What's wrong in this sentence? “I could of jumped higher if I were wearing the right shoes."
Maybe you've penned a similar phrase, or maybe you're the type to cringe when you see it in writing. A lot of English speakers get this phrase wrong, but let’s take a look at what's wrong and how to fix it.
First Things First
When people say "could of," the term they're actually looking for is the contracted form of "could have," or "could’ve." When you say it out loud, it sounds almost identical, doesn’t it? It’s not that people won’t understand you if you say “could of.” The problem is, the spelling doesn’t make grammatical sense.
If you break the contraction apart, you get two separate words — "could" and "have." "Could have" is a helping verb phrase in the conditional past tense, expressing possibility or necessity. This is also known as a modal verb phrase, but we're not going to test you on that.
"Should have" and "would have" are also conditional past tense phrases that fall victim to the same grammatical error as "could’ve."
Meanwhile, “of” is a preposition. It creates a relationship, while “have” shows ownership. With that in mind, using “of” with “could” doesn’t work. "Could" isn’t forming a relationship with anything, but it does possess potential.
Can I Still Use "Could Of"?
You can, but that doesn’t mean you should. To the dismay of grammar nerds everywhere, “could of” has been added to multiple dictionaries, with a caveat denoting it as a colloquial term. It’s used a lot, and it doesn’t seem to matter that it’s used mistakenly. For hundreds of years, people have written “could of,” so it had to be acknowledged at some point.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, it’s in the dictionary, so it must be right!” You could take that stance, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a grammatical error. It’s just a grammatical error that made it into the dictionary by sheer popularity. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage warns, “you had better avoid it in your own writing.”
No matter what the dictionary says, grammar rules still say there’s a right way to do things. If you’re just talking to friends, it might not be a big deal — they’ll know what you mean. Not to mention, the pronunciation distinction is barely there. If you’re writing articles, academic papers, a novel, or anything else you’re planning to show the world, you’ll want to get it right.
Then again, even if you don’t, you won’t be the first person to get something published using "could of."