English Language Pitfalls: the "Coulda/Shoulda/Woulda" Trio
Would You Do That? Could You Do That? Should You Do That?
If you could, or if you would or if you should, all is well. Sadly, there is a large percentage of people who do not understand the past tense of these. It is because of the contraction form, blending the two words.
If you 'would not' or 'could not' or 'should not' do a given action, you may very well and correctly shorten those phrases to 'wouldn't' or 'couldn't,' or 'shouldn't.' No one gets those wrong, or almost no one.
The Wrong Interpretation
The problem with the other end of this trio is under the "coulda/woulda/shoulda" umbrella. Nothing in that example is correct spelling or grammar, but it is understood as slang, or vernacular usage. It is not acceptable in formal writing, unless as dialogue spoken by a character in a story.
The problem we see is people mis-understanding, or mis-hearing the contraction for 'could have,' 'would have' or 'should have.' They are correctly contracted and spelled as 'could've,' 'would've,' and 'should've.'
The pronunciation is supposed to keep the 'v' sound from the original "have" in the non-contracted format.
What happens instead, is that people speak it improperly, so while the "v" sound is kept, an "o" sound gets added (in place of the "ha" from "have") that is replaced with the apostrophe.
The Resulting Error
This leads to people saying, "could of," "should of," and "would of." All of these are incorrect. They are writing it as they say it, and they are saying it wrong because they are hearing it wrong; they are probably hearing it wrong because of lazy speech patterns: someone is saying it wrong, so it gets written wrong, and it's written wrong because it's heard wrong, etc.; it's a vicious circle.
If you want to use the shortened version, it's "could've," "should've," and "would've."
If you want to keep two full words for emphasis, it's "could have," "should have," and "would have."
Of course, this is not a matter of national security; the only harm done is to the writer's credibility. It makes them appear uneducated, or at least under-educated.
The more precise your speech and writing, the better your chances of convincing people of your argument, or at least making them think things over.
© 2012 DzyMsLizzy
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