Wouldn't of have

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I know that Language Log has already (e.g. here) mentioned the widespread would of, though I haven't seen a whole lot about the gradual expansion of that of into uses like hadn't of where there never would have been a  have (oh! I tried to be funny and write 'would of been' but Word automatically turned it into 'would have been' – but at least its little pop-up offered the option of restoring it and even to "stop automatically correcting 'would of been'" – that's very open-minded of them!), suggesting that 'of' is becoming a general marker for counterfactual modality, but I just have to report a really beautiful example I heard on my favorite public radio station, WFCR of Amherst, on Feb. 16 during their recent fund drive, out of the mouth of a very literate member of their development staff, K***, –- I've even met her and been interviewed by her, and I won't name her simply because she might be embarrassed and I wouldn't want to cause that. You know how the announcers have to just keep talking all the time to try to fill the time interestingly enough in between repeating the phone number to call – I'm impressed that they stay as coherent as they do. Anyway, the other announcer, a regular classical music host, had just said something interesting about some composer, and K*** replied, "I didn't know that, and certainly wouldn't of have without listening to WFCR."



42 Comments

  1. Andreas Ammann said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 7:45 am

    I´m beginning to understand why my teacher of English kept referring to a "full stop" when he meant a certain punctuation mark. When I worked for a radio station, a rule I developed was: write something you can say out loud, but keep in mind that the person who will be speaking out loud will add 400% of words.

    "Would of" is interesting: it´s a change that "grammaticalization theory" needs in order to establish itself as a theory. One of the best cases it has, in my opinion.

  2. Mark Liberman said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 7:46 am

    Less than an hour after this was posted, it's already the top Google hit for "wouldn't of have". However, there are more than 1,500 others, including

    Sometimes I wish that our people wouldn't of have survived on this planet.
    Before watching it i wouldn't of have ordered it and after watching it i still wouldn't.
    It is important to remember that if CSR activities were not motivated by business results, it wouldn't of have existed.
    Well, if the interest wasn't there you wouldn't of have had 200 people there, …
    You really care about what people have written about you, or else you wouldn't of have come onto this site and defend yourself.
    Had he been forced to quit football, he wouldn't of have become the best player in the world and I wouldn't of been able to live vicariously through him.

    I note that it usually occurs in the apodosis of a counterfactual conditional, either directly ("if CSR were not X, it wouldn't of have existed") or implicitly, as in the cited example from WFCR ("without X I wouldn't of have known Y"; "had X happened, he wouldn't of have become Y"; "you really care about X, or you wouldn't of have come onto Y"; etc.). But there are a few examples like "If you wouldn't of have told me this, I would have never guessed", where the extra "of" occurs in the protasis.

    I wonder if this is just because negation is commoner in the apodosis, or for some other reason.

  3. Elaine said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 8:18 am

    'Would of'/'could of'/'should of' is hardly a new phenomenon either – I noticed it, to my intense annoyance, in The Great Gatsby. Is it purely an Americanism, or has it made its way across the Atlantic?

    If the 'of' is actually intended to replace 'have', then shouldn't these instances use 'wouldn't of had'? It still (strictly speaking) dosn't make much sense, but it's more satisfactory than the cringe-inducing 'would of have'…

  4. Mark Liberman said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 8:23 am

    Elaine: If the 'of' is actually intended to replace 'have', then shouldn't these instances use 'wouldn't of had'?

    Barbara's post made the point that this "of", after a long career as a reduced form of "have", has become a different morpheme in its own right, and therefore often appears in contexts where "have" couldn't — including in the middle of the sequence "wouldn't have".

    A bit of web searching turns up plenty of examples of "would of have" as well, e.g.

    Rather would of have had a burger & fry's from BK.
    But, the average dog-owning, football-watching, Joe would of have had no clue.
    I would of have had a tough call in 1812.
    If the selectboard would of have known earlier they just would of covered up.

    And there's this line in (some internet versions of) the lyrics to Bon Jovi's Blood Money: "Wonder what would of have happened if you were the killer and I was the hero?" Since this song is not in my music collection, I'm not sure whether this is how the line is actually sung, or just the way some people hear it.

  5. Andreas Ammann said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 8:30 am

    [Off-topic comment deleted]

  6. Karen said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 9:01 am

    Which is why I always spell it "would've"…

  7. Andreas Ammann said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 9:07 am

    There was another comment here. EIther it was deleted by the system or by Mark Liberman. So much for gaining insight on matters that may or may not be significant for people who have an interest in communicating that insight to students of linguistics.

