Short forms in English – Typical mistakes to avoid

January 18, 2019

Short forms (also known as contractions) are used frequently in informal and spoken English. The following are some very common examples:

I’m (= I am)
you’re (= you are)
he’s (= he is / he has)
she’s (= she is / she has)

I’ll (= I will)
I’ve (= I have)
I’d (= I would / I had)

don’t (= do not)
(= does not)
didn’t (= did not)

isn’t (= is not)
hasn’t (= has not)
can’t (= cannot)
won’t (= will not)

As you can see, short forms are usually either combinations of a pronoun and a verb or a verb and a negation. Certain letters are dropped from the other word, and the dropped letters are replaced by an apostrophe.

Mistakes tend to happen when using the short forms in written language and getting them mixed up with expressions that are pronounced the same way but mean completely different things.

Read on for the most common tricky cases that plenty of native English speakers also get wrong.

It’s vs. its

It’s is a short form of the words it is or it has.
E.g. It’s quite far away.

Its is the possessive form of the pronoun it.
E.g. Its leg is broken.


You’re vs. your

You’re is the short form of the words you are.
E.g. You’re beautiful.

Your is the possessive form of the pronoun you.
E.g. Is that your car?


Who’s vs. whose

Who’s is the short form of the words who is.
E.g. Who’s that girl?

Whose is the possessive form of the pronoun who.
E.g. Whose bag is this?


They’re vs. their vs. there

They’re is the short form of the words they are.
E.g. They’re very nice people.

Their is the possessive form of the pronoun they.
E.g. Their daughter is a doctor.

There is an expression of place.
E.g. I don’t want to go there.

Note that apostrophe + s added to the end of a proper name can mean two different things: Mary’s can be either the short form of the words Mary is or the possessive form that indicates something belongs to Mary.

Short form of name + is
E.g. Mary’s hungry or Mary’s cold

Indication that something belongs to someone
E.g. Mary’s bike got stolen, or Mary’s father lives in Spain.

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