I’d like to take a moment to talk about cor­rect­ing gram­mar.

(Or spelling, or punc­tu­a­tion, or writ­ing in gen­er­al.)

I get paid to cor­rect oth­ers’ gram­mar for a liv­ing. I read dozens of pages every day, look­ing for edit­ing mis­takes. Some­times, it makes my head hurt.

So, when I log out for the day, the last thing I want to do is cor­rect gram­mar on my free time. I used to have no prob­lem with it, but over the last 2 or 3 years, I’ve start­ed to real­ize some­thing about cor­rect­ing gram­mar (par­tic­u­lar­ly in social media):

Cor­rect­ing gram­mar is clas­sist.

Cor­rect­ing gram­mar unso­licit­ed is dis­mis­sive. It ignores the points a per­son rais­es in their com­ments and tries to posi­tion them as unre­li­able. This is unfor­tu­nate; what the author was say­ing might have been impor­tant, valid, and legit­i­mate, but doubt is cast on that legit­i­ma­cy for some­thing as benign as a spelling or gram­mar mis­take.

Relat­ed to this is the idea that not only does the respon­der try to dele­git­i­ma­tize the author’s cred­i­bil­i­ty, but they try to boost their own. By mak­ing the author look illit­er­ate, they try to make them­selves, by default, look intel­li­gent, inde­pen­dent of the mer­its of the respec­tive mes­sages them­selves.

Some­times the error is the result of poor typ­ing or auto­cor­rect. We all do it. Some­times, it’s because some­one has dif­fi­cul­ty with gram­mar — per­haps lan­guage was some­thing they strug­gled with in school. Even if they strug­gle with gram­mar aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, it doesn’t mean their mes­sage should be ignored.

Gram­mar mis­takes rarely impede the mes­sage. Cer­tain­ly com­ments occa­sion­al­ly appear in a con­ver­sa­tion that make absolute­ly no sense gram­mat­i­cal­ly, but I pro­pose that the major­i­ty of com­ments with gram­mar, spelling, and oth­er mis­takes are gen­er­al­ly still under­stood. The fact that the respon­der can cor­rect the author shows that the mes­sage was clear­ly received, despite any errors.

Cor­rect­ing mis­takes instead of engag­ing with someone’s points is noth­ing more than dis­trac­tion tac­tics. It’s lazy and dis­hon­est debate. Seri­ous debaters are smart enough to inter­pret the mes­sage and respond to its sub­stance. Even if the gram­mar is hor­ren­dous, a sim­ple and polite rephras­ing request will go a long way to fos­ter­ing respect and mature dia­logue.

The next time you’re tempt­ed to cor­rect someone’s gram­mar online, ask your­self if any real pur­pose is served by it. Or are you just fuelling your own ego?

About Kim Siever

I am a copy­writer and copy­ed­i­tor. I blog on writ­ing tips most­ly, but I some­times throw in my thoughts about run­ning a small busi­ness.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter at @hotpepper.

Free monthlywriting &social media tips!

Free monthlywriting &social media tips!

Sign up to receive monthly writing and social media tips.

Thanks for signing up for our monthly writing tips!

Pin It on Pinterest