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I'm (reasonably) sure these are wrong:

  • I would of won.
  • I could of done that.

and are likely so common because if you phonetically transcribe "would've", "could've", etc, that's what you get. Nevertheless, I commonly make that mistake over and over again. How can I definitively correct this error?

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This is such a curious colloquialism. It most likely stems from the fact that speaking the phrase quickly/slightly slurring, "have" and "of" sound so similar. –  Noldorin Nov 22 '10 at 10:38
    
@Noldorin In most conversational speech people almost always seem to contract "have" to "-'ve", which has the same phonetic əv sound. –  Nick T Nov 22 '10 at 22:12
    
That's exactly my point (without the IPA phonetics). –  Noldorin Nov 22 '10 at 23:09
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Remove the modal verb (would, could, should, etc.) from the sentence, and see if it still makes sense.

  • I would have won. -> I have won. (works!)
  • *I would of won. -> I of won. (nope, that's not right...)

You can be sure that if the sentence is supposed to have have, then you can always remove the modal.

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When you remove the modal verb, do not forget to change “have” to “has” as necessary: He would have won. → *He have won. (wrong) → He has won. (works!) –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 22 '10 at 4:06
    
@Tsuyoshi: Good point! –  Kosmonaut Nov 22 '10 at 13:52
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Well, "of" should never ordinarily come before a verb, or any part of a verb. If it does in one of your sentences, it should almost certainly be "have" instead.

The closest you legitimately get is something like "I'm tired of running"; I believe "running" there is what's called a gerund, that is to say a noun derived from a verb. But it's always "I should have run", never "should of". (In fact, "of" will never actually follow "would" or "should" in grammatical English, so that's another way you can check to see if you should replace it with "have".)

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I should, of course, point out this example, but I won't. –  Dusty Nov 22 '10 at 0:26
    
@Dusty: Intervening punctuation marks are hardly fair! Quotation marks also can result in an "of" coming directly before (the infinitive form of) a verb: 'The third person singular form of "to be" is "is".' :) –  thesunneversets Nov 22 '10 at 1:45
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This example I thought of has the main verb directly after "of", without using punctuation. –  Kosmonaut Nov 22 '10 at 1:59
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Oh man... don't invoke the no-prepositions-at-the-end rule, it doesn't have to come to this! :) –  Kosmonaut Nov 22 '10 at 3:22
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Should of be have or should have of? The should of of is obvious, love. –  Jon Purdy Nov 22 '10 at 5:03
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