1. struggler
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    struggler Member

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    didn't, couldn't, etc

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by struggler, Jun 18, 2012.

    I was reading over some writing of mine and I was wondering if its proper to use 'did not' instead of 'didn't' and 'could not' instead of 'couldn't' etc etc for those types of words.

    Thanks.
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sure it's proper. Go right ahead. It's not really a matter of grammar; it's a matter of the tone you're aiming for. You'd probably use the contractions in less formal, more conversational prose. You'd use "did not" and "could not" in more formal writing, such as essays and serious journalism.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The use (or not) af contractions can be part of what distinguishes a character. Not using contractions can make a character sound more formal. Also, you can only emphasize a word in the non-contracted form.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    huh?... i see no reason why one couldn't do so, if the person speaking would emphasize that word...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not quite the same as saying one could not do so. A subtle difference, I'll admit, but to me the separated form is somewhat more emphatic.
     
  6. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    Also to add, i've noticed that saying "Did not" instead of "Didn't" works for accented/foreign characters. One of my current writings has a serbian and israeli as the main characters. I find saying "I did not see him," works better for their foreign origins than "I didn't see him."

    Interestig point about emphasis too - "you couldn't do this" and "you could not do this" have different emphasisms - while not really changing the meaning, they have very different tones - useful for different characters or settings etc.

    "You couldn't do this." Sounds like a correction:
    "You don't think i could do this?"
    "You couldn't do this."

    Where as the other example, to me, sound more forceful.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree there could be a perceived difference, but i can't agree with the 'only' part in cog's statement...
     
  8. struggler
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    struggler Member

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    Hi guys. Thanks for the replies but I don't think I stated my question properly. I didn't mean if those words were all right to use in a character's dialogue, but rather, in the writing of everything else. I put the ' ' in because I thought it would help make my question easier to understand, I didn't mean for people to take them as " " dialogue quotations.

    Like, what I meant to say was, is it better for a description of something happen to be written as

    She couldn't reach the top of the shelf

    Or

    She could not reach the top of the shelf

    Hope this makes more sense. Sorry.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Your narrator has a voice as well. Although there are differences between narration and dialogue, the same principles apply in terms of this question.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!... if the narrator is someone who'd use contractions, then use 'em... if not, don't!
     
  11. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I was always told not to use contractions and "dude" in narration. I don't see why not using those words.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Ever read Huckleberry Finn? Although old, it's a fine example of character driven narration.

    You narrate using the words and phrasing your character would use.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    an exception to that would be if using omniscient pov, where it's not any of the characters giving the overview of who's doing what... in which case, it could be written either in the author's own voice, or the voice of whatever sort of omniscient presence is most suitable to the telling of the tale...
     
  14. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    I'd add the fact that sometimes not using contractions makes dialog or narration sound false. I used to be in a writing group, and there was one person who, despite all my suggestion, would never use a contraction. It drove me nuts! Characters who are otherwise average would never say didn't, couldn't, won't can't, ain't. It made them sound so false. So weigh that in.
     
  15. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    My WIP is historic fiction, circa 1300 C.E.

    I sort of had the same question and since I'm using 3rd person omnicient, I can't decide between contractions or not. It seems odd to use them as it's not modern day language, however, I'm using English to tell the tale of a non English speaking society.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    to use contractions in historical fiction that's set in an age where people did not use contractions would not read well, imo...
     

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