The Grammarphobia Blog

That’ll be the day

Q: My children in elementary school have brought home spelling assignments that include the contraction “that’ll” for “that will.” Is this valid? I am appalled when I see it in their spelling books.

A: There’s nothing wrong with a contraction like “don’t” or “that’s” or “weren’t,” but not every contraction is legitimate. “That’ll” has been widely used for centuries (I’m reminded of the Buddy Holly song “That’ll Be the Day”). But is it legit?

Well, it’ll get by in speech, where words are often clipped, but not in writing. I definitely wouldn’t include “that’ll” in a spelling assignment for schoolchildren.

In fact, I don’t include it among the “reputable” contractions in my grammar book Woe Is I. I arrived at the list by consulting style and usage guides as well as my own instincts about what seemed reasonable.

This is largely a matter of taste and style. Among the contractions I listed as “out of bounds” (in writing, if not in speech) are “that’ll,” “that’re,” “that’ve,” “there’ll,” “there’re,” “there’ve,” and “this’ll.”

To repeat, what’s acceptable in speech isn’t necessarily proper English, which is what a writing assignment should teach children.

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