of the past participle of to have being contracted:

Standard FormContracted Form
I had eaten kimchi before.I’d eaten kimchi before.
We had been there twice.We’d been there twice.
They had studied for hours.They’d studied for hours.

Contracting To Do – Present Tense Negatives

To do is a strange one, in that we only contract the negative forms. For the present tense, do not becomes don’t and does not becomes doesn’t.

Standard FormContracted Form
I do notI don’t
You do notYou don’t
S/he does notS/he doesn’t
It does notIt doesn’t
We do notWe don’t
They do notThey don’t
There does notThere doesn’t

Examples:

Standard FormContracted Form
I do not like you.I don’t like you.
He does not eat meat.He doesn’t eat meat.
Laurie does not smell.Laurie doesn’t smell.

Contracting To Do – Past Tense Negatives

These are nice and simple. Didn’t is used for all subjects.

Standard FormContracted Form
I did notI didn’t
You did notYou didn’t
S/he did notS/he didn’t
It did notIt didn’t
We did notWe didn’t
They did notThey didn’t
There did notThere didn’t

Examples:

Standard FormContracted Form
I did not go home last night.I didn’t go home last night.
We did not see her at the party.We didn’t see her at the party.
Sheffield United did not win the match.Sheffield United didn’t win the match.

Contracting Would

Would is a rare example of a modal verb that can be contracted in the present tense when not being used negatively:

Standard FormContracted Form
I wouldI’d
You wouldYou’d
S/he wouldS/he’d
It wouldIt’d
We wouldWe’d
They wouldThey’d
There wouldThere’d

Examples:

Standard FormContracted Form
I would go there.I’d go there.
He met the woman he would marry.He met the woman he’d marry.
If I had more money, I would live in Barbados.If I had more money, I’d live in Barbados.

Contracting Negative Modal Verbs

The following modal verbs can all be contracted when used negatively. The contracted form is the same, no matter what the subject is. For all of them apart from cannot and shall not, n’t is simply added to the end of the modal verb.

Standard FormContracted Form
cannotcan’t
could notcouldn’t
might notmightn’t
must notmustn’t
need notneedn’t
shall notshan’t
should notshouldn’t
would notwouldn’t

As discussed above, the contracted form remains the same, irrespective of the subject. For this reason, we will only look at one example for each of these modal verbs.

Standard FormContracted Form
You cannot be serious.You can’t be serious.
I could not see my toes.I couldn’t see my toes.
He might not win.He mightn’t win.
The dog must not be given chocolate.The dog mustn’t be given chocolate.
Customers need not sign the receipt.Customers needn’t sign the receipt.
We shall not be moved.We shan’t be moved.
You should not swear in the exam.You shouldn’t swear in the exam.
She would not stop dancing.She wouldn’t stop dancing.

Contracting The Future Tense

Native speakers also contract will when using the future tense. The same ‘ll contraction is used for all verbs.

Standard FormContracted Form
I willI’ll
You willYou’ll
S/he willS/he’ll
It willIt’ll
We willWe’ll
They willThey’ll
There willThere’ll

Examples:

Standard FormContracted Form
I will see you at 8 o’clock.I’ll see you at 8 o’clock.
You will score band 8.You’ll score band 8.
There will be snow.There’ll be snow.

Note that – as with other contractions – ‘ll can be used with non-pronouns.

Standard FormContracted Form
China will win again.China’ll win again.
The house will be cold.The house’ll be cold.
John will buy it for you.John’ll buy it for you.

The future tense can also be contracted when using negatives. In this instance, will not is simply shortened to won’t regardless of the subject.

Standard FormContracted Form
I will notI won’t
You will notYou won’t
S/he will notS/he won’t
It will notIt won’t
We will notWe won’t
They will notThey won’t
There will notThere won’t

Examples:

Standard FormContracted Form
I will not go there.I won’t go there.
You will not be invited.You won’t be invited.
Sarah will not eat here.Sarah won’t eat here.

Contracting Going To & Want To – Gonna & Wanna

Two more common contractions used by native English speakers are:

Standard FormContracted Form
going togonna
want towanna

Be warned that some old-fashioned people don’t like these contractions and see them as ‘bad English’. Personally, I would avoid using these in a formal meeting such as a job interview, but I use these contractions daily when speaking with people I know. Ultimately, though, they are part of spoken English, so they are fine to use in IELTS Speaking as demonstrated in the following examples:

Standard FormContracted Form
I’m going to have the steak.I’m gonna have the steak.
She’s going to leave.She’s gonna leave.
I want to go to Santorini.I wanna go to Santorini.
They want to buy the company.They wanna buy the company.

As with all informal language, NEVER EVER use this in a written exam!

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