Since grade school, we are taught to use “Well” instead of “Good,” “I’ instead of “Me,” and “May I” instead of “Can I.” When people correct us, does our grammar become perfect? Do we implement everything we’ve ever been corrected on? No, of course not.
As a young 8-year-old, I was a patient student and a sharp listener. While my classmates were fond of math and science, I was focused on perfecting every spelling test and became fascinated by the new world of commas. My class fell silent when we discussed grammar and spelling, but I was always eager to show off my knowledge. The teacher would finally ask, “Emily, where should the comma go?” “Before the conjunction,” I would say, keeping my reserved character, of course, so my friends wouldn’t think I was annoying.
I loved that I found my place in the grammar world as a youngin, but was always worried that people would view me as an overbearing nuisance for correcting them. Fortunately, I grew out of this ambiguous stage and learned when it was and wasn’t appropriate to be a nitpicky grammar-police. (More on that later :P)
Working for Rough Draft Solutions has forced me to hold nothing back when it comes to strict and precise grammar. Now, I’m not just studying grammar for personal fulfillment, but I’m writing with a high-quality standard of grammar to represent businesses. (Can you say the pressure is on?!) Several companies are solely worried about the big picture concepts, which they should be, but if they’re not careful, a slip up in their content could do damage to their reputation as a business.
I understand that grammar is not a crowd favorite (unless I’m the crowd :P) and is almost always the last thing on the list of things to worry about. Understandable, however, I’m here to explain why grammar is important, where it matters, and where it is perfectly acceptable to chill out on grammar correction.
Don’t be a grammar snob
As a grammar enthusiast, I should first confess that I am guilty of correcting people who make grammar mistakes all the time (naturally, in my head. :P). As a Professional Writing major and Teaching English as a Second Language minor, I fall on both sides of the grammar spectrum. Each day some teachers explain that correct grammar is the highest priority while others say teaching explicit grammar rules is not effective for learners. Can both be right?
Let’s think about this. If I’m having a conversation with someone, how rude would it be to tell them that they’ve used the wrong pronoun or that “acrossed,” in fact, is not a word. Not only would it be incredibly off-putting, but it would likely interrupt their train of thought, impede on the flow of the conversation, and most importantly, it is not guaranteed that they would understand their mistake and correct it for next time. So, what’s the point?
Proper grammar is important, but not for the sake of embarrassing someone or correcting them for your benefit. As we will get into later, if it is a persistent problem or hurting comprehension, correction may be needed. But most of the time, especially in oral conversation, correcting someone’s grammar is not necessary and will earn you some dirty looks.
Fixing grammar mistakes is like trying to stop biting your nails
Our internal linguistic systems are complex. I mean really complex. We grow up learning grammar rules and over time - some stick with us and some don’t.
Let’s think about using correct grammar as an everyday habit like biting your nails. You bite your nails without realizing you’re doing it, and you become annoyed if someone tells you to stop just because it bothers them, right? If someone asks you to stop biting your nails, will you quit? Maybe at that moment, but most likely not forever.
The University College London performed a study and found that it took, on average, 66 days until their participant’s behavior reached levels of a habitual nature. So unless someone takes the time to learn, understand, and practice the grammar lesson you are trying to give them, it will take longer than a few corrections for their habits of language to truly change. And who wants to be pestered for that long to fix their small errors when they are otherwise communicating effectively or simply want to bite their nails in peace?
Grammar mistakes never hurt anybody...did they?
We all know those Facebookers who declare your argument completely invalid the second you make a spelling mistake. Incorrect grammar may have hurt your chance to win your altercation, but let’s be real - have you ever experienced a time where someone’s grammar mistake entirely blocked all ability to comprehend the meaning of what they were trying to say? Probably not.
When someone makes a mistake in conversation, there are plenty of methods to achieve the meaning of what they are getting at without disrupting your exchange by impolitely pointing out their error. You can repeat what they said back to them for clarification, ask them to repeat what they said, or say, “Did you mean…”
Your business needs to up its grammar game
In writing, correct grammar matters. As much as I advocate that it is okay to overlook grammar mistakes in conversation and personal arguments on Facebook (or not), I also strongly believe grammar should not be ignored in writing. Your business should have much higher standards than that.
It is no secret that using correct grammar is professional. In informal and formal business documents alike, proper grammar gives your readers the impression that you’re not lazy - if mistakes are evident, it seems as if you aren’t really trying. Just because you’re sending a short memo to a colleague doesn’t mean you’re off the hook with making errors. Any time you are representing your company (or yourself, for that matter), you should check your work for mistakes before sending it off.
It is also possible that errors might cause your readers to become confused or misinterpret what you are saying. With writing, the words on the page are all your reader has to understand the message (no non-verbal cues to help them out!), making it absolutely necessary for you to be clear and to the point. When your audience comes across frequent mistakes, it distracts them from your main takeaways and hurts their experience with you and your company. Whether you like it or not, proper grammar has an effect on how your customers view your company, and it can instantaneously boost or weaken your credibility.
It is one thing to say that you have attention to detail, but it’s another thing to show it. Double checking that your content is free of errors shows your customers that you care that they have a smooth and enjoyable experience when interacting with you and your company. Having polished and clear content will allow your clients to view you as the professional and competent experts that you are. Of course, you aren’t going to get high praise for having the best grammar skills around, but that’s not what we’re going for anyway. In the end, the best thing is that people don’t even think about grammar or sentence structure because your writing is so clear.
Don’t look ignorant, put forth some effort
Bottomline, if you are taking the time to write you should take the time to make sure it is free of errors. Even as a “grammar geek,” I make mistakes and come across grammar questions in my writing on a weekly basis. Whether it’s proofreading out loud multiple times, getting out my handy dandy grammar handbook, or using helpful websites, I always aim to use precise grammar. My goal? Enable my readers to have the best experience possible. Two of my favorite websites to double check grammar rules are Grammar Girl and Grammarist.
If you are someone who feels you have a handle on your grammar skills, but want to keep them polished, check out our blog 5 Ways Strong Writers Can Get Even Better.
I hope today’s post enlightened you on grammar mistake etiquette in spoken word and writing! So next time you hear a simple grammar mistake in a conversation or see someone make a grammar mistake in a document, silently correct it in your head, acknowledge that people make mistakes, and vow to not make that mistake in your own writing! ;)
- Emily McPherson
Have specific questions about language, grammar, or writing? We'd be happy to help!