    I may have stepped on someone´s toes. I didn´t mean to. But I deliberately made time to express my opinion. If it´s not welcome here, it´s not welcome here, end of story,

    I can feel free to draw my conclusions as to how useful this blog is for me.

    [Disclaimer: I have contributed to the Bremer Sprachblog, but that doesn´t allow me to speak for the people who post there.]

    [(myl) The deleted comment is here. Our comments policy does request that people stay on topic. We don't usually enforce this very rigorously, but I did in this case, since in the comment you asked whether off-topic discussion is encouraged, and since the comment occurred very early in the discussion. ]

    [(amz) There's a widespread belief that opening a blog posting to comments is equivalent to creating a discussion board, allowing comments on any matter having to do with the general subject of the blog; for some discussion of this belief, look here. As we've said a number of times before, this is not the way Language Log was set up; off-topic comments are explicitly not welcome. (You are invited to create your own blog, or to post to an actual discussion board, like the Linguist List, the mailing list of the American Dialect Society, or a newsgroup in the relevant area.)]

  8. David said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 9:17 am

    I'm with Karen. "Would've", "could've", and "should've" are common in my online conversations. It gets awkward with "shouldn't've" and friends though.

    To people who have the pleasure of listening to me talk it sounds like I'm saying "would of". This is slightly distressing, but at least I know I know better.

  9. Marguerite said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 9:44 am

    Right, Karen — there's nothing wrong with " 've" as contraction for "have," but people who've :) only heard it spoken morph it into writing "of"…

  10. Sridhar Srinivasan said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 9:58 am

    Is it possible that she was correcting for it mid speech after she caught herself? I do that sometimes, by substituting the correct word after the incorrect one, often times going with the flow or even faster!

    I am curious if there are any studies out there about speech error corrections, their latencies ( or maybe speech corrections mid-sentence are very unusual :-)).

  11. AJD said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    Is there an ingenious way it's possible to estimate how many of the citations of "wouldn't of have" Mark found are typos (presumably someone writing "wouldn't of", attempting to change it to "wouldn't have", and forgetting to delete the "of")?

    [(myl) A very good question, which could also be asked about the examples of "would of have" that I cited in another comment. One alternative is to look for spoken examples — but then we need to figure out whether they're speech errors, either involving fluent self-correction or just the introduction of a spurious syllable. If the writers or speakers don't notice these uses as problematic, when reading or listening to their productions, that would suggest that their grammar accommodates them — but if it goes the other way, that might just mean that they're consciously enforcing norms that are different from their unconscious usage.

    In this case, I'm inclined to think that Barbara is right that (the element often spelled) "of" has become a separate morpheme for many English speakers, not just a reduced form of have, and that the existence of examples like "wouldn't of have known", "would of have known", "hadn't of known", etc., is evidence of a reorganization of their grammar to fit. But I agree that a few thousand internet examples — or a few examples in speech — don't prove it. ]

  12. language hat said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    I noticed it, to my intense annoyance, in The Great Gatsby

    Was your annoyance caused by the fact that people spoke informally in the 1920s, or by Fitzgerald's having been low-class enough to record such usage?

  13. John Ross said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 10:44 am

    @Elaine
    I've always thought 'of' for 'have' was a British thing, to tell the truth, and a specifically North of England thing at that. There are dialect structures where it is defensible or almost so, as a kind of reinforcer – 'If he hadn't of dun it, all 'ell'd've broke loose.'

  14. Picky said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    Like John, I'd always thought it a British thing – but if I listen to it in my head it's not just got a BrE accent, John, it's got a London one, so although I've no evidence for this assertion I think it's wider spread than the North. In my youth, however, I'm pretty sure the word was "av" (S London BrE) so it would be interesting to know where it comes from and when.

  15. John Ross said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    I think this is not 'have' or even 'ave' but 'of,' which may be why I identify it with the North of England. I interprest that "If he hadn't of dun it," as the speaker feeling the need to reinforce the subjunctive verb because what was done was important, but he shies away from using another form of 'have' immediately after the 'had.' (Sorry if this has all been discussed before, the archive link in the original post seems to be broken.)

  16. Gemma said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    I certainly grew up saying "would of" in the South West of England.

    I vividly remember being in English class at about the age of fifteen when I finally realised that "of" was not considered standard. The teacher was listing a couple of the worst errors he saw in essays. "Would of" made it into his top five.

