A writer friend asked me recently to discuss one of her pet peeves: the butchery of the phrase “would have.”
So often people run the words “would have” together into the perfectly acceptable contraction “would’ve.” But since the “ve” sounds an awful lot like “of,” many folks mistakenly believe the phrase is “would of,” not “would have” or “would’ve.”
This has long been a major irritant for me… it’s about as annoying as having one of those pesky, stray eyelashes jabbing you in the eyeball and not being able to remove it. Yeah, it’s that annoying.
But it’s not just the “would of” that gets me… it’s the improper usage of the correct wording, “would have” when “had” is appropriate.
Many moons ago (how many moons are there in 20+ years, anyway?), while I was working on air at a suburban Connecticut radio station – okay, it was early 1987 – Chicago released a song entitled, “If She Would Have Been Faithful.”
Hip adult-contemporary rotation aside, I despised playing that song – mainly because of the incorrectly used phrase “would have” in the title… never mind that I just out-and-out hated the song. Every time that horrid dreck came up in rotation during my air shift (and it pains me deeply to say this, because Chicago really is one of my favorite bands), I would grit my teeth and play the silly drivel, knowing I’d have to backsell the darn thing afterward.
Even though the wording itself was – technically – correct, what galled me was the improper usage of the phrase “would have.” The grammatically correct title for this song is, “If She Had Been Faithful.” But, of course, metrically, that wouldn’t have worked out, so I can almost understand the literary license the lyricists took here. But still, understanding it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
So the lesson here is this: Next time you’re faced with saying, “If I would of taken the highway, I would of gotten there half an hour sooner,” you need to do three things.
First, look over your shoulder to make sure I’m not standing behind you with a club, waiting to scream and pummel you senseless.
Second, realize that you should replace your first intended “would of” with “had.”
And third, know that you should replace the second intended “would of” with “would have.”
Your sentence then becomes, “If I had taken the highway, I would have gotten there half an hour sooner.” And that makes your Persnickety Proofreader happy. And, after all, isn’t that all that really matters?