Episode 36: January 12, 2007
Today's topic is how to correct other people's grammar.
Dr. David asked about how he can correct other people's grammar without losing friends or sounding like a snob. A couple of people, whom I won't name, asked how to deal with bad grammar in the workplace, for example, what to do when their boss butchers the English language. To me, these seem more like manners questions than grammar questions, so I have invited the host of Modern Manners Guy Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life to step in and provide an answer. Here's Mr. Manners:
Thanks, Grammar Girl! It can be a delicate issue deciding when to correct someone’s grammar, so let’s start with a few basic principles.
Always Know Who You Should Correct
If the person whom you wish to correct is your child, student, or employee, you should, of course, feel comfortable (if not obligated) to correct his or her grammar, providing you do it in a polite and constructive manner. If the child, student, or employee is an adult, and it is outside of a classroom setting, you should also do so in private. In any other case, you must ask yourself if the person you wish to correct would actually like to be corrected. If the answer is “no,” then you should keep it to yourself. One exception to this is if you are putting together a work product, and there is a grammatical error that would make you or your company look bad. In this case, you should just suggest the edit and your reasoning behind the correction and refrain from delivering a grammar lesson.
How to Correct Someone's Grammar
If you do wish to correct the grammar of someone whom you truly believe would welcome and appreciate the correction, then start by asking them if it is OK to offer a suggestion. You might say something like, “This is kind of a delicate issue, but I was wondering if it would be all right if I were to offer you a grammatical suggestion—you know I’m kind of a grammar nerd.” This gives the person the opportunity to welcome your suggestion and not feel bad (as you have pointed out your unusual interest in grammar). And of course, be certain that you understand the specific grammatical rules and how to apply them before making a correction.
But again, if you are not sure the person would welcome the correction, then it is better to keep the issue to yourself.
Set a Good Example
A more subtle approach can be just using correct grammar yourself—not in a pedantic way but just as a good example. And of course you can always point them to the great new podcast you have discovered: Grammar Girl. Who knows? They might even end up a little more polite as well.
Thank you for listening to Modern Manners Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life. And thank you Grammar Girl.
Thank you, Mr. Manners! He gives such great advice; I know that I can always rely on him for a good solution when I have an etiquette problem. If you enjoyed his answer, you can subscribe to his show at iTunes by searching for “Modern Manners,” and you can also find his webpage at quickanddirtytips.com.