Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda

Lesson: Have versus of with should, could, and would


Is it “I should of gone to the movies,” or “I should have gone to the movies”? “Would of” or “would have”? “Could of” or “could have”?

A common mistake with English speakers is saying would/could/should of instead of have.

Of is preposition, which means it likes to work with nouns. Example: herd of cows. Have likes to work with the helping verbs could, should, and would to make a verb phrase that expresses something you were able to do or wanted to do, but didn’t. Look at the example at the top of the post. I should have gone to the movies, but I didn’t.

To see the confusion of brings, look at this exercise:

I should of pet that kitty.

Now take out should, since it’s a helping verb and not the main verb, and look at the sentence again.

I of pet that kitty.

It looks weird, right? Let’s try it again with have.

I should have pet that kitty.

Take out should again.

I have pet that kitty.


Now that’s one happy cat. Let’s try it again with could.

I could of eaten that monster.

Take out could.

I of eaten that monster.

Looks weird, huh? Try it with have.

I could have eaten that monster.

Take out could again.

I have eaten that monster.


Now that’s one unhappy monster, but one happy sentence.

So why do so many people say of instead of have? This common mistake comes from hearing the contractions would’ve, should’ve, and could’ve. Try saying them out loud. It sounds like you’re saying would of, doesn’t it? That’s how we got this mistake. When you’re speaking, the mistake will likely slide by unnoticed. Unfortunately, this isn’t the same with writing, so it’s best to remove all those would of, could of, should ofs now.

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