Contraction + To Be + WH-Words

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After looking in my grammar books, google and a search of this forum's archives, I still haven't found contraction rules about the verb to be when used with wh-words. Hopefully someone will be able to explain the following.

Why can we sometimes use contractions

e.g.: What's this? -- What's your name? -- How's Richard?

but sometimes it just sounds terribly wrong so I imagine we can't contract (but I need to explain why with a rule; not just "It sounds wrong.")

e.g.: What's it? (What is it?) -- How're you? (How are you?)

Thank you in advance for pointing me in the correct direction.

C.
 
  • Toadie

    Senior Member
    English
    I can't really think of any rule for that, but you're definitely right in that some contractions don't work at all--"What's it?" sounds almost comically bad. "How're you?", though, sounds just fine.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree with Toadie about What's it, and about the other things too. The funny thing is that a what's it is another expression for a thingummy, or a whatdyamacallit (spelled whatchamacallit in that underused resource, the WR dictionary), among the verbally challenged.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello CloudyDay, and welcome to the forums:)

    Your question is an interesting one!

    I suspect the issue with "what's it?" is that we don't usually stress sentence-final "it". (I remember being very surprised once when a Canadian friend of mine did so...)

    There's no problem, for example, with "what's it doing?"
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hello CloudyDay, and welcome to the forums:)

    Your question is an interesting one!

    I suspect the issue with "what's it?" is that we don't usually stress sentence-final "it". (I remember being very surprised once when a Canadian friend of mine did so...)

    There's no problem, for example, with "what's it doing?"
    Good point, Loob. It strikes me that the same applies for other 'wh-words'

    Not who's it?:cross: but who's coming today?:tick:
    Not where's it?:cross: but where's it to be found?:tick:

    and so on.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In the sentence "What is it," the stress is on is.
    Stressed terms are not normally contracted.

    Contrast "How are you?" which happily contracts to "How're you?"
    The stress in this sentence is on you - normally.
    It is also possible to ask this with are stressed, "How are you?" - and of course without contracting are.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    In the sentence "What is it," the stress is on is.
    Stressed terms are not normally contracted.

    Contrast "How are you?" which happily contracts to "How're you?"
    The stress in this sentence is on you - normally.
    It is also possible to ask this with are stressed, "How are you?" - and of course without contracting are.
    I think this is an excellent explanation.

    A good example of this would be:

    "Who is it?" doesn't work well in a contraction because "is" is the emphasized word, but "Who's 'it'?" is perfectly acceptable when children are playing a game where one designated player ("it") must catch or tag the others. In the second case, "it" is emphasized.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It's intriguing, isn't it?

    We happily say "who is he?" (unstressed is, stressed pronoun) => "who's he?"
    and "who is she?" (unstressed is, stressed pronoun) => "who's she?"

    But we don't usually say "who is it?" (unstressed is, stressed pronoun) => "who's it?"

    I wonder why...
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Perhaps because "it" is not usually associated with a person, except in the particular context offered by JamesM.

    We might, of course say "Who's that?"
     
    Wow! Thank you for your warm welcome and rapid answers.

    It all makes a bit more sense to me although I'm not sure how I will explain this to a 12-year-old who is starting to learn To Be (present simple) and English contractions. ^.^

    I always put the stress on How are you?, that's why I thought the contraction felt "wrong" but now that you mention it, I do have some friends who say: "How're ya!". My mistake.

    Thank you once again.

    C.
     
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