A Modest Proposal for Unsolicited Grammatical Corrections

A few days ago, I made a terrible, unforgivable mistake: I used the contraction “it’s” instead of the possessive “its” in a tweet.

I wouldn’t have realized the mistake, but someone on Twitter replied to the tweet with a grammar correction.

At first I was annoyed. Annoyed with myself for making a typo in a tweet (which, ironically, was about a proofreading article) and annoyed with the person for publicly correcting the mistake.

But when I thought about it…well, I was still annoyed. But I realized it wasn’t the public nature of the correction that annoyed me. Rather, it was that the person didn’t recognize the difference between a typo (which it was) versus a lack of understanding (I know how contractions work).

And yes, there’s probably a little bit of pride involved. I make plenty of typos (there’s probably one in this post). But I know most grammatical rules, and I strive to adhere to them across all forms of media: blogging, Twitter, texts, emails, etc. I value the same in others–in fact, back in my dating days, I considered it a dealbreaker if a lady’s profile or messages were riddled with consistent errors.

Yet there are times when people correct my typos–calling them out as typos–either privately or publicly, and I really appreciate that. I also don’t know everything, and I like to stay open to learning new things. There are plenty of words I misuse, and I appreciate when people alert me to that so I can stop sounding like an idiot.

Perhaps you can relate to all this. If so, you probably know at least one person who takes pleasure in correcting grammatical mistakes (even if they’re just typos). For those people, I’d like to propose a compromise so you can continue to use your knowledge to improve the world without annoying the heck out of the rest of us.

My proposal is that the first time anyone makes a grammatical mistake, you don’t say anything. Not a peep. You simply give them the benefit of the doubt–everyone makes mistakes. However, if they make the mistake a second time (or if you discover they’ve made the same mistake in the recent past), you may politely correct them, as it’s possible they don’t know they’re making the mistake.

Fair enough?


20 Responses to “A Modest Proposal for Unsolicited Grammatical Corrections”

  1. Dave Banks says:

    I think autocorrect plays a role in some typos, too.

  2. RodeoClown says:

    I think the problem here is twitter’s lack of an edit feature.
    When someone lets you know of a typo on your blog (I… may have done this in the past), then you can fix it.

    When someone tells you about a twitter typo, you can… delete your tweet. Or not. Or tweet a correction.
    None of these are good options, so hearing about the error doesn’t provide you with anything except shame/frustration.

    I wish there was a nice way to mark the correction as dealt with too. You can do this in a Google doc, where someone highlights an error, and then you can mark the comment as resolved and their comment goes away, so it’s not pointing out the mistake to everyone who reads it in the future.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      That’s a good point! It’s easy to correct a typo in a blog entry if someone tells me about it, but you can’t edit tweets.

  3. Katie says:

    Yes, Jamie, its so annoying when people just correct your grammer and spelling out of nowear. Its like their trying two sound smarter then you in front of everyone. A person can’t even make one or to miner misteaks anymore without someone jumping in too say something.

  4. Sara says:

    I usually care about typos/misspellings/syntax errors if the person is ranting about how someone else is stupid. the other place I care most about is a news or publisher’s output – someone who writes professionally and/or has editors. Then I get irritated. The thing that’s driving me nuts lately is the seemingly-mainstream use of “are” or “were” when referring to a single couple. “The couple are going to the store” <– NO The couple IS going to the store. The coupleS ARE going to the store. It seriously raises my hackles – especially since I hear it all over the news.

    Funny enough in my chatroom/messaging days, I would dismiss someone instantly for having lousy spelling or grammar. I still would today if I was still using some sort of chat.

    Autocorrect is the devil. I try to use Google Voice to do speech-to-text rather than swype or traditional tapping on each key. I watch as I'm speaking; the words are coming out appropriately. Then I hit send. Disaster. WHY would it change it after the original transcription was approved? oomph

  5. Sara says:

    It also rankles me when I see some of the writing produced by senior managers and executives in my company. Some of it is downright appalling. They make so much more money and have so much more education than I do. If it’s an error on some boilerplate form language from the attorney’s office, they just leave it. People are afraid to correct anything a lawyer does. Well, I’m not afraid. I correct it no matter if the mayor himself wrote it. He’d be happy I caught the error before it was published somewhere.

  6. Hay Jaymie, u shood huv riddled dis post of urs vid a ton of airrors so the grammEr police can get their feel of corections. For GrammEr Poliz – Is it its or it’s – who carez. Azz lung az meening iz understud – that iz all dat matters. Diz iz internet. Not nyoospaper. Or novail. Or publeeshed artikle in syence maygzine. Stop riting *it’s or *its everyware. no1 carez. thenks. Pliss korrect poast of myne instade of brothering Jaymie.

  7. TMac says:

    Upon reflection, I’ve been more apt to point out mistakes to people who I perceive to strive for grammatical perfection than those who clearly don’t care or don’t understand the rules of the English language. Perhaps this has always been a mistake on my part! In recent years, I haven’t done that so much for your blog entries here as my perception is that you still care about these entries, but that you have very minimal time to work on them.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Trev: I like your idea of thinking about the other person and how they want the world to perceive them. As for me, I’m fine with people telling me about my blog typos (particularly if they identify them as typos).

  8. Rob Reinhardt says:

    Yes. Agree. I’ll go further. There are couple a of things in this post that I might point out if I were being a punctuation perfectionist. However, it would be a pointless waste of time because none of those things in any way hinder the intent or meaning of your post. Not to mention blogs and media are a generally more informal mode of communication, they are not a doctoral thesis. Plus, half the time people are victims of autocorrect.

    Unless, as you indicate, someone is repeatedly making the same mistake, or their (case in point, Android corrected that to t h e r e) typo is so egregious that it renders their meaning indecipherable, why waste any precious bandwith of life bringing it up?

    There’s enough devisiveness in the world over important things. We don’t need to be spending our time creating more, over inconsequential grammar and punctuation errors.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Rob: That’s a great point. If I understand what they other person is saying (especially in spoken form), it seems completely unnecessary to correct them, especially if it interrupts the flow of conversation.

  9. Joe Pilkus says:

    Jamey,

    I resemble those remarks…of course, throughout my life, I’ve served as an editor to many companies, institutions, and people. As I’ve gotten older, I do certainly give others the benefit of the doubt. With age, comes wisdom.

    Cheers,
    Joe

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