There are two types of grammar pedant in this world. The first kind takes a genuine interest in the rules of grammar. Perhaps they even indulge in conversations on internet forums about correct forms or treasure their battered copy of Strunk and White (which you probably shouldn’t, since it gets passive voice wrong, but I digress).
This first tribe– to which I freely admit being a member — is relatively inoffensive. A bit boring, perhaps. They want to discuss grammar, offer help to those who seek it, and strive to improve their own writing in whatever way they can. Maybe seeing grammatical errors makes them a bit twitchy, but they wouldn’t dream of pointing out an individual’s error in an informal space like a forum post. Why? Because it’s rude.
But then there’s the other kind of grammar pedant. The sort that relish the chance to use their own often shaky grasp on grammar to correct and shame another person. I see it a lot on internet forums, often appearing in
arguments debates totally unrelated to grammar. The pedant is unhappy about being challenged, and suddenly out it comes: a snide comment about another poster’s grammar skills.
Why on earth do they do this? Do they not realise how nasty and spiteful it makes them look? Do they actually think it strengthens their argument when they point out another person’s mistake, one that makes no real difference to readability and could just be a typo or a quirk of autocorrect? And even if it wasn’t a typo, so what?
If you are the kind of person who does this, please stop. It doesn’t make everyone pause and reconsider your arguments in a new light, marvelling at what an astonishingly intelligent person you are. Actually it makes them think you’re probably a bit of a knob. And you’re undermining yourself, because if you’re having to resort to correcting people about a wholly unrelated issue, then your arguments couldn’t have been all that conclusive in the first place, could they?
Also, ever heard that old adage about people in glass houses? Yeah, well let’s just say your house is made of glass and that comment about the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ is a whacking great brick. In my experience, people who make snide comments about other people’s grammar often have a shaky grasp on grammar themselves. Chances are it won’t take much searching through your past threads or blog posts or whatever to find error after error after error. Is your house made of gorilla-glass? If not, then think twice about lobbing that brick.
The need to correct people often stems from a feeling of inadequacy and a need to prove that you are smart, that you do understand grammar rules, that you know things that other people don’t. If you were truly intelligent, you would be aware that even people who don’t know quite as much as you still deserve respect and politeness. The next time you feel tempted to point out someone else’s error, remember this: you probably aren’t as smart as you think you are and pointing out that error will make this abundantly clear to everyone who reads it.
In short, it’ll make you look like a knob.
If you’re desperate to let your inner pedant loose, there are four times when it might be appropriate to correct people:
1.) The person has requested it
2.) The error in question affects readability or will negatively affect the person in some way
For example, paragraphs haven’t been used in a lengthy post from someone who is clearly distressed. You think important details might be missed or that people just won’t bother reading the post because it’s difficult to read. Tact is vital here, because no matter how polite you are, your comment could easily be misconstrued, and yet leaving the post as it is could mean the poster doesn’t get the help they need. Consider quoting the post and adding paragraphs, but making it clear that this is in no way a judgement and that you’re just trying to make the post easier to read.
Ask yourself this: am I genuinely trying to be helpful, or am I being a knob? Can I make myself seem less knobbish by rewording the way I point this out?
3.) The person is making claims about grammar that you believe or know to be wrong
If the conversation is about grammar, it’s perfectly legitimate to put your opinion forward.
4.) The person is a knob…
…and they’ve just corrected your grammar or someone else’s. In theory you should rise above it, but by correcting grammar, arguably they have made it the subject of debate (see point 3).
Are you a grammar pedant? Have you spotted any grammatical errors in this post? Do you agree with me, or do you point out mistakes in the belief that you are educating other people? Are you a knob and feel strongly about your right to be so? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.