60-second fix: should have or should of?

bw_clock_squareThis is a nice, easy one to answer. No sitting on the fence, no ‘it’s down to personal preference’.

Here goes:

Should have, would have, could have – correct
Should of, would of, could of – incorrect

The error is widespread and dates back nearly 200 years. The cause? Simply that should’ve sounds identical to should of in a lot of accents. In fact, many of us hardly voice the second word at all, so it’s little wonder that we’re not quite sure how to write it.

The of version is now such a well-known error that some authors of fiction (rather snobbily) use it in dialogue to indicate a character’s lack of education. There are examples in this post on Stan Carey’s blog.

‘Shoulda woulda coulda are the last words of a fool’, sang Beverley Knight. We’re pretty sure she was talking about grammar.

To avoid being that fool, remember: you just have to use have.

More 60-second fixes:

Get your free business-writing lesson