So, you’re happily going about your English studies and feeling quite happy with the language progress you are making when you get a message from one of your native English speaker contacts that goes something like this:



“Sorry. I would of spoken to you yesterday if I hadn’t been busy”.


What? “Would of”? What on earth does that mean? So you frantically search all of your dictionaries and put the phrase into a translator and discover that it actually means nothing – it’s meaningless. But this came from a native English speaker! What’s going on?


“Could of”, “Would of” and “Should of”: Three phrases that make my blood boil!


Unfortunately, you’ll see these phrases used more and more these days. I say “see” and not “hear”, because they sound (vaguely) like grammatically-correct English, but grammatically-correct English, they most certainly are not!


I had an email from a police officer recently that was littered with all of the above, and I have even seen one of my daughter’s school teachers use one of the phrases in a communication. Sadly, it demonstrates the failure of our education system – use of these phrases is not corrected in our schools, and so the children have no idea that what they are writing is incorrect.


“Could of” should be “Could have”, which is itself regularly contracted to “Could’ve” - grammatically correct, if a little ugly. You can hear how the usage originated: “Could’ve” does sound like “Could of”, but the latter makes absolutely no sense. Children hear the correct contraction being used, and because they know nothing about the contraction (having not been taught it) they spell it phonetically – “Could of” is the result, and it is not corrected at school (or, it seems, by their parents). The same goes for the other two abominations.


For example:


I could of spent more time on my homework” should be “I could have spent more time on my homework”


I would of gone to the shops but I had no money” should be “I would have gone to the shops…..”


I should of done the dishes” should be “I should have…..”


Hopefully you get the idea.


I apologise on behalf of the English speaking community if you have already come across one of these awful phrases and been confused by it. Sadly, the use of these phrases is now so prevalent that I have no doubt they will eventually find their way into the Oxford English Dictionary and become common usage.


These phrases won’t really affect your spoken English because they sound grammatically correct. When writing in English, however, try to use correct grammar – please don’t pick up our bad habits!


Image (Puzzled Confused Lost Signpost) courtesy of Stuart Miles at