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I often read the expression “would of” used instead of “would have”. Each time I read it I get annoyed so I googled it and found out -as I expected- that it is an incorrect way to say “would have”. Now, there are a lot of brilliant slang words/expressions, so my question is, why do people use this one? It’s so annoying to read, stupid and clearly wrong, it is pointless, why did they come up with this expression?


Edit: I don't think my question is a duplicate as I didn't ask how can somebody use it (since I know it's incorrect and I know that I can use it with commas giving it a different meaning) but I asked why and how people came up with this expression.

marked as duplicate by Hot Licks, TrevorD, JJJ, Matt E. Эллен Apr 12 at 8:30

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    Your ears are deceiving you. In most (maybe all) varieties of English, in rapid speech "would have" and "would of" are 100% indistinguishable. Nobody is "saying" something incorrect. But spelling, being part of the invented and learnt technology called "writing" (and thus almost entirely different from the natural faculty called "language") is often imperfectly learnt - especially when the rules of spelling make a distinction which is not there in the real (spoken) language. – Colin Fine Apr 9 at 21:57
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    Consider that it's "would 'ave". Some people know this and realize that "would have" is the unabbreviated form, while others, probably as a child, heard "would 'ave" and took it to be "would of", and thus say and write "would of". – Hot Licks Apr 9 at 22:22
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    @ColinFine: I disagree. You're right that they're nearly indistinguishable, but as a result, there's a lot of people who learned it wrong, and now say and type "would of". – Mooing Duck Apr 10 at 0:48
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    @ColinFine as regards the spoken language it doesn’t matter since, as you’re saying, you can’t really spot the difference, I was talking about people who write “would of” – Marybnq Apr 10 at 2:02
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    @tchrist Then Colin is clearly and completely wrong. I hear it a lot. It's clearly perceptible. People think the phrase is "would of", and they say "would of" entirely meaning to say "would of", because those who have gone before in the past have mispronounced or misinterpreted "would've" and it's spread. A similar example that has wound me up in the past: "seems" instead of "seeing as". That wasn't me mishearing the bloke's pronunciation, and it wasn't the result of some academic or esoteric abstraction on what constitutes a "word" when spoken; it's literally what he thought the words were. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 11 at 2:14
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Correction: what annoys you is people writing “would of” when they are saying /ˈwʊdəv/, which is the standard pronunciation of the contraction would’ve.

The vowel of the preposition “of” is almost always reduced in actual speech, yielding /əv/. Thus “would’ve” and “would of” are homophones. So no surprise that some people spell it that way, even though it makes no grammatical sense.

Would’ve can be even further reduced to /ˈwʊdə/, which some people spell woulda as a kind of phonetic eye dialect to represent actual speech or set an informal tone. The same goes for the modals, shoulda, coulda, musta.

Spelling as it sounds can yield amusing results:

Along the way the details of his past are sordid out and he realizes that what he once thought about his parents isn't the truth at all. — Amazon.com Review.

A speaker of British English, of course, would never write sorted in this manner, but with an American flapped t, it’s a perfect fit.

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    In writing, I accept "woulda" as a dialect. I do not accept "would of", because it is clearly an error. – Rusty Core Apr 9 at 23:26
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    @RustyCore If you're going to be a prescriptivist, be aware that the OED lists "of" as a dialectal variant of "have". – chepner Apr 10 at 13:29
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    @chepner: the nonreduced pronunciation, only used if the word carries some stress, is what you find in dictionaries, with various vowels for UK, Australian, and American. The whole notion of reduced=incorrect is not in what I wrote. – KarlG Apr 10 at 18:10
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    @tchrist "[woulda] is clearly a misspelling of would've just as much as would of is." — not to me. I perceive the first as intentional mangling of written language, hopefully by someone who knows how to write correctly if needed. The latter to me is clearly a mistake made by someone who picks sounds from the air and puts them to paper so to speak. Similarly, I accept cursing from someone who knows how to speak eloquently, and I despise those who use curse words as everyday interjections. – Rusty Core Apr 10 at 18:22
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    @IMil There is more than one usage of "have". Although it doesn't fit with the possession definition, there are others. Most common dictionaries have entries for it as an auxiliary verb, which is how it is used in the case of "would have". – JMac Apr 11 at 11:02
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"Would of" is a garden variety malapropism (Wikipedia - Malapropism).

Some more interesting malapropisms are "tantrum bicycle" instead of tandem bicycle, "Alcoholics Unanimous" instead of Alcoholics Anonymous, "a vast suppository of information" instead of repository of information, "Miss-Marple-ism" instead of malapropism¹ and Mike Tyson's "I might fade into Bolivian" instead of oblivion (these are all borrowed from that same Wikipedia article).

