'Kinda,' 'Wanna,' and 'Gonna': Real Words or Not?

Almost everyone says words such as "kinda," "wanna," and "gonna," but writing them is much more troublesome.

Bonnie Mills, Writing for
4-minute read
Episode #627

How can words that native English speakers say every day not be real words in most dictionaries? Forms like “hafta," “kinda,” and “whatcha” tend not to be entries in dictionaries, but native speakers know what they mean. In fact, it would be a challenge to find an American who doesn’t pronounce “have to,” “kind of,” and “what are you” in this way daily. If you’re learning English, should you avoid these informal contractions? If you’re a native speaker, are there appropriate and inappropriate times to use such words, if they are in fact real words? 

What Is a Contraction?

First, let’s review what a contraction is. Hint: I just said one in the last sentence: let’s. This is a contraction of the words “let us.” Other common examples are “it’s” instead of “it is,” “can’t” instead of “cannot,” and “haven’t” instead of “have not.” In other words, a contraction is a shortened form of two or more words. Contractions are considered informal, and so it is not appropriate to use them in formal essays or other official writing. That means, avoid contractions in school essays and in cover letters when you are applying for a job. On the other hand, contractions are fine to use in emails to friends and family or in other informal writing situations.

Examples of Informal Contractions

Contractions like “won’t” and “couldn’t” are undisputedly real words. But a bunch of other contractions trigger the squiggly lines that word-processing programs put under problematic usage. The computer does not like any of the informal contractions discussed in this episode. “Kinda,” “wanna,” “whatcha,” “hafta,” “gimme,” “lemme,” and “gonna” are just a few examples of this type of contraction. All are marked as incorrect. Sorry, computer program, these are real things that people say. But, computer program, you are right that these words should, for the most part, not be written. More on that in a bit.

Dictionaries Weigh In

What do both a hard-copy dictionary and an online dictionary say about these words? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a 2,074-page book sitting on the shelf, contains no entries for “kinda,” “whatcha,” “hafta,” or “lemme.” There are entries for three of them: “wanna” [1], “gimme” [2], and “gonna” [3], and these entries state that they’re informal contractions of “want to,” “give me,” and “going to,” respectively. The online version of the Oxford Dictionary does have entries for these other four words. According to the website, the word “kinda” has been around since the early 20th century. The same online dictionary calls “whatcha” a “nonstandard contraction.” “Hafta,” on the other hand, is called “informal.” The online dictionary has no problem with “lemme,” either, which is just noted as a contraction. So, if contractions are by definition informal, you could say that informal contractions are extra informal, and they’re spoken more often than they are written. You won’t get any points for these words if you try to play them in Scrabble or Words with Friends either.


About the Author

Bonnie Mills, Writing for Grammar Girl

Bonnie Mills has been a copyeditor since 1996.