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Style Manual

Contractions

Contractions are shortened words. People will read and understand them depending on their context. Avoid them in formal content.

Shorten single words and grammatical phrases with care

Single-word contractions use the first and last letters of a word and sometimes other letters in between.

Example

Cth for ‘Commonwealth’

Dr for ‘Doctor’ [As a title]

Ltd for ‘Limited’ [As a legal status]

Grammatical contractions join two words. They use an apostrophe to show that there are missing letters.

Example

aren’t (are not)

don’t (do not)

isn’t (is not)

it’s (it is)

Legal documents and many specialist and professional publications use specific contractions. Look at examples of existing content to see whether you can use grammatical contractions. Don’t use them if you’re unsure.

Avoid using contractions of single words in more formal content such as high-level briefing and responses to official inquiries. The exceptions are contractions used in formal writing, such as ‘Dr’ and other titles.

Grammatical contractions are not generally used in formal content. You can use them in less formal content which aims to create:

  • a conversational tone (for example, in a newsletter)
  • a friendly or collaborative tone (for example, in brochures and manuals).
Example

The department has not breached its staffing cap. [Formal high-level briefing or a response to a parliamentary question]

The department hasn’t breached its staffing cap. [Less formal briefing or other less formal communications]

We appreciate that the new rules weren’t advertised widely. We’re now contacting everyone who might be affected. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions. [Friendly and conversational content for users of a service]

Find out if the user will understand the contractions

Look at existing agency content to see whether grammatical contractions are appropriate.

If developing a new publication or communication channel, conduct user research. This will help you understand how people respond to grammatical contractions.

Some users might find grammatical contractions difficult to understand. They can add an extra cognitive load.

Don’t end contractions with full stops

Don’t place a full stop after contractions. The exception is when the contraction ends a sentence and isn’t followed by another punctuation mark.

Example

Tempo Australia Ltd hired him last year. [No full stop after the contraction]

He is currently working for Tempo Australia Ltd. [A full stop after the contraction ends the sentence.]

They said they can’t! [No full stop after the contraction because another punctuation mark ends the sentence]

Australian practice differs from US English, which adds a full stop after a contraction (for example, ‘Mr.’, ‘Ltd.’).

Don’t use an apostrophe to show missing letters in a contraction of a single word (‘Dr’, ‘Ltd’). Grammatical contractions use only one apostrophe, even if the contraction leaves out letters from more than one place.

Correct
shan’t
Incorrect
sha’n’t

Capitalise contractions in the same way as the full word

Use the capitalisation that you would use for the uncontracted word. Capitalisation of the uncontracted word depends on the context.

Example

The Cth Games [The contraction ‘Cth’ is capitalised because it refers to the name of a sporting event: the Commonwealth Games.]

A cth is a term for a political community. [Here, ‘cth’ isn’t capitalised because it’s generic.]

Use the full word at start of the sentence (except for grammatical contractions)

Write out the contracted term in full unless it’s a grammatical contraction.

Example

Commonwealth resources are available. [The word begins a sentence, so it isn’t contracted.]

Don’t forget your notes for the meeting. [Grammatical contractions can start a sentence.]

Only use the contraction ‘no’ with numerals

The word ‘number’ is sometimes substituted with ‘no’. This is a contraction of the word numero. The plural form of the contraction is ‘nos’. 

Only use the contraction ‘no’ when immediately followed by a numeral. In all other instances, write the word out in full so it isn’t confused with the negation ‘no’.

This contraction is not a standard symbol for numbers expressed as units of measurement.

Like this

Archive box no 152 has been found in the basement.

I won’t be able to get their manager’s number until tomorrow.

There are a number of options available to us.

Not this

I won’t be able to get their manager’s no until tomorrow.

There are a no of options available to us.

Release notes

The digital edition updates punctuation style for shortened forms. 

It is consistent with the sixth edition requirement not to use full stops with contractions. It changes the recommendation to use a full stop with the contraction ‘no’ for the word ‘number’ (or numero). This aligns the guidance with the general rule for shortened forms, and with the principle of minimal punctuation.

It prefers ‘Cth’ over ‘Cwlth’ as the contraction for ‘Commonwealth’. This reflects a departure from the sixth edition based on a corpus check with the Australian National Dictionary Centre.

The digital edition follows the Content Guide’s advice to avoid using Latin shortened forms. It lists common shortened forms and provides advice on the limited circumstances where they could be used and how to punctuate them. 

This is a departure from advice in the sixth edition, which listed ‘thoroughly anglicised’ shortened forms used regularly in publications. It did not explicitly warn against their use. The sixth edition recommended against using ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’ in paragraph text and in formal content.

About this page

References

Castillo González MP (2007) Uncontracted negatives and negative contractions in contemporary English: a corpus-based study [doctoral thesis], University of Santiago de Compostela, accessed 19 June 2020.

Content Design London (2019) ‘Contractions’, Content Design London Readability Guidelines, Content Design London website, accessed 19 May 2020.

GOV.UK (2016) ‘A-to-Z: contractions’, Style guide, GOV.UK, accessed 4 May 2020.

Palacios C (1 August 2019) ‘Using contractions in formal writing: acceptable or not?’, bka Content, accessed 30 March 2020.

United States Government (n.d.) ‘Use contractions’, Plain language guidelines, plainlanguage.gov.

UK Department of Health and Social Care (2010) Making written information easier to understand for people with learning disabilities, GOV.UK, accessed 19 May 2020.

Watson L (8 February 2017) ‘How to create content that works well with screen readers’, Accessibility in government blog, accessed 7 January 2020.

This page was updated Saturday 12 September 2020.

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