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Coincidentally over the last few days, I have twice seen what I view as an 'incorrect' use of I've, viz.

How could I've done this better?

On attempting to explain why this sounds wrong to a recalcitrant friend, I found I couldn't do so adequately. The best I could come up with is another example:

"I had a great dinner today!" "Oh? What did you've?"

So my question, why does this use of *'ve contractions sound wrong?

  • Your friend should've(!) said: "How could have I done this better?" – Tushar Raj May 29 '15 at 8:02
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    It wasn't my friend that said it, but in any case they actually should have said "How should I have done this better?". I know the correct usage, what I'd like to know is why the contraction sounds wrong in these contexts. – ElendilTheTall May 29 '15 at 8:28
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    First off, I recommend you remove the how from the first example, so it reads 'Could I've done this better'. Secondly, in your second example, you've sound wrong because contractions usually can't end sentences, and it is a bad analogy to determine the correctness of the 1st one. You can say "I've cake", but when asked "Who has cake?", you'll have to say "I have", not "I've" – Tushar Raj May 29 '15 at 8:57
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    @EdwinAshworth: None of these two examples use have in the sense of posession. So I don't think it's a duplicate. – Tushar Raj May 29 '15 at 11:44
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    @Tushar Raj The answers there cover the non-auxiliary cases. Probably, the threads would be best combined. – Edwin Ashworth May 29 '15 at 15:09
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I believe the issue here is that a noun or pronoun + a form of have can only be contracted if the noun or pronoun is the subject of this form of have. That means have has to be a finite verb, not an infinitive, for infinitives normally don't have a proper subject.

How could I've done this better?

In your first example, have is an infinitive; the finite verb is could.

"I had a great dinner today!" "Oh? What did you've?"

In your second example, it is also an infinitive; the finite verb is did. The reason is probably that a subject and its finite verb are closely connected grammatically; if you contract two words into one, this makes the words even more closely connected; but, if you contract a subject and an infinitive but leave out the subject's finite verb, then the wrong words are paired up, or so thinks our grammatical subconscious.

Another contraint here is that you normally can't contract a verb if it is stressed in pronunciation; when I pronounce what did you have?, emphasis lies on have, and the word is pronounced fully.

"I've seen it." "Oh, you've?"

Here have is a finite verb, not an infinitive; but you still can't contract it, because it is stressed.

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