Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda!

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda!

These are words that you may hear in English frequently. The sound you hear is of two words being said together as one.

So really, it is:

Could Have — Would Have — Should Have

But many English-speaking people just say:

Coulda — Woulda — Shoulda

We often call these words The Modals of Lost Opportunity.

We say this because they refer to the past and we are trying to express a different outcome or a different situation in our imagination.

Let’s take a look at each phrase in closer detail.

 

COULDA

 

When to Use It

 

We use could have/coulda to express something that was possible in the past but it did not happen.

You may use it in a sentence when you want to talk about something in your past that was possible, but you did not do it. We often use could have/coulda when we are trying to express regret.

 

How to Form It

 

You need the words: could + have which we often put together as coulda, plus the past participle of the verb.

Like this: I could have got a better grade if I had studied harder

Or: I could have got a better grade, but I didn’t study hard enough

Notice that we can use two forms by using BUT and IF.

 

Some Examples

 

I could have gone to the party, but I came home early

They could have won the game if they had practised enough

John could have joined the others, but he went to the library instead

I could have made a cake, but you didn’t give me enough time

They could have gone to London if they didn’t have to work

She could have met Peter, but she had to help her mother

 

WOULDA

 

When to Use It

 

We use would have/woulda when talking about an imagined result to a situation. Or when talking about something that could not happen.

 

How to Form It

 

You need the words: would + have which we often put together as woulda, plus the past participle of the verb.

Like this: I would have joined you, but you didn’t ask me

Or: If you had asked me, I would have joined you

Notice that we can use two forms with this structure, using IF and BUT.

But not the same structure in could have/coulda.

 

Some Examples

 

If I had saved enough money, I would have gone to Greece

I would have gone to the restaurant, but it was too late

I would have called you, but it was too late

If you had got here earlier, I would have picked you up by car

If you had brought your sweater, you would have worn it

I would have worked at the weekend, but my mother was in hospital

I would have taken you to lunch, but I had too much to do

 

SHOULDA

 

When to Use It

 

We use this to talk about regret when talking about ourselves.

Or to talk about something that could have been a good idea, but you didn’t do it.

 

How to Form It

 

You need the words: should + have, which we often put together as shoulda, plus the past participle of the verb.

Like this: I should have arrived earlier

Notice that there is only one form using should have/shoulda

 

 

Some Examples

 

I should have worked harder for the exam!

I should have gone home earlier!

You should have sent me a message!

 

Conclusion

 

Try to make sentences of your own using the examples as models.

Use real situations in your life to think of your own sentences.

Keep practising and over time you will have a better understanding of all three terms.

2 thoughts on “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda!”

  1. Good explanation of these complicated modal expressions and how to form them. Students often have a hard time with modals. I like the way you pointed out that they are always followed by ‘if’ or ‘but’, the excuse for why you didn’t do something!

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