We could of had it all
and “It could of been me.”
“We could of had it all” was a search for a song by Adele, called Rolling in the Deep.
And the line in question was, of course,
“We could HAVE had it all“.
What’s happening here?
Spoken English — which some other pedants might call sloppily spoken English — tends to shorten common expressions, especially verbs. So we may write “do not”, but we usually say “don’t”. We write “I have been”, but we say “I’ve been”.
It used to be standard to find the extended form in the written word, even in dialogue. For example, the kneeling swain in an old romance might say, “I have loved you all my life.” But if it were a spoken line in a play or a film, it would be, “I’ve loved you all my life.” Nowadays, writers (and their editors) seem to take the view that what is on the page should reflect how people actually speak. Dialogue in modern books uses “I’ve”, “we’d”, “didn’t” much more often as a result.
And that is, I maintain, how it should be. Except…
I’m afraid it does.
Bovvered? Am I?
Writing the words as they are spoken raises quite a few problems. For a start, Person A’s way of speaking the words may be totally different from Person B’s. Catherine Tate’s Lauren Cooper was possibly a case in point, though since “bovvered” became Word of the Year, 2006, most people will recognise it. But in less well-known cases, the poor reader may be left trying to puzzle out what’s going on.
If you don’t believe me on this, have a look at the opening of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (the source of My Fair Lady on stage and screen).
At first, Shaw faithfully renders Eliza’s tortured pronunciation on the page. It does give a flavour of her Cockney accent, but it is very hard to read. I think it’s more deciphering than reading. See if you agree. This is Eliza’s third speech from the play, including Shaw’s own note:
Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y’ de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel’s flahrzn than ran awy athaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f’ them?
[Here, with apologies, this desperate attempt to represent her dialect without a phonetic alphabet must be abandoned as unintelligible outside London.]
Eliza has to learn, the hard way, to articulate correct English in a beautiful cut-glass accent and, especially, to pronounce her Hs. So, in the film, she does not sing “I could of danced all night.” She doesn’t even sing “I could’ve danced all night.” She enunciates every syllable and we hear, “I could have danced all night“, complete with H and have.
Pedantique-Ryter Tip #1: Write as we speak?
The crucial factor in written English is communication. What you write must be easy for the reader to understand. Shaw gave up on Eliza’s Cockney because it was unintelligible. It got in the way of communication.
So, provided the meaning is immediately clear to the reader, it’s fine to use spoken contractions — don’t, isn’t, would’ve — in your written text, especially in dialogue. But if you have any doubts about whether your reader will follow what you’re writing, stick to standard written English. That can’t be wrong, even if your reader might think your style is a bit pompous.
Pedantique-Ryter Tip #2: could have OR could of?
“Could of” is always wrong because it misrepresents what is actually being said. It is “could’ve”, the spoken contraction of “could have”.
The same is true of “would of“, wrongly used instead of “would’ve”, the contraction of “would have”.
“Should of” is wrong, too, of course.
Writing “could of” instead of “could’ve” or “could have” is Never EVER Right. Right?
Since this is my first rant of 2019 and I couldn’t of done it earlier 😉 I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy, prosperous and grammatically correct New Year.
(And yes, “couldn’t of” was A Pedantique-Ryter Joke.)
Translation of Eliza-speak:
Oh, he’s your son, is he? Well, if you’d done your duty by him as a mother should, he’d know better than to spoil a poor girl’s flowers and then run away without paying. Will you pay me for them?