[kuh n-trak-shuh n]


an act or instance of contracting.
the quality or state of being contracted.
a shortened form of a word or group of words, with the omitted letters often replaced in written English by an apostrophe, as e'er for ever, isn't for is not, dep't for department.
Physiology. the change in a muscle by which it becomes thickened and shortened.
a restriction or withdrawal, as of currency or of funds available as call money.
a decrease in economic and industrial activity (opposed to expansion).

Origin of contraction

1375–1425; late Middle English (< Middle French) < Latin contractiōn- (stem of contractiō), equivalent to contract(us) drawn together, past participle of contrahere (see contract) + -iōn- -ion
Related formscon·trac·tion·al, adjectivenon·con·trac·tion, nouno·ver·con·trac·tion, nounre·con·trac·tion, noun

Usage note

Contractions such as isn't, couldn't, can't, weren't, he'll, they're occur chiefly, although not exclusively, in informal speech and writing. They are common in personal letters, business letters, journalism, and fiction; they are rare in scientific and scholarly writing. Contractions occur in formal writing mainly as representations of speech. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for contraction

Contemporary Examples of contraction

  • “The regime army is in a state of contraction,” says Mustafa Sheikh, the head of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Inside Bashar al-Assad’s Army

    Mike Giglio

    December 10, 2012

  • Megan: So let's start with the contraction of the market for lawyers: do we know what's causing it?

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Perils of Law School

    Megan McArdle

    September 24, 2012

  • If that contraction has continued over the summer, we call it a recession.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Eurozone: A Sinking Ship

    David Frum

    August 14, 2012

  • The increase in public payrolls was helping to offset the contraction of private ones.

  • As a result the U.S.—and the world—economy experienced 12 successive quarters of contraction.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Why Keynes Is King

    Robert Skidelsky

    October 13, 2009

Historical Examples of contraction

British Dictionary definitions for contraction



an instance of contracting or the state of being contracted
physiol any normal shortening or tensing of an organ or part, esp of a muscle, e.g. during childbirth
pathol any abnormal tightening or shrinking of an organ or part
a shortening of a word or group of words, often marked in written English by an apostropheI've come for I have come
Derived Formscontractive, adjectivecontractively, adverbcontractiveness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for contraction

late 14c., "action of making a contract" (especially of marriage), also "action of shrinking or shortening," from Old French contraction (13c.), or directly from Latin contractionem (nominative contractio), noun of action from past participle stem of contrahere (see contract (n.)). Meaning "action of acquiring (a disease) is from c.1600. Grammatical sense is from 1706; meaning "a contracted word or words" is from 1755. Contractions of the uterus in labor of childbirth attested from 1962.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

contraction in Medicine




The act of contracting or the state of being contracted.
The shortening and thickening of functioning muscle or muscle fiber.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

contraction in Science



The shortening and thickening of a muscle for the purpose of exerting force on or causing movement of a body part. See more at muscle.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

contraction in Culture


A word produced by running two or more words together and leaving out some of the letters or sounds. For example, isn't is a contraction of is not.


An apostrophe is generally used in contractions to show where letters or sounds have been left out.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.