Editor Problems – Have vs. Of

Today’s installment of Editor Problems is something that truly drives me crazy. I know you’ve seen it. I’m talking about the misuse of the word ‘of’ in place of ‘have.’ (or, the contraction form, ‘ve)

How many times have you received a text or email with something like this?

I could of gone if you would of told me about it sooner. You should of said something yesterday.

Aaaarrrggghhhh … I cannot even.

The problem lies in the fact that many of us write like we speak. We automatically contract the verb have to ‘ve. But it sounds just like the word ‘of,’ doesn’t it?

Could, would, and should, as used in the bolded sentences above, are called modal verbs. That means they can only be used with a main verb. In this case, the main verb would be ‘have.’ Other modal verbs include shall, will, can, might, and must.

And before you argue, let me explain something. What if you ask someone, “Could you go to the store to pick up some milk?” And their answer is “I could.” They’re using ‘could’ by itself. The horror! Except, that doesn’t count, because the main verb (go) is implied in the answer. Unless you’re having a contest to see who can use the most words in a conversation, most normal people would refrain from answering that question “I could go to the store to pick up some milk.” They’ll just say, “I could,” and you’ll both know what they mean.

Texts and email make it easy to be lazy. We are in such a rush to get our thoughts down on the screen that we don’t think to proofread. But here’s a trick: If you’re not sure about something, try turning it around. For example, we’d never say, “Could you of told me about it sooner?” It’s a mouthful, but when phrased that way, it’s easy to see that the word you need is ‘have,’ not ‘of.’

At least, I hope so.

Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to grammar?