Old-timey contractions

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Today's Dinosaur Comics suggests that "RADICAL LINGUISTIC FREEDOM IS WITHIN OUR REACH":

Mouseover title: "you'dn't've any opinions on my use of contractions, wouldn't'ou?"

Ryan's addition — August 24th, 2022: Contractions are great because it's language speakers saying "Phrases today have too many syllables. Please eliminate three." and then DOING IT.

There are also newer contractions, like "I'ma" (7/3/2005). And phonetic reductions that (almost) everybody uses, but (almost) nobody ever writes, like " I dwanna" ( = [ˈɑjdəˌwɑnə] or [ˈɑjdˌwɑnə]) for "I don't want to".

Of course all this follows from the fact that "pronunciation" is a mapping from symbols to signals, not symbols to symbols (even IPA symbols). See e.g.

"On beyond the (International Phonetic) Alphabet", 4/19/2018
"Farther on beyond the IPA", 1/18/2020



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 10:37 am

    Never in a million years would I say "I dwanna" with the intended meaning "I don't want to" but I can just imagine myself, in an unguarded moment and in the most casual circumstances, saying "I dwanna" with the intended meaning "I would want to" [1], so 100% out of phase with your analysis, Mark.

    [1] Example — "Yes, I dwanna try that if I could", spelled (if transcribed) "Yes, I'd wanna try that if I could".

    [(myl) "100% out of phase with your analysis" = good empirical support :-)…

    I should have said "(almost) everybody in America uses", of course. And there are plenty of non-standard common reductions of function-word sequences in (varieties of) British English as well, though I expect that you would reject them due to [redacted] ]

  2. Bloix said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 10:39 am

    At one time can't was a contraction for can it: “Can’t be otherwise?” John Webster, The White Devil (1612).

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 11:25 am

    Yes, well, I would have corrected "100%" to "180°" had the much-asked-for editing functionality been exposed within this forum's infrastructure, but thought that it was not worth correcting in a second post. But as to "(almost) everybody in America uses" ["I dwanna" to mean "I don't want to"], I remain unconvinced, and look forward to reading your American contributors' views on this.

  4. john burke said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 11:27 am

    My maternal grandmother, born 188? in Berezdov, Ukraine, emigrated to the US about 1921. Her English was (in my opinion) good, though not unaccented, but included some idiosyncratic usages, one of which was "dassn't," which meant roughly "mustn't" with a note of warning. I eventually decided the basis of this was "daren't," "darestn't," or even perhaps "durstn't," though I don't know where or in what context she acquired it.

  5. Jake Wildstrom said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 11:57 am

    Even in the common contractions, you can use apostrophes in peculiar places and be in line with some old-fashioned usage. In particular, a fair number of 17th-century writers (or perhaps typesetters, or copyeditors) held that the abbreviation of "shall not", which elided both the end of "shall" and the middle of "not", should be "sha'n't". Likewise, the abbreviation of "will not", which lost both the end of "will" and the middle of "not" (and got a seemingly spurious "o", either from "would" or the German "wollen") would be "wo'n't".

    Lewis Carroll, in particular, used double apostrophes in all sorts of negations in Sylvie and Bruno; he evidently got enough criticism for the practice that when he published Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, he included in the preface the following justification:

    Other critics have objected to certain innovations in spelling, such as “ca’n’t,” “wo’n’t,” “traveler.” In reply, I can only plead my firm conviction that the popular usage is wrong. As to “ca’n’t,” it will not be disputed that, in all other words ending in “n’t,” these letters are an abbreviation of “not”; and it is surely absurd to suppose that, in this solitary instance, “not” is represented by “’t”! In fact “can’t” is the proper abbreviation for “can it,” just as “is’t” is for “is it.” Again, in “wo’n’t,” the first apostrophe is needed, because the word “would” is here abridged into “wo”: but I hold it proper to spell “don’t” with only one apostrophe, because the word “do” is here complete.

  6. Ex Tex said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 12:10 pm

    I'm hungry. Squeet.

