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  1. rja2015

    rja2015 New Member

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    Do word contractions and brief sentences make for a more conversational / natural speech?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by rja2015, Apr 14, 2017.

    I'm currently studying what makes a sentence sound/ read conversational to native English speakers. Do word contractions and brief sentences make them so? Suppose that the dialogues below (both spoken by the same person) are part of a casual conversation between professionals like lawyers or journalists. Do the following dialogues sound natural to you?

    Dialogue 1: I don't like the idea of having a government-funded news network. It has a tendency to be partial and to cover-up political scandals.

    Dialogue 2: Imagine a father sitting as judge in a criminal case against his own son. Sure, he could say that he'd be fair. But the people wouldn't buy that and would still ask him to withdraw from hearing the case. That's because he has a strong tendency to decide in favor of his son.
     
  2. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    Depends upon the character speaking- one fits all does not work.

    My character, Thally: Is this a government funded network? I don't like that.
    My character Talisker: Is the fucking government in control now? Fuck them.
    My character Sigma: You on board Tally? Let's fuck them over.
     
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  3. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I don't like the idea of having a government-funded news network. They tend to be partial [bias?] and cover up political scandals.

    Imagine a father sitting as judge in a criminal case [trial?] against his own son. He could say he'd be fair, but the people wouldn't buy that. They'd still ask him to withdraw [recuse himself?]. He'd be tempted to decide [rule?] in favor of his son.

    -----

    In brackets are suggested word choices as examples of what I might say. Obviously, there are many ways to word these sentences, but I tried to stick as close to the original while making it flow better in my ear, which is not to say it doesn't flow well. Just suggestions.

    EDIT: To answer the title question: Yes. Contractions make dialogue sound much more natural. People are lazy speakers and contractions are a great way to exercise that laziness. Of course, there are some characters which might be the type of person to not use contractions, but for the majority of characters, I couldn't imagine not using contractions.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2017
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  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Chiming in to agree that at least in the US, contractions would be pretty near mandatory in conversational speech.
     
  5. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    And then you have the BBC...
     
  6. rja2015

    rja2015 New Member

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    How about the dialogues, do they sound natural?
     
  7. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    Yes. Are you American. Only idiot Americans or idiot Brits argue against the BBC
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    They're still extremely formal. But it's hard to know how to change them without knowing what sort of character is speaking.
     
  9. rja2015

    rja2015 New Member

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    Thanks, ChickenFreak! The character speaking here would be a lawyer or a Political Science professor. Would the dialogue fit the character?
     
  10. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    Generally agree with the above responses. But you don't need to think in terms of making speech "lazy" so much as "direct". If there's a simpler way to say something, that's usually what occurs to the speaker, and what will sound natural to the reader. (One of the tricks with dialogue is to write speech a little better than people talk in real life; this doesn't mean better in the sense of more correct, but better in the sense that it flows smoother, is more punchy, more interesting. Sometimes real people will struggle to hit upon a very simple and clear way of saying something, but it'll sound just as natural in a book if they don't have that problem as often.)

    People don't have all day to say things the long way, especially in a real-time conversation. So formal correctness tends to convey either a socially awkward character or one who's reading out an essay. There's individual variation, but in general, simplicity and informality isn't so much an "American" thing as a speech thing.

    Hell, sometimes I read posts like
    and think, surely that's not how you talk in real life, unless you've got used to people looking at you funny and interrupting you all the time.

    It's an important writing/speaking/life skill to be able to say what you're trying to say not necessarily briefly, but concisely. If there's a shorter sentence that captures the same meaning, it'll often have more impact, so you should keep an eye out for it. (Some people have a fear of colloquialism and informality drilled into them to the point that they'll shy away from writing a perfectly acceptable sentence just because it sounds like something that someone might actually say. But that overlap between technically correct language and a casual, flowing style is often where the magic happens.)

    To be honest, the examples of dialogue you've given would be a little stilted even if they weren't supposed to be spoken by a character. Even formal essays that are written like that are often improvable. Bland, crufty phrases like "they would have a tendency to" just draw attention from all the important words in the same sentence without adding enough meaning to be worth it. As @Spencer1990 points out, you can (and should rather) just say "they tend to."

    Everything in moderation of course, but as a general rule, language is more powerful when it's more direct, and that goes doubly so for speech.
     
  11. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    A pretty tedious expert or lecturer might talk like that, but most lawyers and professors talk more like average people do, unless they have a pronounced lack of social finesse.

    Your experts will sound more educated/authoritative if they use precise jargon or vocabulary when it's appropriate (i.e., they'll simplify something they're explaining to a layman), or because what they're talking about is complex (and remember, people demonstrate that they know and understand something well when they can make it sound simple).

