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Stop correcting other people’s grammar

  • 20 February 2019


I used to be the teen who would correct my friends' grammar when they talked. When I walked into my first intro to editing class at uni, I was confident that I knew my grammar. I was then given a quiz of ten questions — I only got three correct.

What I thought were hard and fast rules were actually not that important, and then there were grammar rules I had never heard about in my life. I realised that when I was correcting people, the root of it was about what I thought was the correct way to speak rather than actual standard grammar rules.

Though our education system has made a shift to a more descriptivist style of teaching grammar, there is still a segment of the internet that seems obsessed with enforcing 'correct' grammar: the self-styled Grammar Police. Look at social media, website comment sections, even mugs. The Grammar Police are everywhere. This type of prescriptivist would have everyone use standard grammar and usage all the time, leaving little room for change or context. To them, the point isn't whether the message is communicated effectively or not — it's the way in which it's delivered.

In communicating with others, grammar provides clarity, and Australian standard grammar is one way of accomplishing that. However, what often isn't acknowledged is that knowing the standardised rules is a skill that not everyone has the same access to.

I only know the rules because of the various levels of privilege in my life. Australian English is my first language and the first language of my parents. I don't have any learning, hearing or visual disabilities. I literally have a degree in writing and editing hanging in my bedroom. I'm interested in how words work because I was given every opportunity to be.

The relationship between grammar and privilege is important to point out because the people most hurt by sticking to a hardline prescriptivist viewpoint are minorities. In spite of increasing acceptance for singular 'they' and using gender-neutral pronouns, there is still staunch opposition on the basis of correct grammar usage, which is hard to read as anything but a not-so-subtle attack on non-binary and gender non-conforming people.

Young women are often mocked for overusing modifiers, quotative 'like' and creating slang. However, it's recently being pointed out that mocking girls for how they talk isn't just rude, it's inherently misogynistic. It's well established in the linguistic field that