The basic idea is that no one has perfect knowledge of any language, not even the ones they speak natively. We hear things incorrectly and then repeat the mistake.

We know that English speakers often contract "would have" into "would've." This is pronounced identically (in some dialects) to "would of," so the mistake is easy to make.


¹ This one seems too perfect to be a complete mistake. The "miss" sound is totally absent from "malapropism" and the term, for those who didn't follow the Wikipedia link, comes from a character named Mrs Malaprop. It seems unlikely that the supposed speaker of "Miss-Marple-ism" wasn't aware, at least subconsciously, of the correct word, or at least its origins. In which case, this neologism may really be an eggcorn.

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    A popular example of this is the "it's a dog-eat-dog world" being written "it's a doggy dog world." – barbecue Apr 9 at 21:56
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    I would not call it a malapropism, because those are errors of (real, spoken) language. These are utterly different from errors in using the learnt technology called writing. – Colin Fine Apr 9 at 22:14
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    @ColinFine not sure I follow. Are you saying that the term "malapropism" can't be used for written language? That seems pretty far-fetched to me. Got a citation? – barbecue Apr 9 at 23:11
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    Though I've never read any of Miss Marple, I would take "Miss-Marple-ism" to be an intentional reference to the way Miss Marple spoke. – Hot Licks Apr 10 at 12:01
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    I would argue that this is less a case of a malapropism, and more of a mondegreen - "Would have" was contracted to "Would've", and then misheard as "would of" – Chronocidal Apr 10 at 12:16
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This is probably a case of hearing a phrase and assuming/guessing how it should be spelled. Would have can be abbreviated as would've, and in rapid conversation, the pronunciation of "would've" is basically the same as "would of."

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Great question. I also get annoyed when I see this phrase, especially from people who should know better. At one of my old jobs year ago, I worked with an account manager who actually used that phrase in an e-mail, saying something like "I should of known better". Yes, an account manager "should of" had a better education to know proper grammar... or at least know that's not a phrase used by professionals.

Even though the phrase might be pronounced and heard as "should of" (or "would of" or "could of"), there's no such phrase in written English. No school that I've heard of teaches this phrase and basic rules of grammar "abbreviate the word have as 've". And writing "should of" takes just as many characters to write as "should've", so it's not like it's text-speak.

In my opinion, it's people being stupid, ignorant, or trying to be funny/ hip/ trendy by using the wrong phrase. Then other people see it and want to be in on the joke, so they use it also.

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What most of you are missing is that "of" is preposition, and prepositions are slippery beasts. The "rules" for prepositions are complex and, for most people, in large part incomprehensible.

While an English purist would quickly cry "foul!", someone with, say, a 5th-grade education might easily believe (without applying much critical thought) that, in "If I had the time I would of eaten sooner", "of eaten sooner" is a prepositional phrase which somehow modifies "I would".

They are speaking/writing without applying an English teacher's "starch", and to them it makes perfect sense. After all, that's how (they think) their parents speak.

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    The lovely thing about languages is that when enough people have made a mistake they are no longer mistaken :) – Orangesandlemons Apr 11 at 16:39
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    I think there's also a chance that people are just writing fast. Sometimes I make these kinds of mistakes when I am rushing out an email such as using "their" when I mean "they're". It's not that I don't know the difference. It's just crossed up in my head for the obvious reasons. Spell check won't flag these as errors so it just happens. – JimmyJames Apr 11 at 20:51
  • @JimmyJames -- Yep, I'm pretty sure I've written "would of" a few times, then caught myself on briefly rereading what I wrote. Though a few may have slipped out. Of course, if I didn't have the "reflex education" to tell me that "would of" is wrong, I wouldn't catch these, even if, on deeper reflection, I really knew better. – Hot Licks Apr 11 at 20:56
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It's simply because, in many dialects, the sounds of "'ve" and "of" in "I would've bought two of them" are very similar or identical. People often confuse words that sound the same: there/their/they're, your/you're, etc.

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In addition to KarlG's answer, there's a paper that argues that speakers in some dialects have actually reanalyzed the reduced have as "of" acting as a complementizer, i.e. working similarly to the 'to' in English infinitives, giving the bracketing I would (of worked). The gist of the argument is that have cannot further reduce from [əv] to [ə] while of can always reduce from [əv] to [ə]. However in the construct under discussion, the supposed reduced version of have can in fact reduce from [əv] to [ə]. Therefore, according to the paper's argument, the [əv] in [aɪ wʊd əv dən ɪt] is not actually have, but of.

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