“When we’ve weaved a web of words whereof we wot of what we speak why wouldst we not of wondered why?”



You really wouldn’t of thought this particular grammar glitch warranted that much attention would you? Yet some grammarian supremacists do get proper aeriated about it. For these evolution-deniers the tiny pitter patter of of as it learns to stand up for itself must be an unbearable bugbear, an intolerable assault on the traditional values and fundamental grammar of all they hold dear.

“Well, why do the patently illiterate insist on saying ‘of’ when every well educated person knows that the word that should of been  used is ‘have’?”

It’s as though grammar was set in stone at some mythical date in that  golden-age when schooling was beaten into you… Ignoring the insults to our patently illiterate intelligence and ill-formed education, and pausing only to dismiss the invalid syllogism on which the almost exemplary grammarian’s unreasoning  demand is based (it is made on an unproven assumption and yet, whilst trying to have it both ways, reasons, falsely, that the presumptions made of of in the statement of the question itself must be evidence enough of the use of of to justify the inherent falsity of the question’s original premise)… Sorry, all that logic spinning around is making me quite giddy. Let’s answer the big question here, loud and clear, if not once and for all.

To of or to have? Your choice: either may serve. To be honest, in the limited context of this petty controversy they are pretty much the same thing

of is not a grammar error

Of course it’s not.

  • of is not a grammar error (nor/or grammatical error, if you’re feeling picky);
  • of is a perfectly healthy mutation;
  • of is a by-product of our language’s constant evolution;
  • of is a shiny splinter of the past tense history of have.

Have has had, and continues to have, an interesting life. The contraction ’ve is simply the written form of a spoken usage.

Have is a special verb. It has been around since we all spoke Middle English (oh, what a time we had!). Have has been familiarly and contemptuously used for so long now that I doubt, had we had to, that we could of got through a single day without it. We have knowledge, property/ies, quality/ies, food and drink, sexual relations  & what have you. That’s a lot of responsibility for just one verb to have. No wonder we’ve abbreviated it a bit along the way. Like I’ve just done in the last sentence. Like I’ve just done in the last sentence.

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The pronunciation of ’ve that we choose to use is governed by the open or closed sound at the end of the preceding word. So, here are some examples of have in its contracted form. The first lot is a selection of  pronouns and adverbs with open syllable endings:‘I’, ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘they’, ‘there’, ‘who’, ‘why’; each familiarly contracted to the point where the whole term is sounded as a single closed syllable.

There’s no ‘she’ or ‘he’ in the list as only the rustic grammar of mummerset have ‘she have’ or ‘he have’ anymore and that baint be what this partic’lar blog be about.

  • I’ve
  • you’ve
  • we’ve
  • they’ve
  • there’ve
  • who’ve
  • why’ve

If you read them aloud (“I’ve”, “you’ve”, et cetera) you’ll note that that each of the terms listed above sounds like a single word.  It’s a shade more complicated when looking at the next couple of items though. ‘How’ and ‘where’ aren’t quite open enough for some speakers. The contracted spellings remain constant, however, when these are pronounced (or – no need to get carried away – simply sounded in your head) the echo of have may well survive.

  • how’ve (may be pronounced ‘howve’ or ‘how-uhv’)
  • where’ve (may be pronounced ‘whairve’ or ‘where-uhv’)

Which brings us to  the closed syllables of ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘which’

  • what’ve (pronounced ‘what-uhv’)
  • when’ve (pronounced ‘when-uhv’)
  • which’ve (pronounced ‘which-uhv

So far so uncontroversial. It’s this next batch of wordswhen spoken in combination with ’ve (pronounced uhv), that prove a little troublesome: ‘could’, ‘would’, ‘should’, ‘may’ and ‘must’.  Somewhere along the way the  phonetic line between ’ve (uhv)  and of (ov) must of got crossed and have was spoken of.

  • could have > could’ve > could of
  • could not have > couldn’t have > couldn’t’ve > couldn’t of > could not of
  • may have > may’ve > may of
  • may not have > mayn’t have > mayn’t of > may not of
  • must not have > mustn’t have > mustn’t’ve > mustn’t of must not of
  • must have > must’ve > must of
  • should have > should’ve > should of
  • should not have > shouldn’t have > shouldn’t’ve > shouldn’t of > should not of
  • would have > would’ve
  • would not have > wouldn’t have > wouldn’t’ve > wouldn’t of > would not of

It is clear that of for ’ve is currently used only in past tenses and is, in fact, an indicator or acknowledgement that the grammar of the past tense is being used.

Compare “I must have it” with  “I must have had it”. In the present tense “I must’ve it” and “I must of it” make no sense, whereas the past tense “I must of had it” is perfectly clear. Be reassured that his is linguistic evolution at work, not an accidental slip. Nostalgic grammarians, have no need to be afraid of the present: strike a careless pose  whistle a happy tune. The replacement of ’ve is grammatically restricted to the past tense.

The pronunciation of of in much spoken English is close enough to ‘uhv’. It’s the same sound (give or take) as the contracted form of have. So, of (‘uhv’) is ’ve (‘uhv’) in a good deal of colloquial conversation. This interchangability isn’t notable until some users ‘correct’ their rendering of of so that it becomes ‘ov’ and then that ‘correctly’ spoken word is recorded in writing.  And, fair enough, it may have jumped off of the page for a while. However, little by little, have evolves into of – or, rather, of becomes used as a synonym for ’ve. Our humble little of, that noble preposition, the key word in so many relationships, has evolved a new sense, still somewhat informal and used alongside the original ‘ve but it’s a new sense nonetheless.

Whereof we should be rejoicing that our language has become a just that little bit richer.  & it is perhaps worth noting that ‘whereof’ is always pronounced ‘where-ov’.

We should be celebrating of. We should be welcoming this tiny refinement of English into the mainstream. Shall we dance? Etc, etc, etc.

Perhaps the grammarian gripers didn’t get the memo. You wouldn’t of thought it possible though, would you? I wouldn’t have of.

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