  17. Karen said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    What I meant was, I write it "wouldn't've" or "would've" because to me it's merged into a single word. The spelling error of "of" doesn't bother me. I find it hard to believe that people really confuse 've with of – even if they spell them the same way.

  18. Elaine said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:28 am

    @language hat: It wouldn't have (wouldn't've of had?) bothered me if it only appeared in dialogue, but I recall it occured several times in the narrative (by which I mean non-dialogue prose; is there a word for this?). It bothered the pedant within me…

    @John Ross: That's quite possible. I live in Ireland, so the English-English I come across probably doesn't include strong dialectical usage.

  19. Mark Liberman said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:32 am

    Elaine: 'Would of'/'could of'/'should of' is hardly a new phenomenon either – I noticed it, to my intense annoyance, in The Great Gatsby.

    I couldn't find any of those sequences by searching in this online copy. Are you sure that it's there?

    I even downloaded it and reformatted it to check for examples crossing line boundaries.

    Are you sure that you aren't remembering some other book, or perhaps some other way that The Great Gatsby irked you?

  20. Elaine said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    The edition I have is this little Penguin edition. I'll endeavour to have a quick look through it (not the first time I've wished ctrl+f worked for printed books…;) ).

  21. Cheryl Thornett said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:49 am

    'Would of' and the like are certainly used in speech and writing by primary schoolchildren in the English West Midlands. (I have heard it pronounced fairly distinctly as 'would of' and have seen it written.) I think I have heard some of my adult literacy colleagues mention this as a feature in adults' writing as well. My own students all speak English as a second language (if not a third or fourth) so I tend to teach them the full form rather than contractions at this point.

  22. John Lawler said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    It's cliticizing independently, I'm oretty sure. Grammaticalization in action; slower than glaciers, but moving. It's confused by the spelling of, but many people don't care how it's spelled, apparently.

    I know someone who says would'ven't /'wʊɾɨvɨnt/ in cases where I'd say wouldn't've /'wʊɾ(ɨ)nə/.

    And I find that the construction /'hæɾɨnə/ plus past participle ("If she hadna got him out before the stairs burned, he'd be dead") is quite acceptable to me. It feels like an intensification of the negative contraction; kind of a Solemn-High counterfactual subjunctive.

    However, I remain at a loss how to write it, so it's strictly an aural construction for me, rather like the infinitive of used to, as in "I didn't /'justə/ like bleu cheese, but now I love it". None of the possible ways to spell this look right to me, so I don't use it in writing.

  23. Mark Liberman said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

    John Lawler: And I find that the construction /'hæɾɨnə/ plus past participle ("If she hadna got him out before the stairs burned, he'd be dead") is quite acceptable to me. It feels like an intensification of the negative contraction; kind of a Solemn-High counterfactual subjunctive.

    Yes, I agree, except that I usually say it with a clear final /v/, so that "hadn't of" seems like a plausible written form (and similarly "had of").

  24. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

    I'm Canadian. I certainly remember seeing my peers write "would of", "should of", and so forth, particularly when I was in high school or elementary school.

    I've noticed something in the informal speech of some of my peers that may have some similarities with the "would of have" phenomenon — if "would of have" is indeed a phenomenon.

    Specifically, in informal speech, some of my peers say things like "If I hadda known". When spoken quickly, you can't tell if they conceive this as "If I had of known" or "If I had've known" (or something else), but what's interesting to me is that "If I had have known" is ungrammatical for me and, I suspect, for many others.

    On the surface, what seems to be happening is that "had have" or "had've" or "had of" is becoming its own unanalyzed little "atom" that gets stuck in front of past participles. I would just say "If I had known".

    Perhaps the process is something like: people encounter "should have" and "would have" in Standard English, but in the form "should've / should of / shoulda" and "would have / would've / woulda". Since "shoulda" and "woulda" can go in front of a past participle like "known", people sometimes insert "hadda" in the same position by analogy, though doing so is probably considered nonstandard.

  25. Simon Cauchi said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    Write it "I didn't use to like blue cheese". Sure, the consonant in "use" is usually voiced when it's a verb and unvoiced when it's a noun, but this is an exceptional case (though I dare say some speakers have the regular voiced consonant here).
    Some grammar I've seen — I forget which one — recommends "I didn't used to" but that just looks like a howler to me.

