Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Contractions and Affixes

Glenn Giro sent this note in reponse to the blog on “Apostrophic Memorials“: 

I guess this would fall under “Grammar and Style” but, I’m curious as to whether there are any other instances about which anyone knows. I saw a double-contraction used in a cartoon in the local paper that, upon contemplating, I realized was exactly the way it is pronounced in actual usage. The word as used is “you’d’ve” and, although either you would’ve or you’d have is obviously correct, when read aloud (as in “If you’d’ve seen it, you’d’ve been as surprised as I was.” is actually the way it is pronounced. Just wondering. In Baton Rouge after Gustav.
—Glenn Giro

I hope you escaped Ike unscathed. I find it hard to believe that Ike was only a category 2 hurricain after seeing on television the havoc it wreaked from Texas to Ohio.

For some reason publishers don’t like double contractions but they are common in spoken English. Contractions always involve grammatical morphemes—function words. Function words express meanings that are often expressed by suffixes and prefixes and so they are in a constant state of transition: from word to clitic to affix. A clitic is a suffix on a phrase rather than a word. The possessive -‘s in English is a clitic. In the phrase the king of England’s hat. the hat does not belong to England even though the ‘suffix’ is applied to that noun. The -‘s here is, in fact, a clitic that makes the entire phrase the king of England a possessive: “belonging to the king of England” since it is the king’s hat.

Contractions are function words that have been reduced to clitics on their way to becoming suffixes in English. You’d’ve represents a clitic added to a clitic just as suffixes are added to suffixes in words like theatr-ic-al-ly. The only other I can think of now is you’ll’ve. Can, could, may can’t be contracted because they begin on a full consonant. W is a semiconsonant (a glide) and H is a reduced consonant in the process of disappearing in English, especially in unaccented syllables as is the case with have when used as an auxiliary verb.

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