    Your experts will sound dumber, if anything, if they use the kind of drawn-out, overly-correct speech that you see in high school assignments. Your dialogue examples are kind of verging on that. Make their language more direct and I guarantee that your characters will sound more like they know what they're talking about.

    If a character says "I cannot do that, and to my knowledge I have never met anyone else who could" rather than "I can't do that, and I don't know anyone who can", they'll sound more awkward, but they won't sound more intelligent.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2017
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  12. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    They make for better dialog. Most people are very informal when they talk and often do not use full formal sentences.
     
  13. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    What kind of CHARACTER?

    Not the profession, but the actual person who's doing the speaking.

    My profession has a reputation for being stuffy and boring; it also has a higher than average representation in extreme sports. Bottom line, some of us are boring (I don't believe I'm one of those!) but some of us are borderline certifiable. Either way, we're all individuals, with individual characteristics.

    I'd also point out that lawyer and Political Science professor aren't even close to being interchangeable professions; and a practising lawyer and an academic will each have a very different focus; and by lawyer do you mean a high-flying barrister (a trade involving a lot of confrontation, and which has a lot in common with the theatre) or a small-town country solicitor (which will be a lot more relaxed and co-operative)?
     
  14. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    UK, too. I've come across US authors who tried to make British characters sound British by not using contractions... and it made them sound like robots.
     
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  15. Mr Cookie

    Mr Cookie Member

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    Your sample quotes don't feel like normal people speaking.

    "Dialogue 1: I don't like the idea of having a government-funded news network. It has a tendency to be partial and to cover-up political scandals."

    Dialogue 1: Hmm, not a fan of government-funded news. It's biased and covers stuff up too easily."

    I might actually talk like the second example. That said, I don't think that statement is actually true. News that has to make a profit will always be more biased. Part of speech sounding natural is if the reader isn't jolted out of the experience by things that sound unrealistic.
     
  16. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    They are not at all typical of usual American conversation.
     
  17. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    Hey, I've seen this a few times now and I just thought I'd say something. Trying not to be presumptuous, but you post a lot in threads replying directly to the original post without acknowledging much that came after. It's considered bad etiquette to ignore other posts that much, since threads are supposed to be shared discussions, not just individual answers to the first post.

    I mention it because in this thread you don't appear to have noticed that you yourself already gave basically the same answer, quoting the same first post. It'd just be a little more polite if it was clear sometimes that you were more aware of other posts in a thread.
     
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  18. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    Of course I answer the OP.
    That is what the thread is about.

    Sometimes I reply to others too.
    I feel no need to reply to every other response.
     
  19. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    Not asking you to reply to every response. That would be ridiculous, no one does. I wouldn't even presume to tell you to read every single response, even in a short thread.

    Just notice that other responses are there, maybe skim more. It can look a bit rude sometimes when it's clear that you haven't, like here where it looks like you didn't even notice yourself.
     
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  20. joe sixpak

    joe sixpak Banned

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    I often skim them. Depends how interesting the thread is to me.
     
  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    On another forum, they use the acronym HIPPO--Happily Ignoring Previous Posters' Opinions. It refers to making a post that clearly indicates a failure to read the thread. It's used as a noun ("Another hippo?!") or a verb ("This was SO not the thread to hippo.")
     
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  22. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    @rja2015
    Contractions are pretty normal.
    It just depends on the characters speech pattern.
    Most will use them casually, but it is not mandatory.
    Though it is fairly common for contractions to show
    up in dialogue.

    @truthbeckons
    :superlaugh:
    hippo-style-poster-evolution-winner-demotivational-posters-1313927029.jpg
     
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  23. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    I'm still struggling to think of a time when I heard someone not use a contraction in speech. I think if you're drawing something out, you might skip a contraction. You might say "That does not happen." But the reason you're saying it that way is because it's so unusual that it stands out. Even then, it's more common to emphasise a point by saying "That doesn't happen."

    I remember when the creator of Questionable Content wrote a major character without contractions, because the story was that she was trying to hide her southern accent and was over-correcting. Even then, it seemed incredibly artificial and unrealistic, like the writer couldn't spell out the effect of a character just enunciating words more carefully (since the spelling would be the same) so he exaggerated the dialogue to the point of ridiculousness. It was painfully distracting to read.

    Non-contractions are so stilted that it's important to think of them as exceptions to the rule for dialogue. So it's not "fairly commonly" that they show up, it's "almost always".
     
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  24. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Very little distracts me more in writing than dialogue without contractions.

    The only time I don't use contractions in real life is when I'm adding emphasis (usually talking to my kids.)

    6 year old Son exits the restroom.
    Me: Did you wipe your butt and wash your hands?
    Son: I washed my hands.
    Me: You didn't wipe your butt?
    Son: I didn't need to.
    Me: But you went poop.
    Son: Yeah.
    Me: Wiping your but after you poop is not optional.
     
  25. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Good for you, Spence. Raising em right.
     

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