Common Errors in Written English: Would Of

Would Of, Should Of, Could Of

by Owen Fourie

Some errors occurring in written English should not be in print at all. These are errors that result from a combination of three things:

  • mishearing a particular usage;
  • neglecting the fundamentals of grammar;
  • failing to think about the misheard usage and accepting it without question.

English contractions: what we hear

This is clearly the case with would of, should of, and could of. We can add must of and might of to this list too.

Such usage occurs because English speakers are fond of contractions, but that is not the problem.

Instead of saying would have, we say “would’ve.” For should have, we say “should’ve,” and so on.

The problem is that it sounds as though we are saying “would of” and “should of.” The “ve” part of the contracted have, which is joined to the auxiliary verb (would, should, could), is mistaken as of.

Consequently, the person who falls into this error of hearing carries it into print, and we see would of instead of would have, should of instead of should have.

The basics of grammar: modal verbs and prepositions

Attention to the fundamentals of grammar would quickly eliminate such erroneous usage.

The preposition of cannot be placed after modal auxiliary verbs such as would, should, and could, which are usually followed by a main verb:

  • would succeed;
  • would sell;
  • would swim.

If any word sounding like of were to follow would or any other modal auxiliary verb, it would be have:

  • would have succeeded, not would of succeeded;
  • would have sold, not would of sold;
  • would have swum, not would of swum.

Besides, the preposition of needs to be followed by its object, a noun, not a verb:

  • of a car;
  • of the computer;
  • of the city.

Simply knowing this fundamental point about prepositions would eliminate the would of, should of, could of error.

Proper usage demands attention to what is written in grammar for our learning. We cannot write correctly if we depend only on what we hear.


How familiar are you with the problem discussed here? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. The item at this link gives a linguist’s treatment of the subject:

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