Proofreading Hell: Should of, Could of, Would of
August 10, 2012 | ~4 mins read time.

Should of, could of, would of.
Pictorial version — Figure 1: I saw this in a piece I was contracted to proofread.

Vulcan facedesk.
Figure 2: And then this happened.

I was having a busy day yesterday. Applying for "regular" employment is not my favourite thing to do, but there we have it. I had gone down to the local temp agency to do clerical testing. This would prove what I said about my writing, math, typing, and other assorted office skills in the résumé I had supplied them with.

I gave a good performance on only four hours of interrupted sleep. 69 words per minute on a rickety old keyboard with a sticking "N," "O," and space bar. Not bad. I test over 85 at home, but that's on a keyboard I'm used to that's in pristine condition.

Perfect with filing, nearly perfect mathematics (please don't ever ask me to add fractions and then convert them to numbers with decimal points on four hours of sleep and first thing in the morning again), perfect spelling, and nearly perfect grammar. I made two mistakes on the grammar. Both of them were issues pertaining to rules that are OK in Canadian English and British English, but not OK in U.S. English. I realized my mistake the second I clicked on next, but it was too late to go back and fix it. However, the woman who was administering the test said that she's seen college graduates score 30 percent on the grammar and about that on the mathematics. Regularly, they get 40 percent. I was stunned. American English has such simplified spelling and grammar that it's amazing that anyone could make it through that much schooling and not know the language properly. With things like "their," "they're," and "there," especially.

As I was filling out the tax forms and proving that I'm allowed to work in the United States, I hear the woman who was testing me say, "I haven't seen scores like this in a long time!" Of course, four hours sleep paired with a tiny sense of paranoia made me immediately think that I had failed beyond compare; even though I could do most of the things they were asking me to do in my sleep. In fact, I may have been experiencing a waking-sleep during the test. Good times. Apparently it was a good thing. Outstanding compared to what she usually sees, she said. I left quite pleased with myself.

So, I get home to an email saying I've been chosen for this proofreading and editing project. Fantastic! The more English language-related work I get, the less likely it is I have to get a "normal" job. I start the project and I'm motoring through this piece that has a number of typos, a few spelling mistakes that could have been typos, but it was generally all right until I reached the part that looked something like Figure 1 above:

"There was no use in thinking that I 'should of, could of, would of.' It was a moment where ..."

Phonetic spelling is a "pet peeve" of mine. Using "of" instead of "have" is just plain wrong. It should have been, "should have, could have, would have." At the very least, to keep the inflection and informal tone, it should have been, "should've, would've, and could've," even though "should've" and "could've" aren't approved contractions. Unless that's changed. Someone will tell me if it has. They could be since they accurately follow the same rule that "would've" does, and they could be applied to under poetic license.

Anyway, I did a mental face-desk manoeuvre. My nose is too cute to follow through with an actual face-desk. I've seen one of the offending clauses alone and hanging out where it shouldn't be. Never before had I seen all three of them forming an unruly mob right next to one another kicking imaginary puppies and purse-snatching from sweet old ladies.

Please, for the love of whatever you hold holy, learn your English better than that. For the sake of those you hire to fix your mistakes. Also, please stop "correcting" the spelling and grammar checker in your word processing software. While it is not perfect, it is usually right when it comes to those things you've decided are wrong.