"Would of like to of VERBed"

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In a comment on yesterday's post, "Ask Language Log: '… would like to have VERBed'?", John Lawler quoted the phrase "I would of like to of seen it in person", as used in student papers.

Such things are certainly all over the internet, often in the writings of people who are clearly well past their student days:

Would of like to of come, but I'll still be in West Palm Beach.
Just would of like to of seen the World of Tanks and the Museum get a little more exposure.
I would of like to of seen a playmaker in there at least somewhere in midfield,

But the fact is, traditional spelling aside, "I would of like to of seen it" is exactly how I pronounce the phrase myself.

Some of the examples that turn up on the web underline the mainstream character of this pattern.

Consider this review on urbanspoon.com of a restaurant in Portland OR:

This is a very quaint little restaraunt with incredibly great food and a dessert menu that would be the envy of any top pastry shop in Paris! Great place for a special lunch or business lunch.
Everything on menu is made fresh and to order.
The selections are unique items, with bold flavors and quality ingredients.
I got the Croque Monsieur sandwich which was Black Forrest Ham, Gruyere Cheese, on toasted Parmesan crusted bread. The sandwich was served very warm, with cheese perfectly melted. It was delightful!
Instead of Fries I got the House Salad. It was very large with hazel nuts and mixed greens. Dressing was light and would of like to of had just a bit more.
Dining partner got the Mediterranean Vegetable Sandwhich. Served on ciabatta bread and it was bursting with flavor.
Fondue appetizer was almost a meal in itself! A rich, creamy crock pot of bold tasting cheese fondue accompanied by apple slices, asparagus and homemade bread slices. The bread's texture was just full of little nooks and crannies that just sopped up and captured the fondue cheese! Yummy!
Have only eaten here for lunch, but would love to try dinner sometime.
And if you go, save room for desert! I didn't and wish I had!

Or this interview with "British action star Mem Ferda" (where the choice of spelling is the transcriber's, of course):

Q: Are there any roles you would of liked to of played?

A: I would of like to of played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, and Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. In my later years, I would like to be Shakespeare’s King Lear at The Globe.

Or this comment at the Cleveland Plain Dealer site, on a photo showing the city council president holding a coat over his head:

Yes, yet another one of those special candid 'keeper' photos by the outstanding PD photographer Marvin Fong. I'm still chuckling whenever I see it because so many times many of us would of like to of put a muzzle and/or a bag over PIG Big Daddy's mouth/head; so he finally obliged us! However, sure wish that he would of taken the stand as it would of been a howl to see when eventually he couldn't contain himself when angered and would go off ranting all his vulgar obscenities!


  1. Jim Breen said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    I regard these sorts of passages as "would like to've seen", rather than "would like to of seen". My pronunciation, or what I like to think of as my pronunciation, is the former; not the latter.

    [(myl) Can you be more precise about what you think the difference is? IPA and a recording would help.]

  2. richard howland-bolton said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:22 am

    Most of us probably say something like "I would of like to of seen it", but in writing isn't that just a misspelling (or pronunciation spelling??) for "I would've like to've seen it"?
    Am I missing something?

    [(myl) Actually it's a misspelling of "I would have liked to have seen it", right? But no, you're not missing anything — glad to have you aboard.]

  3. richard howland-bolton said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:23 am

    Pipped at the post in a photo finish. Congratulations Mr Breen! :-)

  4. Faldone said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:37 am

    I first saw this spelling in the comic strip Pogo and have always used it tongue in cheek. My informal Latin teacher was also a Pogophile and she used to joke about using the genitive form of the verb.

  5. Clavis said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:47 am

    I think I actually get reduction even further to schwa, not just to "of". So if I were writing that phrase informally, I would write "Woulda liked to've seen" but both the a and the 've would be pronounced schwa.

  6. willfromlondon said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 6:58 am

    Cormac McCarthy seems to use this a lot, presumably intentionally.

  7. John Shutt said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 7:13 am

    I too would pronounce it as "would've liked to've" rather than "would of liked to of". The difference in my pronunciation is that while they have the same number of syllables, the syllable 've doesn't have a vowel sound. (Vowels are overrated; the longest English word I've yet thought of that —sometimes— has no vowel sounds in it is "personal". Three syllables.)

  8. Alexander said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 7:21 am

    Some relevant thoughts in "The English complementizer OF", Richard S. Kayne, Journal of Germanic Linguistics 1:43-54, 1997.

    [(myl) Indeed. An especially relevant bit:


  9. Ellen K. said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    Clavis, how do you pronounce "of"? I pronounce it with a schwa. (Or, in isolation, the STRUT vowel, which, best I can tell, has the same quality as the schwa for me, differing only in length; though isolation pronunciation is not actually relevant here.)

  10. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 8:03 am

    If speakers are reanalysing have as of in this position, is this a very unusual phenomenon, comparatively? Are there examples from English or other languages of another tense-marker (or aspect-marker or phase-marker, for those who don't accept the perfect as a tense) being reanalysed as a preposition?

