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"?

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    Closely related, but not sure if I should consider it identical: english.stackexchange.com/questions/3230/…
    – Kosmonaut
    Sep 30, 2010 at 13:53
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    Whatever you do, please don't replace that "have" with a preposition. Every time someone does that, an innocent kitten dies.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 30, 2010 at 13:55
  • I have no use for kittens. I'm a vegetarian. Sep 30, 2010 at 13:57
  • @RegDwight what do you have against "could of"?</sarcasm>
    – C. Ross
    Sep 30, 2010 at 13:58
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    @C. Ross: as Germans say, I have nothing effective against it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Sep 30, 2010 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


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.


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.

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    I know it >>eventually<< becomes standardized, but is it standardized at the time we speak? Sep 30, 2010 at 15:25
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    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, 2010 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". May 5, 2013 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, 2014 at 20:16

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