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  #1  
Old 01-03-2011, 11:37 PM
Blank Slate Blank Slate is offline
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Is a contraction considered one word or two?

I've been googling this and coming up with conflicting answers.

Obviously, a contraction like can't counts as one word because it's a contraction of one word: cannot. What about words such as couldn't or isn't?
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  #2  
Old 01-03-2011, 11:41 PM
Maggie the Ocelot Maggie the Ocelot is offline
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Depends on whether you had an orgasm during it.
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  #3  
Old 01-03-2011, 11:47 PM
CJJ* CJJ* is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blank Slate View Post
I've been googling this and coming up with conflicting answers.

Obviously, a contraction like can't counts as one word because it's a contraction of one word: cannot. What about words such as couldn't or isn't?
Since (1) no space appears to separate the letters, and (2) neither "couldn't" nor "isn't" can be split as-is into two words (a rule that your example "cannot" violates BTW), I vote that each contraction is a single word.

Last edited by CJJ*; 01-03-2011 at 11:48 PM..
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  #4  
Old 01-04-2011, 07:26 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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Considered by whom? Until you answer that question, of course you're going to get conflicting answers to your original one.
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  #5  
Old 01-04-2011, 07:39 AM
RealityChuck RealityChuck is offline
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In traditional publishing wordcount, a contraction is considered the number of characters divided by six, just like every other word. You count the number of characters in a line and divide by six.

Publishing wordcount has to be precise, so six characters equal one word.
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  #6  
Old 01-04-2011, 12:39 PM
Blank Slate Blank Slate is offline
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Originally Posted by psychonaut View Post
Considered by whom? Until you answer that question, of course you're going to get conflicting answers to your original one.
That's part of the problem, of course. Any suggestions?
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  #7  
Old 01-04-2011, 01:17 PM
FasterThanMeerkats FasterThanMeerkats is offline
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Microsoft Word (2007) says the OP's contractions are each one word, not two.

Not saying it's the definitive standard, but it seems a good place to start.

Last edited by FasterThanMeerkats; 01-04-2011 at 01:19 PM..
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  #8  
Old 01-04-2011, 02:23 PM
Blank Slate Blank Slate is offline
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Microsoft Word counts every word without spaces as one word, but that doesn't really answer the question. Where art thou William Safire?
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  #9  
Old 01-04-2011, 02:55 PM
Schnitte Schnitte is offline
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Coincidentally, just a few hours ago I saw the Simpsons episode in which Bart gets a position on Krusty's show and becomes a celebrity by as the "I didn't do it" boy, simply saying this catchphrase in each sketch. Lisa makes fun of him because his fame is based on just four words, implying that "didn't" counts as one. Since the Simpsons form an important part of my perspective on things, that would be enough for me.
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  #10  
Old 01-04-2011, 03:39 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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I can't think of anyone, anywhere, anytime in the publishing world who thinks contractions should count as two words.

If it's for some special purpose, like a college entry essay, then you ask them what their rules are. There won't be a general answer.

Context is, as usual, everything. Blank Slate, it's your question. How can you not know what the context of it is?
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  #11  
Old 01-04-2011, 05:34 PM
Blank Slate Blank Slate is offline
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I was thinking along the lines of a grammatical rule; something an English professor would answer with dismissive authority.
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  #12  
Old 01-04-2011, 06:10 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blank Slate View Post
I was thinking along the lines of a grammatical rule; something an English professor would answer with dismissive authority.
No possible way. Word count doesn't belong to any form of grammar, style, usage, meaning, or category that you can have a standard academic judgment about.

You need word count to make payment by the word, a standard form of publishing since the 19th century. Editors need word counts to estimate length in order to lay out the pages of newspapers, magazines, books or other printed materials. Professors give word counts to ensure that students do some minimum amount of work. Bureaucrats enforce word count so that nobody exceeds a certain maximum, in forms or contests or whatever.

Notice that none of these have anything to do with the language itself. Word counts are closer to an issue of contract law. But that gives its own answer: contracts don't have universal standards. You can negotiate any contract terms you want. Certain professions may have traditions that have become the norm, as I said about publishing. Nevertheless, if I had the clout to negotiate a contract in which a contraction would count as two words, I could still do so whenever I could get away with it.

It's all context.
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  #13  
Old 01-04-2011, 11:22 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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Here's something to really blow your mind: Is "Area Code" one word or two words? There's a space in it, yet it can be found in most dictionaries.
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  #14  
Old 01-05-2011, 12:50 AM
Blank Slate Blank Slate is offline
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Is that a whoosh, because it's pretty obscure. Service station is the dictionary too. And?