    Is it related to the fact that of is, in CGEL's description, 'the most highly grammaticised of all the prepositions'?

  11. Mark F. said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 8:10 am

    Of course that's how people pronounce it; that's why so many people misanalyze it. But I think it's meaningful to call it a misanalysis rather than something more neutral. There's a lot of evidence for "have" being the underlying token there in standard English.

  12. jfruh said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    @Jim Breen & richard howland-bolton — is there a rule that all words in English need to be spelled so as to make their etymological origins clear? It's pretty obvious that "have" when used as an auxillary verb in phrases like "would like to have seen" is often pronounced quite differently than it is when used as a main verb in phrases like "I have five chickens."

    I mean, I'm not going to start writing "of" for "have" in formal prose anytime soon, but you have to admit that "of" is a better transcription of how the word is pronounced than "have", and that constructions like "to've" would be baffling to pronounce for people who don't know what you're on about.

  13. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 8:24 am


    Not sure 'of' is a particularly more helpful transcription than 'have'. It's not obvious why 'o' is a better rendering of a schwa than 'a', and 'f' is rarely pronounced /v/.

  14. John Lawler said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    My own favorite is

    I would of like to seen it.

    I remember this particular spelling of it, from an editorial in a student newspaper, where the author was talking about her previous year's tenure as editor, in 1969 or so. It started me thinking about how little I understood English grammar.

    The thing I like about the sentence, besides the spelling, and the panicky piling of syntax, is that liked to has transmuted to the (identically pronounced) like to, and then the {-EN} past participle suffix that's left over somehow gets attached to the next verb, producing a previously unknown infinitive to seen.

    That, and the fact that I understood it anyway and almost didn't notice it.

  15. Jeff Carney said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 9:53 am

    Like John Lawler, I see the "of" construction in my students' writing all the time. It correlates very well with their reading habits: those who read frequently tend to use "have" because that's what they've seen. Those who don't try, as they do in many other circumstances, to sound it out; in so doing, they arrive at the most likely candidate, not the one that most closely approximates the sound.

    Note. It's also the readers who sometimes choose the " 've" construction, agains because they've seen it. I can't imagine an "emerging" reader innocently stumbling upon this construction. Love it or hate it, it's a product of literacy.

  16. MH said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 9:59 am

    @John Shutt

    If "personal" works, why not "impersonal"?

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    @Ellen K.: I think Clavis meant that he or she would pronounce it without a /v/, despite writing it in one place as 've.

  18. John said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    I'm with Pflaumbaum.

    What would happen if we spelled "of" more typically: "uv"?

  19. Matt_M said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:08 am

    @Pflaumbaum: I'm not sure that misspelling is necessarily a sign of grammatical reanalysis. I'm constantly surprised at my own tendency to type, for example, "there" instead of the intended "their" or "they're". I nearly always manage to notice the error and correct it, but the fact that this sort of thing occurs makes me think that the phonemic aspect of English spelling is at least as basic as the morphemic distinctions made possible by the multiple ways of spelling the same phoneme sequence.

    In syntactical terms, I don't think it's easy to create a system of grammatical analysis in which, say, "could + preposition + done" is as easy account for as "could + verb + done". My own take on this is that people who spell "have" as "of" in unstressed positions are trying to convey the unstressed pronunciation rather than reanalysing the verb "have" as a preposition.

  20. NW said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    In BrE, where the strong form of 'of' has the LOT vowel, I have heard people use this strong but unstressed form in final position – for example, 'I haven't done it but I wish I could of'. The vowel then makes it clear it's been reinterpreted as the morpheme 'of', and it's not just a homophony of two weak forms.

  21. John Shutt said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:41 am


    I can't think of a context in which I'd pronounce the first syllable of "impersonal" without the vowel.

  22. chh said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    @John Shutt

    I don't know whether number of syllables is your only criterion for length, but "hurdlers" with consonantal nuclei would be one phoneme longer than "personal". :)

  23. Ellen K. said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 11:06 am

    Pflaumbaum, I don't think people who spell the reduced pronunciation of "have" as "of" are reanalyzing it as a preposition. They are, perhaps, analyzing it as the same word as a word that is usually a preposition. But it's hardly unusual for a word to be more than one part of speech in English, spelled and pronounced the same, with or without any obvious related meaning. Like "spell". The spelling "of" isn't evidence of reanalyzing it as a preposition.

    I do agree with you that "of" isn't any more phonetic than "have" for the "uv" pronunciation.

    Though NW's post intriguingly suggest that some people really do see it as the same word as "of", in which cause the "of" spelling makes sense.

    I dislike the suggestion of spelling it "have" because to me "have" only represents the full pronunciation, /hæv/. Though I might still choose to write "have" even where in speech I would use a reduced form. Still, when reading aloud, "have" for me is always /hæv/, possibly sometimes realized as [həv].

