When to Correct People’s Grammar Mistakes

This paper says “TSP Report.” I think you mean “TPS.”

For Christmas last year, I got a T-shirt that read, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” At first I thought it was a jerky gift (sorry, Jenny), but then I thought, “Eh, it’s true.” And now I kind of like it. As a copyeditor trained to spot every tiny error (Is that a hyphen instead of an en dash? No way, bugger.), I can’t help but see mistakes everywhere—on signs, in emails, in—gasp—news stories. I just can’t turn off the editor.

But when I spot an error in other people’s speech and writing, I usually silently correct them, instead of actually telling them they made a mistake. Correcting people’s grammar is a quick way to lose friends and become known as a stuffy know-it-all.

However, there are times when you should correct people’s grammar. I’ve outlined the whens and when nots below.

People learning English
If you know someone who is learning English as a second (or third or fourth) language, and they ask you to point out when they make mistakes so they can get better, then it’s okay. However, pay attention to their mood. If they’re talking about a fight with their boyfriend or a bad day at class, then that’s probably not the best time for a grammar lesson.

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Normally you should be hesitant about correcting coworkers’ mistakes. If you spot an error in a casual email, for instance, leave it. But, if you see a mistake that could have major consequences, politely point out the error when you have a moment alone with the colleague. One example of when it’s okay to explain an error would be if a co-worker asks you to look over a PowerPoint for a quarterly update meeting with the big bosses and you see they used affect when it should be effect.

Basically, if you fear a mistake will cause someone’s reputation to be at stake, point it out in a kind, nonjudgmental manner when you are in a secluded environment.

Significant others
I think it’s usually always okay to correct your significant other’s grammar—as long as they are allowed to make fun of you when you have to use a calculator to figure out a restaurant tip. However, if your partner asks you to stop, then do.

Friends and family
Don’t correct friends’ and family members’ grammar mistakes unless they ask you to. Otherwise, you may be minus a friend and stuck getting fruitcake at Christmas. If their mistakes really irk you, start a grammar blog and write about the errors there (wink, wink).

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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7 thoughts on “When to Correct People’s Grammar Mistakes

  1. Oooh, this one hits home for me. Recently my mother-in-law, whom I’d say is about average or slightly above average with her grammar usage, started a blog for her 2-year church mission that she and her husband start this month. She titled it: “Lovell’s Adventures.” Apostrophe errors are my biggest pet peeve, and I weighed the risk of asking her to change it/letting her know of her error for a mere 20 seconds before I sent her a message. “‘Lovells’ Adventures’ is what you meant, mom. Since it’s the title of your blog, I thought you should know…it’s not too late to correct it.” She replied to my email but ignored my correction. I re-sent the correction as politely as I could, but she ignored me again. I give in, I give up…but I am going to hate visiting her blog. I felt/feel like a total jerk, but I was hoping she wouldn’t mind. Now I’m stuck suffering from my fetish, and nothing good has come of it. Have I learned my lesson? Only time will tell! 😉 Thanks for the fun post!


  2. My husband is one of the most intelligent people I have met, which is mostly why I married him. However, he can’t seem to retain my obnoxious corrections to verb conjugations, the most annoying of the spoken grammatical errors. I cannot stand it. It makes my blood boil and I question our marriage when I hear it (Okay, not really, but it’s a good thing he’s cute.) He gets irritated when I do it, but I can’t stop. Sometimes, I try to just let it go, but I end up correcting him 5 minutes later. We just had our first child last year and I will be damned if she has bad grammar because of him!


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