First, let’s talk about when.
Tip #1: It’s now acceptable to write contractions in business writing
Yes, this has changed in the last few years, and it may not be what was drilled into you at school or college.
Don’t worry about this – English is remarkable in its ability to adapt over time, and this is why it’s become the International language of business and the Internet. It’s also why we don’t often say ‘forsooth’ or ‘esquire’ any more.
In most everyday writing situations, it’s fine to use shortened words likecan’t (cannot) and I’ll (I will).
In academic writing it depends on the school, university or college – if you aren’t sure, avoid them. If you can use them, it’s a useful way to reduce word count.
You don’t have to use them at every opportunity, but a few shortened words will make your writing more concise and friendly, less ‘stuffy’. This is appropriate for customer service letters, emails, even cover letters for job applications.
For legal contracts, submissions to professional publications, or any situation where you’re not sure – avoid.
Next, where does the apostrophe go?
Tip #2: Use the apostrophe to indicate where letters are missing
For example, in words like wouldn’t, can’t, haven’t, shouldn’t, wasn’t and so on, the apostrophe indicates the ‘o’ from ‘not’ has been taken out.
Other examples are there’s (there is or there has), they’re (they are),might’ve (might have) and so on.
There are some exceptions:
Shan’t is short for shall not, but we don’t write sha’n’t (there is only ever one apostrophe in a word).
Won’t is short for will not, because we don’t say willn’t.
But don’t get hung up on these.
For other uses of the apostrophe, that is to show possession, click here.