Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re questioning here're and there're…
Q: Hi AWC, I have a question about contractions.
A: How far apart are they?
Q: No no, silly. No one is giving birth. It’s to do with the word “are”.
Q: No – “ARE”.
A: Right, okay. What’s your question?
Q: Well, when we use an apostrophe to contract “are”, we end up with words like “you’re” or “they’re” or “we’re”.
A: That wasn’t really a question.
Q: I’m building to it. But what I want to know is, can I tack it on the end of some other words, to shorten “who are”, “what are”, “here are”, “there are” and “where are” for example?
A: Well, not really. You see, just because an apostrophe is ‘contractually obliged’ to contract things, it doesn’t mean that you can treat it like a magic wand and simply go around shortening things.
Q: My aunty Fi is a baker and she prefers them to butter things.
A: Prefers what?
Q: Shortening things.
A: Good to know. Anyway, to answer your question, while we can shorten “there is” to “there’s” for something singular, there’s no equivalent contraction for “there are” in written English. So while the Play School theme says “There’s a bear in there”, two lines later it must say “There are people with games”.
Q: And stories to tell.
A: Yes, that’s the one.
Q: Open wide…
A: Please stop now.
Q: Come inside…
Q: Plaaaaay Schooooool!
A: Would you like to see what’s through the fist-shaped window?
Q: Sorry. So, none of those other contractions are valid?
A: Well, it’s worth remembering that NO contraction is suitable for formal writing. But yeah, these less common ones, “there’re”, “here’re”, “where’re” and “what’re” don’t make it to most dictionaries.
Q: But I googled them and they’re all over the web.
A: So are cats riding motorcycles but we’re still yet to see one.
Q: There must be an exception?
A: Well, sort of. You see, we SPEAK with contractions all the time. So the exception is when writing dialogue, because again, you’re representing how someone is speaking.
Q: Good to know.
A: But consider your reader – they may read it and think it’s not a word at all, or that it looks odd, taking them out of the story. It can be jarring.
Q: Aunty Fi says the same about her fruit preserving hobby…
A: That was terrible.
Q: Thank you. Hey wait, I just realised you left out “who’re” from the list of no-nos?
A: That’s because this one actually IS more widely accepted and has been around for a while.
Q: Well they say it’s the oldest profession…
A: No silly, it has an apostrophe – short for “who are”. So an example may be “who’re you seeing later today?”
Q: Actually, I’m seeing Aunty Fi. We’re going to do doughnuts in the parking lot.
A: Sounds reckless.
Q: Not really. She’s run out of space for the deep fryer in the bakery, so we’ve had to put it out there.
A: That’s harsh.
Q: Well, there’s no sugar coating it.
Q: So, to recap – beyond the usual common ones, it’s best to avoid adding “–’re” unless it’s essential to the style of writing – usually dialogue.
A: That’s right. And there are plenty more examples – “how’re”, “why’re”, “that’re”, “when’re” or even “those’re” – not technically wrong but not recommended unless you really need to use them.
Q: Whoa, that was a lot of contractions just then, and they weren’t that far apart either. Breeeeeeathe. Squeeze my hand.
A: Very funny. Your doughnuts are waiting.
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!