Contractions happen when you miss out a bit of a word (or two).
Don't is an obvious example. And I'll, can't, won't...there are plenty of them.
In English they're used a lot, but they aren't compulsory; you can always say (or write) do not, I will (or I shall) cannot or will not.
Some other languages are different. In French, for example, a lot of contractions are compulsory in both in speech and writing - c'est, l'arbre.
Spoken contractions are common everywhere. (How many of us say, for example, the word everywhere, ev-er-ee-wair, and not evreewair?). And I remember with affection the wonderful Alan Coren's stories featuring taxi drivers who seemed to end every sentence narmean?*
The important thing is to remember is that when you use a contraction you're not being wrong, or sloppy: you're doing grammar!
Word To Use Today: contraction. The Latin word contrahere means to draw together.
*Do you know what I mean?
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