  7. Ex Tex said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 12:11 pm

    Or should that be "'S'g'eat"?

  8. Martha said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 12:24 pm

    Philip Taylor: I'm American and consider [ˈɑjdəˌwɑnə] a completely normal pronunciation of "I don't want to." I have a sense that sometimes the [o] isn't reduced, but eliding the nt is normal. (Reducing "I would want to" the way you described is also typical.)

    It's also not (very) new. I remember a kids' show (Sesame Street, I think, but it could have been something else) having a character named Ida Wanna who was contrary and never wanted to do things. This would have been in the late 80s.

  9. jhh said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 12:35 pm

    My most mumbly reduction of "I don't want to" doesn't include a d… it might be something like "n wanna," or even "wanna" (with something happening with lengthened vowels up front). Surely the meaning of this mutter is made clear by context. Mother says, "make your bed now!" and my whining reply is "wanna!" So– really, we're talking about orthographic conventions to convey the idea that there's reduced pronunciation involved, even though the orthography can't really convey the nuances.

    [(myl) Exactly! ]

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 1:08 pm

    Martha — I see that I failed to pay proper attention to Mark's IPA — mea culpa. I had mentally read "I dwanna" as /ˈɑjdˌwɑnə/, whereas Mark transcribed it both as [ˈɑjdəˌwɑnə] and [ˈɑjdˌwɑnə]. The schwa in the first version does indeed make "don't want to" a possibility, I suppose, whereas (to my mind at least) the lack of a schwa in the second version completely rules out "I don't want to", leaving only "I'd want to" as a possibility.

  11. Haamu said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 3:07 pm

    So mustn't is now considered "old-timey." Huh. I must be, too, then.

  12. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 3:37 pm

    @john burke:

    I have seen “dassn’t” in books a bunch of times, pretty much always when the writer was reproducing some nonstandard English.

    From context, I interpreted it as meaning “dare not” even though it may come from “does not.” One otherwise uninformative site I looked at ssugggested it comes from “darest not,” which seems plausible. I suspect I first encountered the word in the writings of Mark Twain, but I may be wrong.

    Here are some posts on the word — Google turns up quite a lot of discussion and formal dictionary entries:


    This post refers to the Polysyllabic blog entry and also quotes Huckleberry Finn, which fits with my recollections:


    This thread has a lot f comments about “dassn’t” and one person days that in upstate New York, a “dastard” is a coward. Another poster says the word has appeared in writing by Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, and Ngaio Marsh, who are all authors I have read.


  13. John from Cincinnati said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 6:42 pm

    @Martha vaguely remembers a TV character named Ida Wanna from the late 80s. My own recollection is earlier, from the late 40s (yes, I was born in the first half of the last century, in NYC). Not from a TV show but from a children's song that my mother sung to me. Lots of ghits nowadays searching for the string "what's your name little boy my name is lemme", although I couldn't find any with definitive source attribution.

    First verse:

    BOY: My name is Lemme .
    GIRL: Lemme what little boy ?
    BOY: Lemme Kiss Ya .
    BOY: Whats your name little girl ?
    GIRL: My name is Ida .
    BOY: Ida what little girl ?
    GIRL: Ida wanna .

    The boy's script stays the same for all the verses. In the last verse the girl is variously Okey, for Okey Dokey, or Olli, for Olli Righty.

  14. Vulcan with a Mullet said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 10:22 pm

    American here… 52 years old male, urban South (Atlanta) (so basically neutral middle American with some Southern Am/Appalachian coloring)
    I also would consider [ˈɑjdəˌwɑnə] a completely normal (colloquial) pronunciation of "I don't want to." Often, it's softened to [ˈɑə/oˌwɑnə] with the first vowel/dipthong [ɑo] nasalized and the d completely elided… sorry I can't do the IPA nasalization easily from where I'm typing.

  15. tony prost said,

    August 24, 2022 @ 11:13 pm

    On this subject, I think it is odd that we have never developed a "proper" contraction for the first person singular phrase: I am not. All the others persons, singular and plural have contractions, but for some reason, "I ain't" is not "proper", although we have "you/we/they aren't", "he/she/it isn't".

