Recognising Contractions in Spoken English – ‘s and ‘d

recognising contractions in spoken englishUnderstanding and using contractions in spoken English may seem simple in theory, but when listening to native English speakers you can encounter contractions unexpectedly. It can be difficult to understand what contractions mean when there is more than one possibility. For instance it’s could mean either it is or it has. You must use context to understand the meaning. The following tips and exercises will help you with the most common contractions, ‘s and ‘d.

It’s – It is or It has?

It is forms present simple or present continuous clauses.

This means it is is usually followed by a noun, an adjective (describing word) or a present participle (verb + ing).

  • It’s a dog. (Present simple – It’s + Noun)
  • It’s difficult. (Present simple – It’s + Adjective)
  • It’s raining. (Present continuous – It’s + Present Participle)

This is true for all ‘s contractions: for it’s, he’s, she’s, or nouns and ‘s:

  • He’s swimming. (He’s + Present Participle)
  • She’s very sad. (She’s + Adjective)
  • This dog’s a pedigree. (This dog’s + Noun)


It has forms either present simple or present perfect clauses, but we do not contract the present simple form. We say: It’s been a long day. (It has been a long day.) but He’s a nice guy. would mean He is a nice guy as it is followed by a noun, and He has a nice guy would not be contracted.

This means when it’s means it has it is usually in the present perfect (or present perfect continuous), and is therefore followed by been.

  • It’s been a complicated lesson. (Present Perfect – It’s + been…)
  • It’s been getting easier. (Present Perfect Continuous – It’s + been…)

This is true for all ‘s contractions: for it’s, he’s, she’s, or nouns and ‘s:

  • She’s been angry at me all day. (She’s + been)
  • The postman’s been late every day this week. (The postman’s + been)


In general, therefore:

It’s + been = It has ; It’s without been = It is

Exercise 1 – Practising It is VS It Has

For the following sentences, decide if the contraction means is or has.

  1. It’s a giraffe. ______
  2. She’s angry because of the weather. ______
  3. He’s been asleep since yesterday. ______
  4. That cat’s very lazy. ______
  5. This man’s been following me. ______
  6. It’s been a hot day. ______
  7. He’s driving up to Scotland. ______
  8. She’s really starting to smell. ______


It’d – it would or it had?

It would forms modal (or conditional) clauses, such as It would be nice to visit France. It is usually followed by an bare infinitive verb (without to), for example be, get, have. These are also often followed by adjectives.

  • It’d be good to see you. (It’d + Infinitive + Adjective)
  • It’d get cold quickly if the window was left open. (It’d + Infinitive + Adjective)

This is true for all ‘d contractions, for other nouns and pronouns:

  • I’d be happy to do the job. (I’d + be…)
  • The actor’d be mad not to take the part. (The actor’d + be…)


It had can form past simple or past perfect clauses, but we do not contract the simple form. We say: It’d been a long day. (It had been a long day.) but not It’d a cold nose. (It had a cold nose.). If it’d is not followed by a verb, it is usually therefore incorrect. It had in a contraction is usually followed by been. You can also recognise it through other perfect clause clues, such as expressions of time such as since, all… , for….

  • It’d been raining all day. (It’d + been…)

This is true for all ‘d contractions, for other nouns and pronouns:

  • We’d been waiting for hours. (We’d + been…)
  • They’d been tired throughout the competition. (They’d + been…)


In general, therefore:

It’d + been = It had ; It’d without been = It would

Exercise 2: Practising It would VS It had

For the following sentences, decide if the contraction means would or had:

  1. He’d be good at football. ______
  2. They’d be happier in a different room. ______
  3. Jim’d been working hard. ______
  4. That dog’d be cute if it was clean.  ______
  5. We’d have to swim in the sea if we went to Spain. ______
  6. What’d you like for dinner? ______
  7. I’d been eating dinner when he arrived. ______
  8. She’d never listened to the radio before. ______
  9. There’d been an earthquake before we visited the city. ______
  10. It’d be a shame not to learn all this. ______


Answers to the exercises:

Exercise 1:

1. is 2. is 3. has 4. is 5. has 6. has 7. is 8. is

Exercise 2:

1. would 2. would 3. had 4. would 5. would 6. would 7. had 8. had 9. had 10. Would


These are just the more common contractions; and as you can see they take some practice. There are others which can be difficult, including contractions in questions, but if you start thinking about them in context it will be easier to understand the meanings, and will gradually become a matter of instinct.

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