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.

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