Thanks Exapno. I understand what you're saying. It does answer the question because I was looking for a factual answer where there isn't one. A definitive one, anyway, like "tree is a noun".
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  #15  
Old 01-05-2011, 01:03 AM
elfkin477 elfkin477 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blank Slate View Post
Microsoft Word counts every word without spaces as one word, but that doesn't really answer the question.
Yes, let's not go by MS word. I use ** for scene breaks, and ** is a word as far as the word-counter is concerned. (as are any other characters on a page seperated by a space)
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  #16  
Old 01-05-2011, 02:17 AM
BigT BigT is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RealityChuck View Post
In traditional publishing wordcount, a contraction is considered the number of characters divided by six, just like every other word. You count the number of characters in a line and divide by six.

Publishing wordcount has to be precise, so six characters equal one word.
To me it would just seem easier to just use the character count.
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  #17  
Old 01-05-2011, 01:13 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CJJ* View Post
Since (1) no space appears to separate the letters, and (2) neither "couldn't" nor "isn't" can be split as-is into two words (a rule that your example "cannot" violates BTW), I vote that each contraction is a single word.
Works for me. I always considered contractions to be one word.
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  #18  
Old 01-05-2011, 02:18 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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From my perspective, there's no reason not to consider a contraction as a single word.

But, as others have said, there is no linguistic authority that's going to speak on this issue, because it's not a linguistic question.

Consult the person asking you to count words what he or she thinks, and you have your answer.
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  #19  
Old 01-05-2011, 05:53 PM
Hari Seldon Hari Seldon is offline
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Here is one answer. My wife is a professional translator and she charges by the word. Occasionally a client will ask her l' counts as a word. She insists on counting it. For one thing, the definite article in French is sufficiently differently used from the one in English that translating it can take longer than most words. If the source comes in MS Word (normal these days) then the count will be wrong, but she adds the number of ' she finds.
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  #20  
Old 01-06-2011, 05:12 AM
Schnitte Schnitte is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by qazwart View Post
Here's something to really blow your mind: Is "Area Code" one word or two words? There's a space in it, yet it can be found in most dictionaries.
I think the answer is quite obviously that "area code" consists of two words. One of them - area - is an attribute that modifies the other noun - code -, and the fact that this combination of modifying and modified noun is very frequent justifies their inclusion in a dictionary as a lemma. But they're still two words, and I would find it very difficult to argue otherwise.
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  #21  
Old 01-06-2011, 05:17 AM
don't ask don't ask is online now
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dunno
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  #22  
Old 01-06-2011, 05:23 AM
Schnitte Schnitte is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hari Seldon View Post
Here is one answer. My wife is a professional translator and she charges by the word. Occasionally a client will ask her l' counts as a word. She insists on counting it. For one thing, the definite article in French is sufficiently differently used from the one in English that translating it can take longer than most words. If the source comes in MS Word (normal these days) then the count will be wrong, but she adds the number of ' she finds.
She should add the number of hyphens as well, to ensure that, by the same logic, hyphenations consisting of several words (e.g. "pouvez-vous" or "y a-t-il") are not counted as one.
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  #23  
Old 01-06-2011, 05:55 AM
Alessan Alessan is offline
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I'm a professional translator too, and I charge whatever Word 2003 tells me to. It all gets rounded off to the closest 250 words anyway.
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  #24  
Old 01-06-2011, 06:01 AM
Schnitte Schnitte is offline
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Reminds me of all the legal, semi-legal and certainly illegal advice I got from people when I was having trouble to keep within the word limit of my dissertation. The most shocking advice: When you submit the electronic version of it for word count and plagiarism check, hyphenate words but colour the hyphen white. Word will count the two words as one, but they won't notice.

I didn't follow the advice and rather cut parts of my dissertation - partially for academic honesty considerations, partially because I wouldn't even want to think of the consequences if they do find out.
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  #25  
Old 01-07-2011, 02:40 PM
Misnomer Misnomer is offline
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Originally Posted by Blank Slate View Post
Where art thou William Safire?
Dead.
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  #26  
Old 01-07-2011, 02:59 PM
Omar Little Omar Little is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blank Slate View Post
I was thinking along the lines of a grammatical rule; something an English professor would answer with dismissive authority.
Contractions count as one word. If you wanted a higher word count don't use the contraction.
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  #27  
Old 01-08-2011, 06:48 PM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
I can't think of anyone, anywhere, anytime in the publishing world who thinks contractions should count as two words.

If it's for some special purpose, like a college entry essay, then you ask them what their rules are. There won't be a general answer.

Context is, as usual, everything. Blank Slate, it's your question. How can you not know what the context of it is?
Yes. If you need a formal word count for a specific purpose like fulfilling the requirements of an academic essay, product specification, report, white paper, press release, or something like that, you should contact a higher-up (professor, supervisor, manager, editor, etc.) for clarification on the applicable policies specific to your task.
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  #28  
Old 01-09-2011, 09:57 AM
Rucksinator Rucksinator is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
......If it's for some special purpose, like a college entry essay......

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blank Slate View Post
I was thinking along the lines of a grammatical rule; something an English professor would answer with dismissive authority.
I'm thinking that if it's for a college essay of any kind, that you probably shouldn't use contractions at all, and I'm thinking that an English professor would tell you that.
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