When counting the words in a sentence, do contractions count as one word or two?

According to Wiki, George Mallory’s famous reply to the question why he wanted to climb Mount Everest (“Because it’s there”) has been called “the most famous three words in mountaineering”. Similarly, Ronald Reagan has said that the nine most terrifying words in the English langauge were “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”.

In both cases, the word count works out only if the contractions “it’s” and “I’m” count as one word each. Is that established and uncontroversial? I would find it logical to argue that these contractions are mere simplifications of the pronunciation of a two-word phrase, but that grammatically they remain two words and should thus be counted as such.

I would say that as long as you and the person(s) for whom you are counting the words agree, it can count as one or two.

I don’t think there is any regulatory authority or social convention that requires you to do it one way or the other.

However the Cambridge English Proficiency examination counts them as two (unless the contraction replaces one word such as “cannot”). I tried to find if Western Union counted them as one or two for the purposes of charging for a telegram, but I could not find an answer.

But if you define a contraction, it’s taking two words and contracting them into ONE.

So I’m guessing it counts as one.

According to this 1928 source digits and punctuation marks are counted as one word each.
Who’s on 1st? – 7 words!
Whose on first – 3 words

If you’re so concerned about telegram charges, perhaps you should agree on a code book, e.g. The A.B.C. Universal Commercial Electric Telegraphic Code specially adapted for financiers, shipowners, etc.:
Effluvial Pederota – 2 words, meaning: “Authorities taking steps to contain the epidemic. I will pay any extra premium of insurance incurred”

How to write telegrams properly

"The suffixes “th,” “rd,” or “nd” appended to figures are counted as additional words. When the figures are spelled out, as in “fourth,” “third,” or “second,” the count is automatically reduced. "

" Marks of punctuation, such as the comma, period, dash, colon, etc., are not transmitted in telegrams unless the sender specifically requests it, and then they are counted and charged for, as one word each"

So the telegraph clerk would advise you that if you wanted the apostrophe, “It’s” would count as three words, “It is” as two. “It s” as two, and, I’m not sure they would accept “ITS” – I think they had code rates for things that weren’t proper words.

And it wouldn’t matter anyway unless you were sending full rate (priority), because “same day” or “next day” transmission gave you something like 50 words anyway.

Because-someone-will-always-come-along-and-claim-hyphenated-words-count-as-a-single-word …

Since the original question did not appear to involve telegraphy at all, I’m going to take the non-telegraphic-normal-everyday-language approach. (Besides, telegraph companies are like nice restaurants. “You want cauliflower instead of the vegetable medley? That’s an upcharge.”)

In normal, spoken speech (and in everyday you-don’t-get-paid-by-the-word writing), a contraction is one word. When word processing wasn’t a thing, we generally considered the average word to be 5 characters. Exactly WHAT characters they were didn’t really matter (unlike telegraphy, where punctuation requires a lot more time to transmit than do the more common letters).

Of course, this is simply my experience and opinion and I’m prepared to be pedanted.

When Word counts words, it counts a contraction as one word. Even double apostrophe contractions like fo’c’s’le are counted as one word.

That’s the only sensible way to handle it, in any case. IMO, it’s established and uncontroversial. Only on a message board where people have to be contrary would you find opposition.

I agree that contractions should be counted as one word. If Microsoft Word, Google Docs and other word processors count a contraction as a word, then, surely, it must be one.

Ah, but are you contracting “cannot” or “can not”?
Another one for “a contraction is one word”. I would also count an acronym as one word. NATO is one word; North Atlantic Treaty Organization is four words.

Of course, ITS is a proper word. It’s just not the correct word grammatically/orthographically as a contraction for “it is.”

Sure, but that’s a contraction of a single word (“forecastle”) to begin with; I think the spirit of the question is whether contractions of multiple words should could as one or multiple words.

Me? I vote “one word” for those contractions, too.

It’s must be challenging to run a profitable German telegraph business.

As you can see, everyone perceives it differently. I think you need to find a compromise

What a funny and typical burning-question kind of OP in GQ.

We want the straight dope!

That only works if Word has a lookup table of contractions to tell it whether an apostrophe means one originating word or two.

More likely Word simply counts a word as content from space to space or space to punctuation. That works for all cases and saves huge amounts of time. Otherwise, they also have to look up possessives (John’s), proper plurals (dot your i’s), dumb plurals (plural’s), glottal stops (Hawai’i), pinyon transliterations (Xi’an), and bunches of foreign languages.

There’s no formal style guidance on this because there are no natural writing situations in which it matters whether contractions count as one word or do. Word also counts two words separated by a slash as one word. That makes no natural sense because in most such cases the writer intends to convey two separate words. Therefore Word is not evaluating usage by any formal definition but simply using a mechanical process to give an approximation. Over the course of any large sampling of normal writing, Word’s count will differ from the count of other methods by very little.

That’s OK because who cares if a contraction is one word or two? It almost never comes up except in some artificial situation. If the enforcers of that artificial situation really care, then it’s up to them to lay out all the rules and account for all the possible variations. I’ve never seen that happen.

The convention is that apostrophes don’t split words into two pieces. That’s very sensible and all anyone normally needs.

Well, yes, but the OP isn’t asking specifically about Word. What I’m saying is that I think the spirit of the OP’s question, given the examples in the OP, is: are contractions that represent more than one word counted as one word or more, so that particular example wouldn’t matter to them.

But, yes, I agree with everything you say. One word, two words, it’s just a matter of for what purpose? Generally, I would count the examples in the OP as one word. Like I don’t think most people would count “o’clock” (“of the clock”) as three words.

I’ven’t any idea what you might be referring to.

Replace “could” with “count.”

I think the spirit of the question is whether contractions of multiple words should count as one or multiple words.

Seems straightforward to me.

I’ve seen publishers specify that the word count of a manuscript is the total number of characters/5. (Although Wikipedia say /6 is also used but I have heard of an example.)

Since for some articles authors are paid by the word (with a given target number of words), this “standardizes” the length expected and avoids authors either using a lot of small words (to reach the limit) or a lot of large words (to get around the limit).

So "he’d " is one word, including the space after it.

The standard was five characters plus a space, which is why you’ll see variously 5 or 6 used. If you didn’t know what the number meant you weren’t a writer and so could be ignored.

In the true old days, the standard was that elite type on a typewriter, 12 characters per inch, was 1000 words for every three pages and pica type, 10 characters per inch, was 1000 words for every four pages. Nobody ever expected writers to count characters. (Or even words, for that matter.) Character counts may have come in for a short time with early computers, which could count characters more easily and quickly than figuring out what a word was. Today, if anybody cares, the count Word gives is more than adequate.