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These are some passages from Man-Eating Cats by Haruki Murakami.

He'd been dead set against out marriage from the start, and his tone of voice said he'd finally been proved right.

He had taken a pair of scissors to every stitch of clothing she owned.

She had no idea where he had gone.

She and her husband had been high school sweet-hears.

It seems like the author decided to use contractions in some of the sentences and not to use them in others. I tried figuring out the pattern without much luck.

So this happens to me often. I can't figure out when to use contractions and when to use complete words.

Is there any rule for this? Or I just have to figure out what "sounds better"?

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3 Answers 3

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Contractions are often considered inappropriate in formal writing. The more formal, the less acceptable.

They are always acceptable in dialog if that is how the character would talk in real life.

Probably debatable in narration in a novel.

Where acceptable, whether to use a contraction depends on the rhythm of the sentence. Sometimes a contraction makes a sentence or part of a sentence seem too abrupt. For example, consider "Where is he?" You could use a contraction and replace this with "Where's he?" But this sounds very abrupt. I often hear people say, "Where's he at?" which grates on my nerves for some reason. You shortened the sentence from "Where is he?" to "Where's he?", but then you apparently decided this was too short, so you stuck a useless extra word, "at" on the end to pad it back out! :-P

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"Where is he?" seems to be slower and imply emphasis on "is" (perhaps more for talking to oneself?). "Where's he?" seems more confusing (perhaps with "Wears he."?--it just sounds wrong) "Where's he at?" clarifies desire of location and seems to slightly emphasize the beginning and end of the sentence; an end-of-sentence emphasis might be more desired (perhaps more suited to conversation?). But this seems to be just a feeling (therefore probably a matter of taste). –  Paul A. Clayton Jul 25 '13 at 5:05

Contractions are generally viewed as being informal. That is, they're used by people in everyday speech, but rarely in more formal writing. I'd therefore say a good rule of thumb is to avoid them except in those circumstances where it is within character to have them e.g. it fits the speech pattern of the characters, or the narrator.

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If you are writing something informal, it's appropriate to use contractions.

However, at the time of formal communication such as composing an email to colleagues,boss communicating with clients, it's advisable to avoid using contractions and use the complete words so as to make things easy to understand.

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