  16. John Swindle said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 1:32 am

    I can see that “dasn’t” (spelled here “dassn’t”) could be an abbreviation of “darest not,” but I’m not sure it’s limited to second-person singular or even to present tense.

  17. bks said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 6:55 am

    You'll pry the apostrophe in Hallowe'en from my cold dead hands.

  18. Mark P said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 8:07 am

    NW Georgia native here, and my pronunciation is more like Ida wanna. Although to be honest, it’s probably closer to Ida wonna.

  19. Ralph J Hickok said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 8:10 am

    When I was a kid in Wisconsin in the late 1940s (b. Nov. 1938), "dasn't" was in very common use and a very popular way of challenging someone to do something was "I double dast dare you." My paternal grandmother, who was of Scottish descent but third-generation American, used "dast" frequently, always in the negative sense, IIRC: "You dast not do that."

    I see that Merriam-Webster defines "dast" as "substandard present tense singular and plural of dare," so I strongly suspect that "dasn't" is a contraction of "dast not."

    BTW, my grandmother also said "'twas," "'tis," "'twere," and their negative forms all the time.

  20. Keith said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 8:26 am

    A famously used example of this in the area around Sheffield, UK, is (leaving out any confusing apostrophes) "tin tin tin" to mean "it isn't in the tin".

    In that area, the expression "must not" gets contracted to "munt"; "does not" gets contracted to "dunt".

    I'll leave readers to work out how "could not" gets contracted (maybe listening to "From Ritz To Rubble" by the Arctic Monkeys might help).

  21. Benjamin Ernest Orsatti said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 10:11 am

    Well, if this means I can bring back "t'other" from Kentish, then I'm in!

  22. Breffni said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 10:50 am

    In Ireland "'tis" is in good health, in at least some regional varieties, and can be a stand-alone response to "Is it" questions and "It is…" assertions. And "am not" contracts to "amn't".

  23. Pau Amma said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 1:06 pm

    T-rex would try to bring them back, of course, being the kind of dinosaur he's.

  24. peterv said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 2:10 pm

    To express one’s druthers is still common in Australian English.

  25. djw said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 2:16 pm

    I remember seeing "dasn't" in my early reading in the '50s and '60s (probably Mark Twain), and I recall that it was supposed to mean "dare not"; I never saw "darest," I'm pretty sure.

    I'm also pretty sure I use "dwanna" in the negative, but in the positive I just use "I'd" before "wanna": "I'd wanna eat before we go." If I were declining an opportunity, "I" would be separate: "You go on; I dwanna go there." (No, I have no idea how do use IPA; I get excited when I can *read* it! I tell myself learning it might be a good use of my spare time in retirement, but usually I dwanna.)

  26. David L said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 2:48 pm

    "does not" gets contracted to "dunt".

    That was also true in the Thames Valley area where I grew up. Did not was 'dint', does not was 'dunt'. The 't' on the end was a glottal stop.

    Also used to express amazement/respect: "Keith stole his Dad's car and drove it into a ditch." "'e dint!"

    Must not becoming 'munt' was not something I heard. Or could not becoming a bad word.

  27. Terry K. said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 3:19 pm

    When I see "I dwanna" what I hear in my head sounds like "I'd wanna". But I also recognize that those who use it (the small bit of use it gets in writing), use it for the contracted form of "I don't want to", and what I hear in my head is not actually what it's meant to represent. I think "I d'wanna" works better. (There's also REO Speedwagon's "I Do' Wanna Know", do' there representing a slightly less reduced version of don't.)

    I'm curious how the IPA representation of "I'd wanna" would differ from [ˈɑjdˌwɑnə] for "I don't wanna".

  28. A dad of tweens said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 3:38 pm

    It’s pretty common to see “ion” for “I don’t,” pronounced as in “eye-un wanna go-ta school.”

