In the late 1970s, a popular Catskill Mountains resort touted: “I shoulda gone to the Nevele” on billboards, in print and on TV and radio ads. Then, thanks to the 2001 “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” episode of “Sex and the City” and Celine Dion’s “Coulda Woulda Shoulda” in 2003 (still available as a ringtone), many people now have unwittingly expanded upon a typical usage error!
Too often you will see “could of” in a piece of writing. Because the spoken version of “could’ve” – the contraction for “could have” – often sounds like “could of,” the error is easily made.
However, neither “coulda” nor “could of” is correct! The same goes for “should of” or “would of.” The proper verb forms are: could have, should have, or would have. If you want to emphasize the pronunciation, you may remove the “ha” from “have” and add “ve” to form contractions: could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve.
In a formal piece of writing, it is advisable to avoid contractions altogether unless you are writing dialogue (or trying mightily to stay within the imposed limits of characters and spaces). And although “coulda, woulda, shoulda” has found its way into our vernacular, meaning “I wish I had done things differently, but it’s too late now,” it has no place in a college admissions essay!