One of the challenges I find stumping many of the students I help edit their writing is trying to capture what they hear people say in writing. The most common errors I catch lately are “could of”, “would of”, or “should of”.
I’ll ask the student if that phrase makes sense. They have no idea; they just wrote it because they hear people say it. They use the actual phrase correctly, at least, but the have no idea how to translate it into a written word.
Let’s think about this. “Of” is a preposition. It’s a word that describes the relationship between two objects, in this case indicating direction, origin, cause, a part. In the sentence, “I should of gone to the store with you,” what is the word “of” signifying? There’s no direction in there, no sense of origin or cause, no part. Further, because “of” is a preposition it needs an object, a noun, to form a phrase with it, but the nearest noun is already in a prepositional phrase with the word “to”.
As it stands, this sentence makes no sense.
This is because what’s actually being said is “should’ve”, the contracted form of “should have”. Look at the sentence with the correction: I should have gone to the store with you. Contracted, the sentence reads: I should’ve gone to the store with you. “Have” is a helping verb to help clarify when an action took place. The sentence now makes sense.
You’ve probably also realized that “could of” is actually “could’ve” and “would of” is actually “would’ve”.
Writing like you talk is great advice, but then you absolutely must read what you’ve written to see if the words themselves make sense together. If they don’t, do a little research and figure out how to make it all work correctly. (Or ask. Some of us like questions…) When all else fails, grab a dictionary and look up the words you are using.
Nothing will make you look like an incompetent writer faster than misusing simple words.