  29. Terry K. said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 3:49 pm

    I should add, I'm American and [ˈɑjdəˌwɑnə] seems normal, but not [ˈɑjdˌwɑnə]. The "don't" remains a separate syllable, is my perception, and I can't see how it would be otherwise differentiated from "I'd wanna".

  30. Terry K. said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 3:59 pm

    Regarding "I am not", "I'm not" seems to be the only choice in standard English, without the variations available in with other pronouns: "She's not" vs "She isn't", etc. "I ain't" being available for "I am not", but non standard.

    Interestingly, standard English, for "Am I not", has "aren't I", borrowing "aren't" from other forms (I assume), rather than using the non-standard "ain't".

  31. Philip Anderson said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 5:57 pm

    While I haven’t met ‘munt’, I would assume it was formed directly from ‘mun’, a dialect form of ‘must’.

  32. Josh R. said,

    August 25, 2022 @ 8:05 pm

    The "don't wanna" discussion reminds me of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game," IMO, one of the supreme achievements of the American musical form.

    The official lyrics of the chorus go,
    No, I don't wanna fall in love (this world is only gonna break your heart)
    No, I don't wanna fall in love (this world is only gonna break your heart)
    With you
    With you

    Despite what is written above, at no point does Chris Isaak actually sing "don't". In the recorded version, the first time through the chorus, it's a very clear "don'", with the final -t- elided. In subsequent choruses, though, even the "don" becomes reduced to the point of ambiguity. Is he still saying "I don't wanna?" Or is he now saying "I wanna"?

    The genius of it is that this ambiguity goes to the very heart of the song.

  33. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 12:44 am

    @Terry K:

    Back in school, we were tought that only one of "She's not" and "She isn't" was kosher. I'm not quite sure which, though I suspect the latter.

  34. Josh R. said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 3:03 am

    @Andreas Johansson

    That sounds very odd. "She's not" and "She isn't" are both perfectly fine. I can't even think of an example of extreme prescriptivism holding one in higher esteem than the other.

    Perhaps it was in reference to "She hasn't"? Has can often be abbreviated to an apostrophe S (She's gone to work), but "She's not", while a feasible contraction for "She has not" if followed by a past participle, would probably not be seen in isolation, to avoid confusion with "She (i)s not."

  35. cliff arroyo said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 7:13 am

    I don't think I say "I dwanna" meaning "I don't wanna" I feel some nasal resonance around the "I d" maybe a schwa or short o after the d…

    On the other hand the nasalization might not be audible…

    I'm more likely to reduce it to foughly [ˈã:uˌwɑnə] that is a nasalized [aw] that I also use for I don't know [ˌãwnow]

  36. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 7:22 am

    @Josh R.

    I'm not sure any reason was given. But it was supposed to apply also to the plural, where there is no similar coalescence of forms of "be" and "have", so I doubt that was it.

  37. Coby said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 12:20 pm

    Terry K.: I think that in "aren't I", "aren't" actually represents "amn't", originally pronounced like "ant" but which, following the trap-bath split and derhoticization of southern English, became identical with the actual "aren't" (as with you, we and they). Pronouncing "aren't I" rhotically makes no sense.

  38. RfP said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 2:17 pm

    @ Coby:

    “Pronouncing "aren't I" rhotically makes no sense.”

    And yet, this American (and just about everyone else in the US who has a rhotic accent) does pronounce the “r” in it.

    It kind of grates, sometimes, since if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. But that’s one of life’s weird exceptions, I guess…

  39. Terry K. said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 2:42 pm

    As RfP says, it may not make sense, but we do it anyway. I can't vouch for the precise history of it, but rhortic "aren't I" is quite alive and well. And there's not really another alternative as a short form (versus "am I not?"). "I'm" doesn't work in a question; it doesn't put the verb first. "Ain't" is too markedly dialectal. (Fine if speaking a dialect that it's part of, but not part of standard American English.) And, seems to me "aren't I?" fits with saying "aren't we?" and "aren't you?".

