Grammar Repair Shop: Is ‘could’ve’ too informal for business? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Grammar Repair Shop: Is ‘could’ve’ too informal for business?

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Problem: Therese Sliwa, Waltham, Mass., wrote about our response in the July "Our Readers Write" column to someone who complained about people writing "could of" for "could've" and "should of" for "should've."

"I always understood that the term should be 'could have' in conversation, but more importantly, in written text," Sliwa wrote. "I would never write, in any document (business or not), the word 'could've.' I don't believe this is proper grammar."

"Would've," "could've" and "should've" are proper contractions.

"As a rule, contractions are used only in informal writing or in tables where space is limited," says The Gregg Reference Manual. "However, contractions of verb phrases (such as 'can't' for 'cannot') are commonly used in business letters where the writer is striving for an easy, colloquial tone."

Writing "could of" when the meaning is "could have" is always an error; whether to write "could've" or "could have" is a style choice. Stick with one style—formal or informal—throughout your document.

But even in an informal context, avoid slang and terms that may be not only too informal but also confusing to your readers.

Peeved by a common error? Puzzled by perplexing grammar rules? Send us an e-mail at with the subject "Grammar." Or call us at (703) 905-4850.

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