Should of vs. should have

I have a couple of well-educated ex-colleagues who shall remain nameless who, in the written form, have started using the phrase should of, in the following context:

Mum should of gone to Iceland.

I must stress that this is not the actual phrase they used.  They used more business-like phrases.  But you get the picture.

Speech has always influenced the development of written language.  But the world we now live in is made up of people whose English education is often, at best, questionable—people who, even if educated appropriately to suspect a mistake, have neither the time nor the inclination to search for the truth.  This means that mistakes like that above will become increasingly prevalent with time, which is a shame.

The correct construct is:

Mum should have gone to Iceland.

Or indeed:

Mum really shouldn’t have gone to Iceland.  Especially now that they’ve fired Kerry Katona.

Posted by Dan, 4 November, 2009 under Grammar | Life


  • Thankyou thankyou thankyou. U have been so annoyed with the use of ‘should of’ when, after all these years, I was sure I learned
    should have’ at school. I ‘should of/have’ looked up this website sooner!

    Posted by Annie G, 31 March, 2010, 10:52am

  • The number of my school/college friends who make this mistake! Many of them don’t seem to pick it up when I sometimes correct them by repeating what they’ve written but emphasising ‘have’ instead of ‘of’. I got asked by one of my fellow English classmates the other day how old I was, due to the fact I “am good at English”, after they asked me how to spell a word! I’ve even seen ‘should of’ left alone in corrected pieces of coursework, either purposely not drawn attention to or not noticed by the teachers! The education system is going downhill…

    Posted by Isabell L., 27 December, 2010, 7:03pm

  • I can’t see how your colleagues can be described as ‘educated’. This is basic grammar and requires the simplest understanding of how verbs work.

    Would your colleagues say ‘I of gone to Iceland’?

    Posted by John C, 8 February, 2012, 3:31pm

  • My feeling is that English is no longer taught to English-speakers in the same rigorous manner as is used to teach foreign languages.

    In foreign languages, we learn formal structure, different word types and sentence construction. In English, this is less common.

    Add to this the popular culture that surrounds us all, and people get it wrong. People may be stellar at maths and science, but lousy at English. It doesn’t mean that they’re not well-educated.

    Posted by Dan, 8 February, 2012, 4:55pm

  • The common contractions “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, and must’ve” are the culprits, but grammar is not well focused on as a necessity in these times. Perhaps some day a media icon will impress kids with proper speech coolness.
    Yea right.

    Posted by cinthb, 28 August, 2012, 2:54am

  • It’s simple: your ex-colleagues are not well-educated.

    Posted by Andrea, 11 January, 2013, 12:12pm

  • I agree, Andrea. Just because a person earns a degree from a college does not in any way guarantee that they are “well educated”. I am SO very tired of seeing seemingly “well educated” people use “should of” instead of “should have” (ESPECIALLY in published material) not to mention countless other spelling and grammatical errors. Yikes! I personally have only a high school education, and even I know when it’s wrong!

    Posted by Sharon, 25 February, 2013, 2:52pm

  • Not well educated: I agree with Andrea. Sadly the “should of” anomaly is falling into such common usage in the spoken and published word that it needs highlighting somehow. Along with the double negative it is destructive. It’s an error of contraction which should be “‘ve” not “of” and can’t really be compared to poor spelling or the inability to construct grammatically complicated language.
    Young people, making these mistakes, are owed the chance to know the difference before such an easily corrected,stupid habit marks them and possibly holds them back. There can often be a mix of vernacular, dialect and even slang which does not detract from good, effective use of language and communication.
    I feel “should of” needs evicting from the mix by any means possible – be it media icons or just everyone one of us doing our bit to help. Children’s tv might be a good starting point.

    Posted by ange carter, 28 March, 2013, 12:07am

  • I am so glad to have found this article. I believe I am the only person that I know, in my social circle, that uses ‘should have’ instead of ‘should of’.

    I also try to correct people when I hear them saying this, but it falls on stony ground. When I was in school every grammatical error was identified and a mark lost in essays/exams, so it stopped me from being lazy when writing and also when speaking to others. I believe my parents spent a great deal of time with me as a child, helping me to read and write.

    I also tried to explain to my colleagues (most in their twenties) what an oxymoron was recently, and that was a complete waste of time when 99% of them didn’t even know that leather comes from cows, or that a swan is different from a duck??? What exactly do they teach them in school?

    Posted by Jo-Ann Blanks, 8 July, 2013, 10:23am

  • I agree that Should of isn’t ” correct ” English ,but it does make perfect sense when you use it…so therefore can’t we just say that in essence both terms are right in the sense that they both make sense and do the job well enough

    Posted by Dom, 29 October, 2013, 12:52pm

  • Language like all things changes, people who are not keen on change, will often focus on rules to provide certainty. Like religious instruction. Interestingly enough the single thread that binds Trump voters is fear of change, I therefore propose that all grammar pedants are closet trump supporters. 🙂

    Posted by Bob, 8 May, 2016, 10:33am

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