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English Language Pitfalls: Coulda/Shoulda/Woulda, or, Could of/Should of/Would of. Which is Correct?

Updated on January 24, 2017
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Liz has always loved reading and writing, and has loved language since childhood. She enjoys writing poems & playing word games.

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

The Correct Answer..

The answer is that none of the examples in the title are correct usage. However, they are all so commonly used by so many people that it almost goes unnoticed.

It also goes unchallenged too often. The explanation as to why these are incorrect follows.

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.

It's most often used in expressing regret for some opportunity passed by, with one person expressing the regret, and the person to whom they are speaking, replying with a sardonic, "Yeah, coulda/shoulda/woulda," as if to say, "Yes, but it's a little late now."

Ah, if time travel were possible, or do-overs were a real-life thing, then, yes, next time, the opportunity would be seized.

Whoops! Darn! I Knew That!!

The universally understood facepalm gesture
The universally understood facepalm gesture | Source

The Resulting Error

The problem arises with people misunderstanding, or mishearing 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.

The trouble is with the correct pronunciation of the word "of:" it sounds more like "uhv." So people hear the "uhv" for "of," which is a very similar sound to '...ve' in the contractions, (given that the trailing 'e' is silent), "could've," "would've," and "should've."

It sounds to them like "could of," so that is what they write; but that doesn't make it right.

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.

Does this trio trip you up?

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© 2012 Liz Elias

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  • Lisa HW profile image

    Lisa HW 5 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
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    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 5 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
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    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

    Dilip Chandra 5 years ago from India

    Good hub, well written VOTED UP :)

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, dilipchandra12,

    Thank you very much for the compliment and the vote.

  • Rebecca E. profile image

    Rebecca E. 5 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
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, Rebecca E.--

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

  • AudreyHowitt profile image

    Audrey Howitt 5 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
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    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. 5 years ago from Canada

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

  • cookingrecipes profile image

    Saidevan 5 years ago from Kerala

    These mistakes are seen often. Good well written hub,

    voted

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, cookingrecipes--

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

  • FullOfLoveSites profile image

    FullOfLoveSites 5 years ago from United States

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

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image
    Author

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, FullOfLoveSites

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

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