Write Right: Of versus Have

Write RightI confess: I stopped reading a blog post the other day because the author wrote “could of” instead of “could have.” It’s one of those errors that stops me in my tracks. The part of me that is an ultra-critical editor comes to the fore. It begins to nitpick other small errors in a post. I usually decide I have had enough of my critical sensibilities and leave a post before I can become unreasonably irate.

The word “of” is used mistakenly for “have” because of the way the word sounds. The “of” sound is similar to the “’ve” sound found in the contractions of helping verbs and “have”: “could’ve,” “should’ve,” “might’ve,” “would’ve.” Unfortunately, the word “of” is not a replacement for “have.” The two words may sound the same when “have” is a contraction, but they do not mean the same thing.

“Have” is a helping verb. It combines with other verbs to indicate time or other kinds of meaning. Not so with “of”; “of” is a preposition. As such, it connects things, usually a noun or pronoun to another word in a sentence. It cannot take the place of “have” because it doesn’t function in the same way. It can’t help a verb. It can, however, help a noun or pronoun to connect to another word.

Have a question for Write Right? Let me know on my Facebook page.


  1. I shoulda known you’d write about this eventually!   Are you organizing all this into a book?

    • barrettrossie I probably should, shouldn’t I? I think I have at least twelve Write Right posts. It’s a start at the very least.

  2. Excellent explanation!
    I’m in your camp; I have totally clicked away from a blog, never to return, after being tripped up by glaring errors like that. I realize that it’s picky of me — maybe even neurotic. But that’s neither here nor there, because *incorrect* writing remains a completely avoidable obstacle to engagement with a blog. And if you want readers, shouldn’t you try to avoid unnecessarily alienating any segment of your target audience? The people who don’t care won’t notice that you took time to write well, but the people who do care will love you for it.  : )

  3. That was a wonderful explanation and you made me a little smarter. I’ll keep my eyes out for that mistake in my writing. 🙂

  4. I would have left as well. That’s unacceptable. 🙂


  1. […] stop my gushing. Not because I couldn’t say more about Erin but because I just read one of her blog posts and need to go proofread my site for “could ofs” that should be “could […]