  24. Mark F. said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 11:32 am

    This reminds me of the I'm'a/I'm gonna/I'm going to phenomenon. There is at least some debate over whether "I'm going to" is an accurate transcription of "Ima", but a lot of people think it is accurate for "I'm gonna". But "did not" isn't considered accurate if the person said "didn't".

    With "I'd like to have met her", the pronunciation of "have" can range all the way from /hæv/ in rare cases of emphasis down to just a schwa in especially reduced cases. "To've" is sometimes used, but "to have" is I think more a common spelling for all those pronunciations.

    It makes it easier to see how Latin could evolve into the Romance languages.

  25. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 11:36 am

    @Ellen K, Matt_M

    Not as a preposition, then, but nevertheless as of rather than have.

    I believe that, when not being careful, I have NW's /ɔv/ in phrases like Well you SHOULD of. I was going to mention this before but decided it was too anecdotal to count as evidence on LL. I should of probably stuck to that decision, but I seem to have reanalysed it.

  26. YM said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

    In written form, at least, this goes back a long time. Google Books has examples of 'should of' and 'ought to of' going back to the 19th century.

  27. John Shutt said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 1:54 pm


    I *like* hurdlers; it seems more robust than my example, i.e., I'd expect to pronounce it vowellessly in a wider range of circumstances. Whether I put vowels in personal seems to depend (as best I can figure) on how quickly I'm speaking, which is in turn somewhat related to degree of formality. I might say quellingly "It's prsnl", but "I would deem it a prsonal favor".

  28. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    Are we really talking about a vowel-less personal here? Or is it that the vowels are r-coloured and/or vocalic [l̩]?

  29. John Lawler said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    @Pflaumbaum: The syllabic peaks are all syllabic consṇṇs. If this is what you call a "vowel", then, yes. If not, then no. Digital terminology is of little real help when dealing with a continuous spectrum.

    I certainly tend to say personal as trisyllabic ['pʰṛsṇḷ], though often enough I go bisyllabic and the [ṇ] loses its syllabicity. But others vary, too.

    Think how many milion times the word personal is actually pronounced (and remembered in the muscle habits) by the many million English speakers in the world every day. Each event is unique, and we have various ways of representing some parts of that uniqueness. That's all.

  30. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    Thanks, Professor Lawler. Very clear as usual.

  31. M said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 2:49 am

    I understand the misanalysis, but it still grates with me because "of" and "'ve" are *not* homophonous in my dialect (and therefore, when reading, the voice in my head says something that sounds rather weird). The reduced form of "have" has a schwa, while "of" has a LOT vowel.

  32. Barbara Partee said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 5:39 am

    Didn't we discuss this some time ago? I seem to recall reporting on my first realizing that not all these "of"s could be seen as versions of "have" when my son (maybe age 9 or so) said "If you had of been there, you would of liked it"; and since neither he nor I had "had have" in our dialect, I figured this "of" must be emerging as something like a counterfactual-conditional-marker — but I've never studied it, though I would of liked to of.

    [(myl) You're right. You posted "Wouldn't of have", 2/21/2009. Two other somewhat-relevant posts are "Ask Language Log: 'will have had gone'?", 3/6/2012, and "Couldan't, shouldan't, wouldan't", 7/31/2004.]

  33. Faldone said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 9:01 am

    Just a question for the proponents of the LOT vowel. Would that be /ɔ/ or /ɑ/?

  34. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    @ Faldone –

    In my idiolect it's /ɔ/. But that only applies in rare examples where it's stressed, or unstressed but in its strong form, as the above Well you SHOULD of. Normally it's /ə/.

  35. Nancy Jane Moore said,

    May 9, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

    My 9th grade English teacher corrected this particular usage on one of my papers, and while I would like to have never made the error, it made me very aware of the difference between the way something sounds and the way it should be written.

  36. Catanea said,

    May 11, 2012 @ 5:14 am

    An why doesn't the "of" spelling seem to come out in a construction like "What've you got"? I might write it like that, but I tried (badly?) googling "What of you got" and all but one of the remarkably few instances that appeared were mis-typing-ish for "What if you got…"
    That really surprised me.

  37. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 11, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    Isn't that evidence against the 'mis-spelling' analysis? After all, it's still pronounced the same as of in that position. A cursory look on Google shows a similar paucity of Why of you… and Who of you examples.

    Doesn't this support the theory that people are analysing could of, should of and other examples following a modal, as well as (sometimes) to of, differently?

  38. Ellen K. said,

    May 11, 2012 @ 1:53 pm

    For me, it seems like the vowel is a bit fronter in "what've" than in "could've" ("could of"), and thus is doesn't match "of".

    As for "why of you" and "Who of you", when I say those "have" is reduced to just the v, no vowel at all, and I believe that's pretty typical. So, based on pronunciation, we shouldn't expect and "of" spelling there.

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