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Is “of” instead of “have” correct?

It bothers me that so many people use could of, would of, should of instead of could've or could have, etc.

For instance, I have seen people write I could of been hurt or I should of seen that truck.

Does anyone know how this originated? Is this a mistake only American English speakers make, or is it common with British English speakers too?

Also, is that actually legal English?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, tchrist, MetaEd, Daniel, Mitch Oct 13 '12 at 20:34

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    I always thought it was more common in British than American English. But disregarding the implications of the word "legal" as applied to our language, I'm surprised OP would ask such a question of a usage which he admits "bothers him", and which he himself calls "a mistake". I'm even more surprised that the question title actually asks how such usage could have originated. – FumbleFingers Nov 18 '11 at 0:04
  • I too thought that this was an American failing until I moved to Europe and saw an English grammar review program on the BBC learning zone. It devoted several minutes to explaining why "could of" and similar are incorrect. – phoog Nov 18 '11 at 0:18
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    @FumbleFingers people ask questions when they are curious to get answers. What's surprising about it? And I asked if this was 'legal English' because, although I think it's a mistake, I could be wrong and it could, infact, be grammatically correct. – psychotik Nov 18 '11 at 1:45
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    Related: Is “of” instead of “have” correct? – Daniel Dec 17 '11 at 20:17
  • Here in Southwest Virginia people say "might should of" and "might could of;" e.g. "I might could of eaten the last piece of cake" or "I might should of put the roast in the oven before now." This construction packs in two errors at once, but please don't bully us out of it: it is quite effective speech. – Airymouse Sep 17 '16 at 14:57

The Oxford English Dictionary describes the etymology as:

Variant of have arising through misapprehension of the verb (when occurring as a clitic) as showing of.

It is described as being nonstandard and the definition is given as:

= have verb, used in the infinitive as the auxiliary of the perfect tense (especially in conjunction with modal verbs). Frequently in representations of non-standard speech.

The earliest recorded use is dated 1814, and it appears in a letter written in 1853 by the British novelist Charlotte Brontë.


I think people write could of instead could've because it sounds like could of - it is a contraction of could have that is spelled could've but sounds the same as could of. The way it would be written without the contraction is I could have been hurt.

The phrase could of seems completely incorrect to me, as I can't even understand what it would mean.

  • That sounds logical - curious if there are other theories, and if this is unique to American English. If it is simply a phonetic contraction, I would assume other English speakers might do the same... – psychotik Nov 17 '11 at 18:45
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    @psychotik: Strictly anecdotally, it seems to me that this can happen with English speakers anywhere. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 17 '11 at 18:47
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    Sounds very plausible to me. I think we all make the mistake of using homonyms in our writing now and then. For example, writing "to" when you meant to write "too" or "night" when you meant "knight". – Bjorn Nov 17 '11 at 18:52
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    +1 "Could of " is completely incorrect. The explanation you're giving is accurate, it's a spelling mistake – Irene Nov 17 '11 at 18:53

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