English Language Pitfalls: the "Coulda/Shoulda/Woulda" Trio

Does English Grammar trip you up?
Does English Grammar trip you up? | Source

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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Comments 15 comments

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 4 years ago from Massachusetts

This is an error that shows up all over the place, and it's unfortunate that the mistake is so often the result of confusion with the contraction (and hearing it). One wouldn't think these two very different and simple words would ever be confused. One would be wrong, though. :/


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, LisaHW

Thanks for stopping by. It is indeed unfortunate that such clumsy and careless errors are made so commonly. You are correct--one would not think such mix-ups would happen, and yes, one would be wrong. ;-)


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

This is a common spelling error I see often. Thanks for the reminders about could've/would've/should've.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, vespawoolf--

Thanks for stopping by today and leaving your insight. I'm pleased to know I'm not the only one annoyed by this. ;-)


dilipchandra12 profile image

dilipchandra12 4 years ago from India

Good hub, well written VOTED UP :)


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, dilipchandra12,

Thank you very much for the compliment and the vote.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 4 years ago from Canada

and I will admit I do this waayy too much. I could have worked ont hat long ago, but didn't thanks for teh kick in the pants!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hi there, Rebecca E.--

Thanks for stopping by. Kick in the pants--free the first time. You're welcome. ;-)


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

I am always bothered by mistakes like these. At this point, I think a certain amount of this is embedded in our slang and slang has a funny way of creeping into accepted usage.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, AudreyHowitt--

Unfortunately, I believe you are correct. Language is a fluid thing; usage, spelling and grammar have not remained constant over the centuries. Old fogies such as myself struggle against too much too fast in the way of change, lest we revert to the days before rules, when everyone spelled things as they saw fit, and there was no standard. The day may yet come when, (for example), "probably" becomes rendered as "prolly," thanks to internet and texting shorthand. I do not look forward to those times.

Thanks very much for adding to the discussion!


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 4 years ago from Canada

DzyMslizzy-- for each of your hubs? ha ha! I did enjoy this hub so much!


cookingrecipes profile image

cookingrecipes 4 years ago from Kerala

These mistakes are seen often. Good well written hub,

voted


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, cookingrecipes--

Thank you very much for the compliment, your input and the vote. Much appreciated.


FullOfLoveSites profile image

FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

Good hub...There are many errors you have suggested one of them.


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA Author

Hello, FullOfLoveSites

Thank you for commenting; I'm pleased that you enjoyed the article.

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