Star Trek Has Always Lied To You About Data

The notion that Data never uses contractions - often brought up in Star Trek - isn't true and never really has been.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

star trek data

If you’ve watched enough Star Trek: The Next Generation, then you know Data (Brent Spiner) never uses contractions. You’re probably also aware that this aspect of the android has helped the heroes in some precarious situations; particularly when someone else has been disguised as their positronic colleague. The only problem is that Data has always used contractions, including in episodes in which the writers bend over backwards to let us know that he never uses contractions.

The Season 1 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Datalore” establishes the rule that Data can’t use contractions. In other words, he will always say “I am” rather than “I’m,” “cannot” rather than “can’t,” “should not” rather than “shouldn’t,” etc. It’s the use of contractions that tips off Wesley (Wil Wheaton) that Data’s twin Lore has incapacitated him and taken Data’s place.

Likewise in the Season 4 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Future Imperfect,” Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is able to detect treachery in part because of Data using a contraction. Riker is led to believe that he’s 15 years in the future and suffering from memory loss, and while he’s already gotten hints that someone is trying to fool him, the proverbial final straw is when Data says “can’t” instead of “cannot.”

star trek data
Riker losing it on Data for using “can’t” instead of “cannot” like some kind of loser.

In Season 3’s “The Offspring” Data and Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) both act like they just saw Santa Claus dating the Tooth Fairy when Data’s daughter Lal (Hallie Todd) says “I’ve” instead of “I have,” leading her father to believe she has exceeded his programming. Much later, in one of the final episodes of Star Trek: Picard, Geordi (LeVar Burton) is amazed to hear Data say, “we’re” rather than “we are.”

The thing is that ever since the series premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data has used contractions. When the elderly Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is curious about his nature, Data tells him “I’m an android.” When Data is one of the crew members transported to Q’s (John de Lancie) courtroom, Data quips to Picard (Patrick Stewart), “At least we’re acquainted with the judge.

star trek data
Data, after Geordi realizes he’s using contractions in Star Trek: Picard

Now, to be fair, since “Datalore” is the Star Trek episode that establishes Data doesn’t use contractions, some might argue it isn’t fair to nitpick when he used them before that episode. But even in “Datalore” he uses them. After Lore’s deception is uncovered, Picard asks Data if he’s all right and the android answers, “Yes sir. I’m fine.”

Again in “The Offspring,” another Star Trek episode that makes a big deal out of Data not using contractions, Data uses contractions. When speaking to Picard of Admiral Haftel, Data says, “I’m forced to wonder how much experience he had as a parent when his first child was born.” And this is well past the establishment of the rule in “Datalore.”

What’s the lesson to be learned here? Nothing, really. Except maybe every now and then it’s better to pay more attention to the shiny spaceships and the ray beams than the dialogue.

Good website. Nice newsletter.

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