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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
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Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

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 '' 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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