“Coulda, woulda, shoulda” goes the regretful refrain made popular by a song of the same name.
It’s the lament any of us might utter when we realize we’ve made a poor choice or followed a path that didn’t end up where we’d hoped it would.
I hope you also share my regret over the abuse of this phrase—this rendering being an even more egregious error than the one sometimes seen in print: could of, would of, should of. That may be what you hear, but what someone is really saying is have not of.
- I could have taken you to the airport if you would have let me know.
When we’re speaking, we tend to run our words together and form the contraction could’ve. But what we hear is this:
- I could of taken you to the airport if you would of let me know. [Which is wrong!]
What’s so awful about that construction? Could, would, should are members of the verb family. Technically, they are auxiliary or helping verbs. Because they are “assisting” verbs, they always occur in a phrase—which consists of other verbs. In this example, could have taken is a verb phrase. (For the record, of is not a verb, so it cannot be part of a verb phrase.)
People who insist on writing could of (or would of or should of) ought to receive thirty lashes with a wet noodle.