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English Lesson 9: Correct Use of Could Have vs. Could Of

May 10th, 2008

woulda-coulda-shoulda.jpgA common mistake that inexperienced writers make when they try to compose original essays, articles, or blog posts is attempting to transcribe conversational English directly onto the printed page. This does not always work because the pronunciation of certain words and phrases can become corrupted with informal speech in ways that render them incorrect when written as standard English. A classic example of this phenomenon occurs when people write the phrase could have as “could of” or “coulda”. Similar errors occur with the phrases would have and should have.

Neither of the latter two forms (”could of” or “coulda”) is correct; these phrases should be written out as could have, would have, or should have. It is acceptable in less formal situations to use the contracted forms could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve, although for any written material that is intended for publication, I would play it safe and write out the word have separately.

Now we can look at some examples of relevant usage mistakes from other Internet sources and provide some much-needed corrections:

Incorrect: It could of been worse. You could of went back in time to when Hiroshima was bombed. — user Killy_mcgee on xkcd.com forum

Correct: It could have been worse. You could have gone back in time to when Hiroshima was bombed.

Incorrect: what if Trotski would of become the leader of the soviet union apose to Stalin? — user chillerwhale, attempting to post an interesting historical topic on BigThink.com

Correct: What if Trotsky would have become the leader of the Soviet Union as opposed to Stalin?

Incorrect: Terminator 3 Trailer (How It Should Of Been) — Actual title of a YouTube video, posted by user C2JUK

Correct: Terminator 3 Trailer (How It Should Have Been)

Incorrect: You coulda had Dinosaur dung for $1,000 — article title from the Offbeat News section of azcentral.com

Correct: You Could Have Had Dinosaur Dung for $1,000

For next week, I have tentatively scheduled coverage of affect vs. effect, which is an issue that seems to confuse many people because of the different meanings of those two words. Another contender is the usage of who vs. that when referring to either people or inanimate objects. Many people are continuing to use “that” when referring to people, which has been a source of much irritation among English teachers and grammarians.


4 Responses to “English Lesson 9: Correct Use of Could Have vs. Could Of”

  1. comment number 1 by: ireland5

    Great post! This points out the tendency of people to write the same as they speak. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if we didn’t have sloppy speech…Love the picture!

  2. comment number 2 by: Alfa King

    These errors occur because english is your mother tongue. You learn to talk before you can write. You have a way to pronounce words that is different from the way they’re written. For me it appears funny although I do agree such errors are commonplace.

  3. comment number 3 by: Shirley

    I too have noticed this minor error that some people make when speaking or writing. The 2 that really gets to me, is the use of then when it should be than and than when it should be then. Somehow people have started to connect words that aren’t supposed to be connected… “alot” is just an example of what I see in some blogs. I often wonder if it is just a typo or do they think it is only one word. Since I do proof-reading I tend to notice these errors often. Great post, I hope to read more when I return.
    Common English Grammar Mistakes

  4. comment number 4 by: Nadine

    I applaud you! This is one of my pet peeves. I usually keep my mouth shut (fingers still?), but I’m constantly correcting them in my mind. It’s very irritating.

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