A contraction is a shortened version of two small words. It’s made by dropping one of the internal sounds and replacing it with an apostrophe:  “it is” drops the short i sound in the middle and becomes “it’s”. Similarly, “did not” becomes “didn’t” and “we are” becomes “we’re”. Nearly all languages use contractions, but they don’t necessarily combine the same sounds. By digging around, I was able to find a webpage that lists the sounds in English that typically get replaced with an apostrophe. Here it is, in case you like patterns like I do.

You know that one block in the lego set, the one that’s different from the rest? It has the eye of the crocodile or the tiny steering wheel or the thingy that attaches the chain to the drawbridge. You know, the one that you would hate to lose. A contraction is like that. It can be key to the entire design, but if you lose it, you might as well pack up the rest and store it in the garage. Even if you do find it later by stepping on it unawares, it hurts like nobody’s business. Likewise, a contraction may seem small and insignificant, but using or not using it is worth paying attention to.

In the opening paragraph of a contact letter, for example, a contraction sounds more friendly:  “I’m reaching out to share with you an exciting opportunity that aligns with the city’s climate change goals.” Friendly is a way of getting the reader’s attention—in persuasive writing we call that pathos.

In the following paragraph, where you begin with a more detailed sentence, you would not use a contraction:  “It is the right time to invest in repurposed wood for our new downtown, open-area plaza.” Here, not using a contraction gives the letter authority, which we call ethos. Pathos gets the reader’s attention and ethos convinces the reader that the writer knows what they’re talking about. You get all that for paying attention to the little words.