Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

As the title says — is "could've" or "should've" standard English or is it slang and should correctly be spelled "could have" and "should have"?

share|improve this question
1  
Closely related, but not sure if I should consider it identical: english.stackexchange.com/questions/3230/… –  Kosmonaut Sep 30 '10 at 13:53
6  
Whatever you do, please don't replace that "have" with a preposition. Every time someone does that, an innocent kitten dies. –  RegDwigнt Sep 30 '10 at 13:55
    
I have no use for kittens. I'm a vegetarian. –  mickeyf Sep 30 '10 at 13:57
    
@RegDwight what do you have against "could of"?</sarcasm> –  C. Ross Sep 30 '10 at 13:58
4  
@C. Ross: as Germans say, I have nothing effective against it. –  RegDwigнt Sep 30 '10 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Contractions are generally considered informal, but have long been part of standard English. Because they are informal, most style guides—which tend to be guides for formal styles of written English—advise against using them. This of course makes sense, because if you are trying to write in a formal style, using informal words, like contractions, makes your writing seem less formal.

The Corpus of Historical American English has incidences of should’ve dating to 1910, could’ve dating to 1880, and would’ve dating to 1830. A Google Book Search shows incidences of all three from 1800–1810.

For the record, slang is “very informal usage in vocabulary and idiom that is characteristically more metaphorical, playful, elliptical, vivid, and ephemeral than ordinary language.” Contractions with have are informal, sure, but they are also ordinary, and so are not really slang.

share|improve this answer

Slang eventually becomes standardized, right?

Anyway, it's not incorrect to write them with the contractions. Writing could've and should've is standard, even if the spellcheckers say differently. The contractions just emphasize the pronunciation of the words.

share|improve this answer
1  
I know it >>eventually<< becomes standardized, but is it standardized at the time we speak? –  Ivan Ferić Sep 30 '10 at 15:25
1  
Um. Some slang beconmes standardised. Most slang disappears and leaves no trace. And I'm sure there is some slang that stays around for a long time but remains slang, though I can't immediately think of an example. –  Colin Fine Oct 1 '10 at 15:29
    
As well as Colin's point, the shift between slang and standard is not necessarily unidirectional: the opposite can also happen, and what was once a standard, boring-sounding word can at a later stage in the language come to be perceived of as "slang". –  Neil Coffey May 5 '13 at 4:45
    
Good point about the pronunciation. But it's not true to say it's "not incorrect" to use them. In formal (written) contexts, use of contractions is generally regarded as incorrect (acceptable pronunciation in formal situations may be another story!). –  nxx Jan 17 at 20:16

protected by Community Jan 24 at 2:58

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.