  26. mollymooly said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

    There are two issues here:
    1. analysing auxiliary "have" as "of" when it follows another auxiliary
    2. inserting pleonastic auxiliary "have"/"of" in counterfactual conditionals

    Barbara Partee has transcribed the original sentence as "I didn't know that, and certainly wouldn't of have without listening to WFCR."

    This is undoubtedly an example of #2, but is it really an example of #1? Might it not be transcribed "I didn't know that, and certainly wouldn'ta have without listening to WFCR." It is rare in speech to stress "of" or auxiliary "have", and they sound the same when unstressed. Thus the "of" analysis shows up mainly in writing, not speech.

    ——–
    Also:

    "Double-compound tenses" also exist in popular French, where people say "J'avais eu fait cela avant de faire ceci" instead of "J'avait fait cela avant de faire ceci" .

    "woulda have had" gets 27 google hits.

    the broken link in the original post is couldan't, shouldan't, wouldan't

    In Irish English, "used" can be a full auxiliary: -"You used smoke, usedn't you?" -"No, I usedn't."

  27. Ellen K. said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

    I've always seen the "of" in would of, etc, as a misspelling of "-'ve". Interesting to see it's not that simple.

    I also can't help thinking about how in school, we were never taught anything about double contractions (such was wouldn't've, I'd've, etc.), and that such are used in speech, but rare in writing. I wonder if this contributes to the written form "of" being used.

  28. Faldone said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

    I first remember seeing 'of' for 'have' in Pogo. When I was informally learning Latin my teacher would sometimes speak of the genitive of the verb. She had a good sense of humor.

  29. Rebecca said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

    I started this comment to say that the 'spelling correction' explanation seemed less likely in examples with things separating the 'of' and 'have', as in these googled-up examples of 'would of only have':

    If i had stayed i would of only have woke EJ up by coughing all night long.
    With the £10 connection fee it would of only have taken 2 months to be worth while.

    But, while my hunch is that these aren't typos, I realize that I have no defensible theory of typing correction to support that.

  30. nascardaughter said,

    February 21, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

    I wonder, if English did not have an widely accepted writing system, how would people think of the of/have thing? Does the fact that there is a writing system matter, and if so, in what way?

  31. zhwj said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 10:29 am

    Fitzgerald does have one of his characters say "How could she of been like that?" but the form doesn't seem to appear anywhere else in the text.

  32. Arnold Zwicky said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    mollymooly:

    There are two issues here:
    1. analysing auxiliary "have" as "of" when it follows another auxiliary
    2. inserting pleonastic auxiliary "have"/"of" in counterfactual conditionals

    There is literature on both of these things. The second has been around for a long time; there were complaints about these "double perfects" in the 19th century, and they're common enough that MWDEU has a (nice) entry on them, under the heading "plupluperfect"; all of MWDEU's examples are counterfactual. (One class of examples, "had … have" marking "modal remoteness", is mentioned in CGEL, p. 151, where they're labeled non-standard.)

    (There are other sorts of "double have" examples that are not counterfactual, for instance would HAVE not have + PastParticiple 'would not have + PastParticiple' (where HAVE is spelled have, 've, of, or a, these being representations of a range of pronunciations). I started a Language Log posting on these two years ago, but it expanded alarmingly.)

    As for point 1, there are actually two subpoints. One is the identification of an element ('ve, of, or a) as an item distinct from the auxiliary verb have. The other is the fusing of this element with a preceding modal — a reanalysis that creates a new modal serving as a past form of the plain modal. This is the proposal in Joyce Tang Boyland's 1996 Berkeley Ph.D. dissertation, "Morphosyntactic Change in Progress: A Psycholinguistic Treatment".

  33. Barbara Partee said,

    February 23, 2009 @ 5:28 am

    @ mollymooly:
    Good points. You wrote:

    There are two issues here:
    1. analysing auxiliary "have" as "of" when it follows another auxiliary
    2. inserting pleonastic auxiliary "have"/"of" in counterfactual conditionals

    Barbara Partee has transcribed the original sentence as "I didn't know that, and certainly wouldn't of have without listening to WFCR."

