Apr 01, 2014

Grammar Hammer: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

the Grammar Hammershould-of-could-have

I grew up in a southern West Virginia and heard phrases like “would of went” and “should of went” all the time. Thanks to my late grammarian grandfather, The Colonel, those phrases never made it into my vernacular. I heard “would of went” as recent as a few weeks ago listening to a group of adults discuss a recent happy hour. I winced and kept walking. There are two major grammatical problems with that phrase.

“Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda” are actually slang for the contractions “should have,” “would have,” and “could have.” I think the confusion starts with how things sound when you’re speaking.

“I shoulda called my sister last night.”

The “uh” sound gets misinterpreted for “of” instead of the contraction for “have.” I have yet to find any grammatical construction that supports “should of,” “would of,” or “could of” (and let’s go ahead and add “must of” to that list).

If we dig a little deeper, “should ___” requires a verb in the blank. “Have” is an auxiliary verb and should be used with should, would, could, might, must, and may. “Of” is a preposition.

What we’re trying to communicate here with our modal verbs (shoulda, woulda, coulda) is the correct from of the verb “go,” which is an irregular verb. Let’s conjugate, because it’s all about the participles.


  • Present: I go.
  • Past: I went.
  • Future: I will go.
  • Perfect: I have gone.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.
  • Future perfect: I will have gone.


  • Present: I go. / I have gone.
  • Imperfect: I went.
  • Pluperfect: I had gone.


  • Present: I would go.
  • Perfect: I would have gone.

Instead of saying, “I would of went,” or even “I would have went,” we now know that the correct phrase is “I would have gone.”

When you decide which modal verb you’re going to use, remember that the modal verb will give you more information about the function of the main verb it governs. “I should have called my sister last night.” “I would have gone to happy hour if you had called me before I fell asleep.”

And, finally, “I could have gone on and on about this topic, but I figure you have the gist of it by now.”

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at catherine.spicer@prnewswire.com.

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

4 Comments on Blog Post Title

Bridgit Gilmore 14:23 EDT on Apr 1, 2014

Love it! Doesn’t bother me so much to hear it, but drives me up the wall to see it written incorrectly!

Cecilia 08:47 EDT on Apr 2, 2014

I always enjoy your articles on grammar. I also noticed you started one of your paragraphs with the word “and”, which I do as well but often get criticized. Could this be something you could explore in one of your posts? Thanks. @themktboutique.

Joe 11:43 EDT on Apr 2, 2014

First of all, shoulda, woulda and coulda are not contractions at all for anything. They are slang. The contractions you are searching for is should’ve, could’ve and would’ve. I’m KINDA a grammar nut too.

Shannon Ramlochan 17:16 EDT on Apr 2, 2014

Hi Joe,

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, you make a valid point. The post has been updated to reflect this change.

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