Learners of English as a second language are often encouraged to reduce the verb construction “could + have” to the contraction “could’ve” in conversation because it’s the natural way of speaking. We roll and soften. And it’s fine in a written context as well, depending on the formality.
But it’s when we lose sight of the written form and rely on what we hear that it gets tricky. It was both a surprise and an expectation when, in a report published by Reuters of Bayern Munich’s recent Champions League victory against AS Roma, the Roma coach was quoted as saying: “I got the strategy wrong. In the second half, we showed some pride and would of scored more goals if it hadn’t been for their goalkeeper.”1
As most would do, the coach certainly softened the “h”; “would have” comes off the tongue as “would uhv” or, by further association, “would of”. When it came to putting the words to paper or screen, however, what was printed was what was heard or assumed, not what was proper.
While a question of transcription, the Roma coach could have invoked the ubiquitous, slangy cousins woulda, coulda, shoulda to cover all facets of his team’s play, emphasizing regret or second-guessing, as in “we woulda, coulda, shoulda scored more goals”: would have scored more if they capitalized on their chances; could have scored more if Bayern’s goalie wasn’t so good; and should have scored more if they had executed the strategy.
It’s doubtful that a report would intentionally use the slang. However, the bid to take these three colloquialisms from being words du jour to gaining entry into dictionaries has been quite substantial. In the early 2000s, Beverley Knight, the UK singer, released Shoulda woulda coulda; Celine Dion, the Canadian songstress, Coulda woulda shoulda; and Brian McKnight, an American singer, the song Shoulda coulda woulda. These followed closely on the tails of the Sex and the City episode “Coulda shoulda woulda”.
Been there, done that? Not so fast. Keep your eye out for more would of, could of and should of.
1 “Shades of Brazil as ruthless Bayern destroy Roma”, Reuters, 22 October 2014, at:http://goo.gl/ihNuJc.