    This is undoubtedly an example of #2, but is it really an example of #1? Might it not be transcribed "I didn't know that, and certainly wouldn'ta have without listening to WFCR." It is rare in speech to stress "of" or auxiliary "have", and they sound the same when unstressed. Thus the "of" analysis shows up mainly in writing, not speech. "

    I agree. In response to an earlier commenter, I can say with some confidence that there was no self-correction involved — it was completely fluent. But as for my transcription, it could equally well have been transcribed as wouldn't've; I could hear the "v" clearly, but the syllable was unstressed, so it could equally well be written either "'ve" or "of". I defer to Arnold Zwicky on analysis of how these things developed; I have been noticing this "of" taking on a life of its own over the decades since I first encountered it, but hadn't been aware of the phenomenon of the extra "have" that you and Arnold both mention. Probably because of the facts that (i) when there's an extra one, one of them is almost always unstressed, and (ii) lots of people either informally or uneducatedly write the unstressed one as "of", I had only thought of it as an innovative use of "of" to mark counterfactuals.
    And I thank Mark for all the other Google examples. I spent a lot of time searching old Language Logs for earlier discussions, but hadn't thought to do a plain Google search for "wouldn't of have" and "would of have" themselves. This particular collocation was new to me, but evidently not new.
    My very first encounter an "of" that couldn't be a "have", by the way, was when my oldest son, around age 10 or so, said something that started with "If he hadn't of …" (or If he hadn't've …", but really it sounded like a separate word "of" to me, and I'm at least subjectively sure he would have written it that way himself ), and I realized that although I noticed it, it didn't sound as totally impossible as "If he hadn't have …" would, and I do think that in the dialects I've heard it in, it's an extra "of" and not an extra "have". But substantiating that or any other hypothesis requires real research of the kind Arnold refers to.

  34. outeast said,

    February 23, 2009 @ 7:27 am

    My colleague (from the Edmonton area) says 'would of' etc. – and his accent and the pacing of his speech make it very clear that he is in fact saying 'of', not "ve'. As an English teacher, he's very aware of the 'correct' form – but he's equally clear that he is saying 'of', not 'have'. He even explains the issue to his students, I believe: it's one of several non-standard variations in his grammar that (he says) are established norms where he's from.

  35. Rachael said,

    February 23, 2009 @ 8:28 am

    I've also seen hypercorrection of "of" to "'ve", where "of" is actually standard – resulting in spellings like "kind've" for "kind of".

  36. NG Carter said,

    February 23, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

    Many novelists use "would of/could.of" in dialogue, knowing full well that the "of" should be "have". Cormac McCarthy comes to mind as one who does this consistently with his less educated characters.

    One way to determine whether the author knows what he is doing is to observe his/her usage outside of the character's dialogue.

  37. Aaron Davies said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    @Simon Cauchi: how is the "used" in the archaic (or british, or w/e) "he doesn't do it as he used" generally pronounced? i've only ever seen it written.

    i remember being furious in junior high when a short story i wrote was printed in the school newspaper with all the (modal) "have"s turned into "of"s by whatever subliterate retyped it.

    i also remember being amused by double contractions in Alice–shan't've, iirc, inter alia.

  38. Boris said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    well, eggplants come in different colors, so depending on that, I would call it either violet or бардовый (which Wikipedia translates as maroon. nother color word in much more widespread use in Russian than in English).

  39. BlueShift said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

    It wouldn't be the first time that an essentially superfluous word has entered into standard structure to effectively re-expand a contraction.
    Consider 'got'; I can't come up with a sentence using the word 'got' where it can't be dropped out by deapostrophising the has/have.
    e.g. "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts." = "I have a lovely bunch of coconuts."
    "Look out! He's got a gun!" = "Look out! He has a gun!"
    "Its got to go." = "It has to go."

  40. Casie Kelly said,

    March 2, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

    During the first glance of this post, I was asking myself, "What exactly is wrong here?" Hearing 'would of been' is common for me on a daily basis. I have never noticed the difference between 'would have been' and 'would of been.' Just like Barbara, when I tried to write of Word auto corrected me and assumed I meant to type have, funny. Looking at the last sentence and being familiar with the 'proper' grammar usage of these two phrases, K***'s response appears clearly wrong. I would never use 'wouldn't of have' in spoken discourse. It's too many words for getting across the same point of not being aware of something without having listened to WFCR. I have and am still willing to accept of in replace to have but adding either to a contraction seems a bit much.

  41. Fiona Lutker said,

    May 1, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

    It only appears in the Great Gatsby when the lower class characters are speaking.

  42. groki said,

    August 30, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

    Boris: well, eggplants come in different colors, so depending on that, I would call it either violet or бардовый

    well, in deference to staying on topic here, *I* wouldn't of have called it either one! :)

    (here's the LL posting Boris seemed to be aiming for. ahh, LL: such a rich trove.)

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