  40. Bathrobe said,

    August 26, 2022 @ 7:44 pm

    Philip Taylor:

    I would say "I /dough + vague nasal/ wanna". For me the presence of a vague "dough" vowel and a vague nasal is what makes the difference. The end result might actually sound like "Ida wanna do it" but that's not how I would intend it or hear it. Would that agree with your intuitions?

  41. maidhc said,

    August 27, 2022 @ 3:12 am

    As I remember the story (from here? from somewhere), "I ain't" was standard at one time. But then ignorant people started saying "he ain't" and were roundly condemned by prescriptivists. So that led to a blanket condemnation of "ain't". Or so the story goes.

    Lord Peter Wimsey used to say "ain't", I don't remember in what context. Part of the British upper classes being too rich to have to rely on correct grammar as a class signifier, or perhaps maintaining the usage of the middle 19th century?

    I spent some time working with people of Asian origin, and I realized that in a lot of Asian languages they don't have consonant clusters at the end of a syllable. So it could be very difficult for them to distinguish, e.g., "can" and "can't". So I did make an effort to speak more carefully.

    I didn't really develop the idea much. But my wife was invited to develop a program in a factory where the managers were mostly Americans and the workers were mostly immigrants. There had been a lot of communications problems. So she proposed to develop a somewhat restricted vocabulary set to reduce the number of possible confusions in communication, somewhat similar to the style of English used in aviation applications (which is a regulated dialect, I guess you would call it).

    It became quickly clear that what the company wanted was something to make the workers change their behaviour, not to make the managers change their behaviour. So that idea went nowhere.

  42. Philip Taylor said,

    August 27, 2022 @ 11:31 am

    Bathrobe — "I /dough + vague nasal/ wanna" — "Would that agree with your intuitions" ? Yes, very much so.

  43. Charles Antaki said,

    August 28, 2022 @ 11:22 am

    In her "Just William" books of the 1920s, set in a village near London, Richmal Crompton used "daresn't" and similar contractions in servants' and villagers' speech.

    She also, famously, spelled William's pronounciation of "couldn't" in a way which wouldn't be printed today.

  44. Philip Taylor said,

    August 28, 2022 @ 3:38 pm

    With or without an apostrophe, Charles ?

  45. Derek B said,

    August 28, 2022 @ 6:31 pm

    @Maidhc I recently read a BBC article, "Native English Speakers Are the Worst Communicators" or something to that effect, that made essentially the same claim in business contexts. Business would be conducted in English. While foreign speakers would tend to carefully choose their words from a relatively limited vocabulary so they could be understood, native English, especially monolingual, speakers would use all sorts of metaphors and non-standard expressions or use cases. The result being that the English native speakers were often the least understood overall.

    The proposed solution was quite similar to your wife's: limit vocabulary and expression to be more simple and direct. Same information, delivered with more consideration for non-native English speakers.

  46. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 29, 2022 @ 9:03 am

    An idea I've sometimes encountered among monoglots is that informal language is universally easier to understand than more elevated registers. They're clearly unaware that second language tuition tends to teach a fairly formal and conservative version of the language in question.

    (It seems like a long time since I encountered someone with that idea, but I fear that reflects not increasing awareness of the realities of second language tuition but a change in the types of monoglots I meet.)

  47. Wesley Sandel said,

    August 29, 2022 @ 9:07 am

    I still get busted every time I say ya'll

  48. charles antaki said,

    August 30, 2022 @ 3:29 pm

    @ Philip Taylor

    With, fortunately.

  49. Killer said,

    August 31, 2022 @ 3:16 pm

    The dinosaur's first contraction is "Tis been a minute" – which both omits the apostrophe and is incorrect usage. "'Tis" is for "It is," not "It has."

  50. James Kabala said,

    September 1, 2022 @ 10:06 am

    I well remember encountering Carroll's double apostrophes as a child. I guess (once I developed a sense of when the books were written) I assumed this was common Victorian usage and never noticed in later years that Dickens and the Brontes and Conan Doyle etc. did not do the same. Thanks for the citation, Jake Wildstrom.

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