Before You Hit Publish, Week 9: Could Of, Would Of, Should Of

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We all have our own pet peeves, don’t we? I’ve made several of mine part of this series, as well as frequently whining about them on Twitter.

JessieLeigh asked me if she could do a post on the following topic, and I was a little worried. Do I make this mistake? A quick search of the blog says no, but I’m afraid it’s just not anything I’ve ever really thought about!

So here’s JessieLeigh to throw in her two grammar cents!

My first year of college, I was taking a junior-level Literature course. I had been assigned to a group, and our task was to read one another’s journal entries and offer constructive criticism while raising thought-provoking questions. Fair enough.

I started reading the notebook of a twenty-year old young man.  Almost every paragraph commenced like this:  “I could of seen writing this while …”  Peppered throughout were statements like:  “I think the author should of spent more time talking about …”

To be honest, reading it to myself, it did not even make a lick of sense. If I read those sentences aloud, however, it quickly became clear what he was trying to say. What this ridiculously creative but grammatically challenged young man meant was simple: “I could have seen writing this while …” and “I think the author should have spent more time talking about …”

The confusion between “of” and “have” comes into play because, when we speak, we tend to say “I could’ve” and “I should’ve.”  That particular contraction sounds strikingly similar to “of.” Its meaning, however, is very different.

There is certainly not a thing wrong with writing the contracted version (should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, might’ve) in informal, personal writing.  That said, it is always safe to use the full version (should have, could have, would have, might have) in any kind of writing.

Regarding that “of” that many people like to throw in there? Just remember that there is no situation in which it makes grammatical sense to put “of” after the words could, should, would, or might. Those words require a verb. “Of” is not a verb. (Who knows what part of speech “of” is?  Come on, my fellow grammar geeks, show me your stuff!)

I should have written this post long ago. I could have saved myself a lot of wincing. I might have even helped one or two people. I would have done it sooner had I thought of it. Thanks, Jessie, for giving me the opportunity to do so today.

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I love what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage says about this topic.

The OED Supplement dated the naive (or ignorant) use of of back to 1837. A century and a half of use have not made it respectable, and you had better avoid it in your own writing.

The dictionary of usage also states that using “of” in this manner is a sign of being “partly educated” and is ONLY OK if writing dialogue–dialogue of someone you intend to portray as, well, not so smart. So stick with have, alright?

Thanks, JessieLeigh, for chiming in this week! I’ll make your reading assignment to go over and read some of her fantastic posts: I like her Raising Good Eaters series, I Didn’t Want to Breastfeed and I Didn’t, and How to Write a Good Complaint Letter.

If you’d be interested in guest-posting about some grammar topic that bothers you tremendously, shoot me an e-mail!

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4 thoughts on “Before You Hit Publish, Week 9: Could Of, Would Of, Should Of

  1. I know that I SAY it like this, but people actually type out "could of"?

    Sidenote: When I was in 1st grade, I was eliminated from the spelling bee because I spelled "of" o-v. :) Phonics at work!

  2. Another woman after my own heart! It's shocking what people who *should* know better do to the language! I've worked for lawyers who don't know what to do with apostrophes, corresponded with school administrators who apparently have no grasp of the "subject + predicate = complete sentence" concept, adults who routinely "ax" questions. . . ugh!

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