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Does English support three-word contractions?


In English certain pairs words can be contracted with an apostrophe, such as "I've" (I have). I don't know if there are strong rules for which words can be combined in this way and which can't. In all the examples I can think of, each contributing word is only one syllable.

Does any version of English formally recognize combining three words like this as being normative, as opposed to considering it incorrect or slang (as one might find on Twitter or Usenet)? I imagine it'd depend on which words, just as combining two words seems to. I just found myself writing "I'd've" (I would have), and I wouldn't've thought much of it, but a non-native speaker asked me about this construction and I don't know whether it's personal quirk, a marker of a certain type of population, or normative.

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Wiktionary has a page for "double contractions" (contracting twice) so obviously, it is considered normal (or at least common). It's even more informal than single contractions though, which makes them quite rare outside of speech. ‭Moshi‭ about 2 months ago

@Moshi thanks; I had not heard of "double contractions" and that didn't come up in my search. ‭Monica Cellio‭ about 2 months ago

I'd've thought it does :) I find myself using them every now and then - "I'd've", "shouldn't've" come to mind. ‭‮edoCfOtrA‭ about 2 months ago

I suspect that the answer to this question will change within a generation. I use double contractions in informal writing, too, from time to time. Character-limited and time-sensitive (or perceived time-sensitive) e-messaging will likely make these an increasingly attractive option. ‭Isaac Moses‭ about 2 months ago

Similar, though not identical, are acronyms used as part of conversation - like: "IANAL, but...." Typically only in written text, but more and more turned into speech too. ‭manassehkatz‭ about 2 months ago

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2 answers


Arnold Zwicky and Geoff Pullum's paper "Cliticization vs. inflection: English n't", published in the September 1983 issue of Language (volume 59, number 3), indicates that I'd've exists. While I'm not completely sure what sort of normativity you seek, I think this might satisfy you.


  • it is not -> 'tisn't

1739 D. Bellamy Innocence Betray'd ii. iii. 112 'Tisn't a Virtue, Lucia, but a Vice, To be so very coy! so very nice.

slightly archaic, but 'taren't we all?

and begging the question

  • it ^ not -> it ain't -> 'tain't. (first known use 1773)

    ^ = am|are|is|has|have

Version as collected by Howard Odum (publ. 1911 in Journal of American Folklore)

  • Baby, you ought-a tole me,
  • Six months before you roll me,
  • I'd had some other place to go,
  • 'Tain't nobody's bizness but my own't_nobody's_business_if_i_do.html

1 comment

Thank you for reminding me that contractions can begin words, too. 'tisn't might be archaic but it's not unknown. ‭Monica Cellio‭ about 1 month ago

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