This lesson will look at “should have,” “would have,” and “could have,” focusing on the contractions, relaxed pronunciation, and how to use these constructions.
We’ll start with a video from Beverley Knight, called, “Shoulda Woulda Coulda.” This song is all about regret and doing wrong things in past relationships. Pay attention to the chorus (starts @ 1:02).
The above video is a great example of how to use, “should have,” “would have,” and “could have.” Here are the lyrics from the chorus:
And how I wish I, wish I’d done a little bit more,
Now, Shoulda woulda coulda means I’m out of time,
Shoulda woulda coulda can’t change your mind,
And I wonder, wonder what I’m gonna do,
Shoulda woulda coulda are the last words of a fool.
“Shoulda,” “woulda,” and “coulda” are examples of relaxed pronunciation. Relaxed pronunciation occurs during spoken English when syllables are slurred together. It is especially common when words are contracted, for example:
- Should have = should’ve = shoulda
- Would have = would’ve = woulda
- Could have = could’ve = coulda
The relaxed pronunciations are only used when talking and shouldn’t be written. Another mistake is writing ”should of,” “would of,” and “could of.” This is wrong!
The song is about someone who is no longer with their boyfriend/girlfriend and is thinking about the past with regret. There were things that she should have done, could have done, and would have done, but didn’t.
She says that thinking about the past in this way is foolish because you can’t change what you have already done.
We also see constructions using, “I wish” – ”I wish I had done more” which again talks about the past (see more about wish here). Saying things like, “I should have treated him/her better” is a way to give yourself advice for the past and “I could have spent more time with him” is talking about the options you had available.
“I should have paid more attention to her.”
This means that you are giving yourself late advice; advice for a past action that is over. It usually involves regret. Here are some more examples:
- “I should’ve studied history instead of economics” – (you regret studying economics and the better option was to study history.)
- “You should’ve listened to me” – (I was saying something important but you didn’t listen; I think you were wrong to do that.)
- “Messi should’ve passed the ball instead of shooting” – (Messi didn’t pass the ball but that was the best option available.)
“I could have bought her flowers.”
This is saying that you had the option to more in the past, but you didn’t. Should have is different because it is used when talking about the best option at that time.
- I suppose we could’ve spent more on advertising. (We had the option.)
- They could’ve told us earlier. (They had the option.)
- Why did you take the bus? You could’ve taken the train. (There was a different option available.)
Could have is also used to talk about a possibility in the past (might have is more common).
- They’re late! -> They could have got lost (maybe, maybe not). [notice the coulda in the audio]
“Could have” is also used in the third conditional
- Barcelona could’ve scored if Messi had passed the ball.
“I would have bought her flowers if…”
The second clause is an imaginary outcome based on the first (imaginary) clause. It is imaginary because it didn’t happen, but we’re being creative and thinking about different outcomes. This is the third conditional. Here are some more examples:
- If I had studied harder, I would’ve passed the test.
- If I had been there, I would’ve said something to him.
- I woulda finished it, if I had more time (NOTE – “If I had had” usually shortens to “If I had.”) [notice the woulda in the audio]
As mentioned before, we can also use could instead of would. Could is weaker in that it says that it was an option or possibility, while would makes it sound more certain.
Use: Should Have, Would Have, and Could Have to complete the sentences.
1: I ___________ done it earlier (advice).
2. If I had more time, I __________ done it (definitely).
3. I ___________ (negative) done that if I were you.
4. I feel such an idiot for not finishing it. I __________ started earlier (advice).
5. I’m not sure why I didn’t win. Maybe I ___________ been more aggressive at the start (option).
6. You __________ (negative) said that. It was embarrassing.
7. We __________ (negative) done any better.
8. She __________ (negative) come if she had known.
1. should have
2. would have
3. wouldn’t have
4. should have
5. could have
6. shouldn’t have
7. couldn’t have
8. wouldn’t have
Do you have any regrets about past relationships?
Is there anything you should have, could have, or would have done?