Tag Archives: correcting grammar

Corrective conundrum

A few weeks ago, my husband left a calling card of sorts on my desk. It was a clip from an advice column in The Washington Post, in which a man complained about his girlfriend’s correcting his grammar and pronunciation. I never asked my husband whether he intended this to be an idea for my blog or a hint that he was relating to the poor bloke whose girlfriend corrected him—and only him—in front of others.

In the meantime, over the weekend, an opinion piece by Slate writer Michael Agger appeared in the Washington Post Business section. The piece cited instances in which companies receiving online reviews of their products and services corrected the spelling and grammar of their posting customers. Agger questioned the ethics of such practices, raising the issue of altering the authenticity of the online review process. Companies argue that sloppy posts, including favorable ones about their products or services, make the company look bad and, hence, impede sales.

When I wrote a piece about correcting others and being corrected  last February, I got a sense of how my readers feel about it. But correcting what is posted as an online review is different. Or is it?

I must confess here that I occasionally do the same thing with this blog. Sometimes when a reader posts a comment and makes an inadvertent mistake in spelling, grammar or punctuation, I go in and make a minor correction. Not all the time, and not drastically. And I never alter the content.

Unlike text-tweaking online retailers, I don’t correct mistakes because they make me look bad. I do it to save commenters from potential embarrassment. You might say that I edit their comments to help them make their points more effectively. For example, if someone is preaching about the importance of good grammar, and misspells “grammar,” I don’t believe it’s a sin to go in and correct the spelling. Or if there’s a simple typo, I might go in and fix it.

This said, it doesn’t mean I don’t bristle when I see a comment lacking any upper case letters or essential punctuation, but I give benefit of the doubt when I suspect comments are generated on a mobile device. Occasionally, however, this has precipitated sidebar conversations with my loved ones, suggesting they reacquaint themselves with their friend, the apostrophe.

Where to draw the line with a red pen? Discuss.

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Correctile dysfunction

When it comes to matters of grammar and pronunciation, I observe two kinds of people:  those who appreciate being corrected so they can learn from their mistakes and those who are offended by being corrected.

One might argue that it depends on the tone and context of the correction. Certainly, most people would not care to be schooled in a harsh or a humiliating manner. My experience is that some people are open to learning and some are not. Somewhere in between are those who say they appreciate being reminded of the correct way to write and speak, but turn around and resort to old habits. I guess that’s why they’re called habits.

I put myself in the first category. While it is never fun to learn I’ve committed a grammatical error or mispronunciation, especially as someone who claims to know a fair amount about such things, I desire to learn and improve. I admit there are rules I don’t understand. There are several I have trouble remembering. This is one reason for the Red Pen Invitation I extend on this blog’s About page and also why I confess to being on a lifelong journey to get it right. I admit it stings a bit when a reader calls me on an error or challenges a statement, but I’m grateful for the lesson.

When I choose to correct others—usually family members or close friends—I try to be judicious and kind. As much as I’d like, I don’t correct anyone’s children but my own. Believe me, for every time I hear or read a loved one’s error, I let slide another nine. Where I step on shaky ground is in assuming everyone is as enthusiastic as I am about getting it right.

What about those in the second category? Those who say, essentially, “I’ve pronounced it that way since I was seven and there’s no way I’m going to start changing now.” Or “I know that’s the rule but it doesn’t make sense to me, so I am going to keep saying it incorrectly.” Or “Frankly, I don’t care what the difference is between ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ ‘its’ and ‘it’s,’ or when to use ‘I’ and when to use ‘me.’” “I don’t care.”

What I’d ask readers to consider is:  which kind of person are you when it comes to being corrected? Provided the corrector is polite and judicious, are you open or are you offended?

If you’re in the former group, do you have a process for remembering what you’ve learned? Do you write it down or come up with a clever mnemonic? Create an occasion to use it in a sentence?

If you’re in the latter group, what’s your reasoning for closed ears? Do you consider critique a nuisance or a blow to the ego? Are you apathetic about such matters? Or do you believe correct grammar and proper speech are unimportant?

My eyes and ears are open. Tell me and maybe I’ll stand corrected.

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