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Time To Learn About ’Tis, ’Twas, And Other Uncommon Contractions

Going further than 'twas

The unique contraction ’twas has become something of a holiday treat; every year around Christmas, it pops back up again because of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore. While you might not recognize the name of the poem, you are likely familiar with the first lines: “’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

You may have picked up from this line that ’twas is a contraction of the words it was. A contraction is a shortened form of a word or group of words where the missing letters are replaced with an apostrophe (’). There are many everyday contractions such as it’s, which is a contraction of it is, where the “i” in is has been replaced with an apostrophe. Other everyday contractions include won’t (will not) and isn’t (is not).

But what about the contractions, like ’twas, that don’t get as much use? We’ve plucked a few out of obscurity to share with you.

’twixt

’twixt

One of the most fun contractions to say is ’twixt [ twikst ]. ’Twixt is a contraction of betwixt, which means “between.” In fact, this contraction often appears in a pair with ’tween, itself a contraction of between, as in ’twixt and ’tween.

For example:

 

  • Standing on the top of the mountain, we felt we were ’twixt and ’tween heaven and earth.
’tis

’tis

A contraction that sounds distinctly old-fashioned is ’tis, meaning “it is.” Like ’twas, it gets a lot more attention during the holiday season, because of its use in the phrase tis the season, from the carol “Deck the Halls.”

’tweren't

’tweren't

The contraction ’tweren’t has two missing letters: it means “it were not,” with the I and O removed. This contraction is most often used to form a conditional, as in (if) it were not (for).

For example:

 

  • ’Tweren’t for my mother, I would have never gone to college.
amn’t

amn’t

One of the most impetuous-sounding contractions is amn’t, which means “am not.” You can almost hear the conversation-with-a-toddler quality of it:

 

  • You’re taking too many cookies.
    – Amn’t!

 

How much do you know about interjections? Take a look.

hain't

hain't

One of the most delightful antique contractions is hain’t. Hain’t has a variety of meanings: “ain’t,” “have not,” or “has not.” The H in hain’t sounds even better when you really lean into it. Here’s how you use it: I hain’t seen her since last year.

y'all're

y'all're

A Southern-flavored contraction is y’all’re, a combination of y’all (“you all”) and are. It’s useful for describing a group of two or more people: Y’all’re going to ruin your appetites for dinner if you eat now.

 

You wouldn’t want to miss out on a meal featuring soul food, that’s for sure. Read about the history and delectable offerings that make up soul food.

shan't

shan't

As you may have noticed, many contractions involve a shortening of the word not, as in ’tweren’t, amn’t, and hain’t. Another contraction we can add to this list is shan’t, which means “shall not.” Shall is not a word often used in American English; it means “plan to,” “intend to,” or “expect to.” As in, We shan’t use more than we need for the project.

oughtn't

oughtn't

Another contraction that features a shortened not is oughtn’t, meaning “ought not.” Ought is an auxiliary verb that expresses a duty, obligation, propriety, or expectation. For example:

 

  • The policeman oughtn’t talk to him in that manner.

A colloquial variation of this contraction is oughtn’t’ve, meaning “ought not (to) have.”

daren't

daren't

Our final example of a contraction with a shortened not is daren’t, which means “dare not.” It sounds charmingly old-fashioned today. For example:

 

  • Oh, I daren’t ask him; I’m far too shy.
o'er

o'er

Another trend in contractions is to remove the letter V, as in the word o’er [ awr ]. O’er means “over.” It’s chiefly used in poetry and other literary contexts, which you can read more about at our entry for the term. You may be familiar with it from a line in the carol “Jingle Bells”: “Dashing through the snow, on a one-horse open sleigh, o’er the hills we go, laughing all the way.”

e'en

e'en

Similarly to o’er, the contraction e’en is also typically used in poetry. It means “even.” In some archaic sources, it is also used to mean “evening.” An example comes from the poem “Love and Death” by the Romantic poet Lord Byron:

To thee—to thee—e’en in the gasp of death
My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.

 

Get into the spirit of another holiday by learning about the “een” in Halloween.

ne'er

ne'er

Our final example of a contraction that leaves out the V is ne’er, which means “never.” In addition to its use in poetry, it also appears in the phrase ne’er-do-well, “an idle, worthless person.” For example:

 

  • The townspeople were suspicious of the ne’er-do-well who turned up one day.
fo'c's'le

fo'c's'le

A contraction that comes to us from the seas is fo’c’s’lefohk-suhl ], which is a shortened form of forecastle, “a superstructure at or immediately aft of the bow of a vessel, used as a shelter for stores, machinery, etc., or as quarters for sailors.” This contraction is antiquated, but you may come across it in 19th-century literary texts.

 

  • All of the sailors rushed out of the fo’c’s’le to save the drowning man, but it was too late.

A final note

As a final note, it is often said that contractions are not to be used in formal writing. It is true that, generally speaking, contractions are informal. However, a better rule might be don’t use too many contractions in formal writing. That said, you can always put these obscure contractions to use when speaking and writing in your everyday life. If you wish to brush up on them, check out our word list with all of these contractions here.

Add more unusual offerings to your grammar by learning about these rarely-used punctuation marks!

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