English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

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?

share|improve this question

closed as primarily opinion-based by Ellie Kesselman, choster, Hellion, Chenmunka, terdon Mar 3 '15 at 22:16

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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
up vote 11 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.

share|improve this answer
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

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".)

share|improve this answer
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
This example I thought of has the main verb directly after "of", without using punctuation. – Kosmonaut Nov 22 '10 at 1:59
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
Should of be have or should have of? The should of of is obvious, love. – Jon Purdy Nov 22 '10 at 5:03

protected by tchrist Mar 2 '15 at 1:39

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

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.