I thought I’d start the New Year off with another pair of easily confused words. In this case, the confusion comes because of similar pronunciation rather than similar spelling.
“Of” is a preposition. Prepositions show location or direction, and always have a few words tagging along behind them that contains a noun, such as “within five miles of the freeway”, or “south of Main Street”. “Of” is also commonly used to show where something came from or its composition, as in “a man of good family”, “piece of cake”, or the “books of A M Jenner”.
“Have” is a verb. When it’s alone, it means possession; I have a piece of cake. However, “have” is also used as a helper verb in past tense, and this is where the confusion starts. I could have gone to the party. I should have gone to the party. If I would have gone to the party, my boyfriend would not have broken up with me. When could have, should have, and would have, the three most common combinations, are contracted, they become could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve. In each case, the contracted part is pronounced “of”. Dictinary.com notes “inexperienced writers commonly confuse the words, [while] professional writers exploit the misspelling deliberately, especially in fiction, to represent the speech of the uneducated.” Don’t appear uneducated in your internet posting by using “could of” rather than the proper “could have”.