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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Could've, should've, would've taught these contractions?

September 23, 2009

My friend's third grader came home with her word study list this week. On the list were the contractions could've, should've, would've and might've. My friend brought the list over to talk about it, and had real concerns about those contractions being taught. "I challenged [her daughter] to find any of those words in print. I know we use them when we talk, but I don't think of them as being real words that should be used in writing."

Grammar Central lists those contractions among its basics for communicating clearly, and those contractions are real words. But Grammar Girl agrees with my friend. Calling them "hazardous contractions," words on Grammar Girl's list include "could've," "should've," "would've," "might've," and "must've." What makes them hazardous is that they encourage people to believe the proper pronunciations are "could of" and "must of," rather than "could have," "should have," "would have," and "might have." According to Grammar Girl, it's better to spell these out when you are writing them, though she acknowledges that you'll probably find yourself using these contractions in regular speech.

Maybe those should be the two word study lessons for the week: (1) The "hazardous contractions" are formed with the word "have" rather than "of," and (2) Recognize that for clarity's sake, some words used in oral language are better left out of our written language.

What does your contraction curriculum include? Are these "hazardous contractions" included? And, if they are in there, how have you taught them?


The argument about "encouraging" people to mistake 've for of doesn't wash for me. We shouldn't avoid things just because some people may not take the time to learn something fully.

And to say a certain contraction should never be used in writing also doesn't make sense. What about dialog in fiction? If that's how people talk and we want the dialog to be believable, then certainly we can have a character say "might've" on occasion.

So we shouldn't teach something that is completely correct English because someone MAY misuse it?

I would FAR rather see people use could've or would've ... assuming they're using them properly ... than much of what passes for English in the "Twittersphere" and cell phone text messages.

The world is full of fools then. One of the most common errors that you will see is the "ve" being rendered as "of" when preceded by could, would or should.

Are you serious? Only a fool would think the "'ve" as "of". My hope for humanity was brought down a little just by reading this article.

how about, may've, can've, shall've and other modals with the weak form of have? technically they should also be acceptable orally but are they?

The only real difference between the written word and the spoken word is that the written word lags behind in regard to "ease-of-speaking" pronunciation changes. Spelling remains relatively fixed, holding on to vestigial remains of archaic language roots that no longer serve grammatical purpose while speech more readily lets go. To label certain "progressive" spellings/contractions that try to "keep pace" with changes in pronunciation as "hazardous" is a superfluous label. It doesn't hinder understanding of the context and so long as all parties involved in the communication can agree on and comprehend the context, the words have done their job.

Can've and shall've ?! That may be accepted in the confederate states, but nowhere in an English encyclopedia. No way, no how.

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"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox