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Old 01-03-2011, 10:05 PM   #1
John Carroll
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Are contractions hard for readers if English isn't their first language?

I have a few European friends who have told me that it's hard for them to read all of the different contractions used in American writing, such as "Would've" and "They'd".

As I edit my works, I find it interesting that I tend to write very formal. I almost always type out "do not" instead of "don't". I don't know why I do this, but can't seem to break the habit. It's fine as I clean it up in the edits. One of my proofreaders remarked upon it in the first book.

I just wonder if making contractions is hard for readers who read English as a second language. If so, are there any inparticular that make it difficult?

Last edited by John Carroll; 01-03-2011 at 10:06 PM. Reason: missing word
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:12 PM   #2
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I tend to be more informal. "would've" is gonna be "woulda".

Now that is gonna confuse the first year ESL student.
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:37 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Donnageddon View Post
I tend to be more informal. "would've" is gonna be "woulda".

Now that is gonna confuse the first year ESL student.
I tend to be even more informal than that in my dialogue writing. I've been known to use contractions like "I'd've" and "wouldn't've".
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Old 01-04-2011, 12:43 AM   #4
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I tend to be even more informal than that in my dialogue writing. I've been known to use contractions like "I'd've" and "wouldn't've".
Yes, I've seen this in novels quite a bit, though usually only in dialogue.
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Old 01-04-2011, 02:55 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by John Carroll View Post
I have a few European friends who have told me that it's hard for them to read all of the different contractions used in American writing, such as "Would've" and "They'd".

As I edit my works, I find it interesting that I tend to write very formal. I almost always type out "do not" instead of "don't". I don't know why I do this, but can't seem to break the habit. It's fine as I clean it up in the edits. One of my proofreaders remarked upon it in the first book.

I just wonder if making contractions is hard for readers who read English as a second language. If so, are there any inparticular that make it difficult?
It depends what your target audience is. If you're writing dialogue in fiction, then naturally you'd use contractions. If you're writing a technical report, then you would use fewer of them. Many contractions, however, are a completely standard part of the language; it would be unusual to write "you are" instead of "you're", for example.

I notice, by the way, that even though you say that you generally avoid the word "don't", you've actually used it in the above post.

You say that you write "very formal". I think you meant "formally". Adverb (qualifying the verb "write") not adjective.
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:43 AM   #6
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I just wonder if making contractions is hard for readers who read English as a second language. If so, are there any inparticular that make it difficult?
I can only speak for myself here. I have no problem with contractions, although things like "I'd've" and "wouldn't've", disrupt my reading flow a bit because they are relatively uncommon.

What bugs me, personally, far more than contractions are people who can't keep their tenses straight or constantly mix up their homophones. In my opinion, if you can't keep things like they're/their/there, here/hear, or sole/soul straight, and you can't be bothered to employ an editor who can, you have no business inflicting your writing on the world.
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:52 AM   #7
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What bugs me, personally, far more than contractions are people who can't keep their tenses straight or constantly mix up their homophones. In my opinion, if you can't keep things like they're/their/there, here/hear, or sole/soul straight, and you can't be bothered to employ an editor who can, you have no business inflicting your writing on the world.
Alas, that's all too common; you have only to read the posts on this site to see it. The general standard of written English is just shocking these days.

By far the most common error is writing "it's" as a possessive pronoun. That's one that really annoys me because it's so easy to get it right.
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:45 AM   #8
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I wouldn’t like it if an American writer would edit his works especially for ESL readers. We want to learn your language as you speak and write it and not a polished version!

My greatest problem with American books are the measuring units. I never know how many feet or stones make a small/tall or thin/fat person. But that you can’t change because than your home audience wouldn’t understand you.
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:04 AM   #9
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My greatest problem with American books are the measuring units. I never know how many feet or stones make a small/tall or thin/fat person. But that you can’t change because than your home audience wouldn’t understand you.
You'll have to blame the stones on British (or Australian?) writers, not Americans. Americans give the weight of people in pounds.

A quick trick for the weights is to divide the number of pounds by 2. Thats give an approximate weight in kilograms. You can make it more accurate by taking off another 10%.

e.g. 180lb man -> 90kg man -> 82kg man.
This is a surprisingly accurate conversion, being less than 1% out.
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:09 AM   #10
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Wow, thank you. Why is "lb" the abbreviation for "pounds"?

By the way, pounds/Pfund we use in Germany, too, but exactly as half a kilogram.
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:59 AM   #11
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Yes, I've seen this in novels quite a bit, though usually only in dialogue.
Yeah. I usually only put it in dialogue, although I suppose it could work for first person narration.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:01 AM   #12
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I can only speak for myself here. I have no problem with contractions, although things like "I'd've" and "wouldn't've", disrupt my reading flow a bit because they are relatively uncommon.

What bugs me, personally, far more than contractions are people who can't keep their tenses straight or constantly mix up their homophones. In my opinion, if you can't keep things like they're/their/there, here/hear, or sole/soul straight, and you can't be bothered to employ an editor who can, you have no business inflicting your writing on the world.


You have no idea how much it annoys me to see writers (especially on Facebook!) do this.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:07 AM   #13
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By far the most common error is writing "it's" as a possessive pronoun. That's one that really annoys me because it's so easy to get it right.
To be honest, although I know the rule, I think this is one that's most forgivable if people mess it up. Sure, the other forms of pronoun possession (hers and his) don't follow the "normal" way of writing possession, but I don't see that as as egregious as writing "you're" when you mean "your" or something like that. Maybe that's my own blind spot, though.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:56 AM   #14
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Wow, thank you. Why is "lb" the abbreviation for "pounds"?
Because it's an abbreviation of the Latin for pound, libra.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:57 AM   #15
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Wow, thank you. Why is "lb" the abbreviation for "pounds"?
Ah, one of my favourite etymological questions . Thank you for asking.

The Romans had a unit of weight called the "libra pondo" ("pound weight"). Rather perversely, English has taken the second of these words for its unit of the "Pound", but used the first word as the basis for the abbreviation. Western European languages pretty much all have a unit of weight that's called either a variant of "libra" or a variant of "pondo".

Strange but true .
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