Whether you consider yourself a grammar stickler or not, there are probably certain grammatical rules that annoy you when broken. Maybe it occurs when someone uses a word incorrectly. Maybe it occurs when there is a lack of punctuation. Or maybe you simply can’t stand spelling errors.
So what do you do when you notice a grammar or spelling error from someone else. Do you tell them? And if so, how? The following are five ways to politely correct others’ grammar mistakes.
1. Decide if it’s worth it.
The absolute first thing that you must do is decide if it’s worth it. Correcting children is a given. They are still learning, and correcting their mistakes at an early age can help mold their grammatical skills for later in life. If it’s a friend, coworker or boss, you’ll need to decide if correcting their mistakes is worth it. If the individual is very sensitive, they could take your constructive criticism as being offensive. Also, some people think that grammar sticklers are snobs, and correcting someone’s grammar can get people talking about you, and maybe not in a good way.
If the grammatical or spelling error is major and can harm your company, you’ll want to let someone know. For example, if your company is putting up a billboard on a very busy road and you notice a major misspelling before it goes to the printer, you’ll want to tell someone so that it can be corrected. Your boss will appreciate you catching a mistake that can embarrass the company.
2. Ask for permission.
It may seem silly, but asking someone if you could offer them some constructional criticism could make the situation easier. Some people are simply more open to receiving constructive criticism, and they’ll be happy to welcome your grammar corrections and learn from it. Others will not be so receptive, and if someone tells you that they don’t want your corrections, just leave it alone.
3. Do it in private.
If you opt to correct the grammar, you’ll want to do so in a private setting. Calling someone out for a misspelling or grammatical error in front of a large audience is not going to go over well. Pull them aside or even drop them a private note and let them know about the mistake. They’ll appreciate you keeping it between the two of you.
4. Have a valid reason.
Some people make grammatical mistakes because they simply don’t know the rules. But if you’re going to correct someone’s grammar, you need to know why you’re doing so. Saying you have to do so “just because” is not going to go over well. Just try to give them a little reasoning as to why they need to make corrections. Not only does this prove that you’re right, but it can also help them learn, which will keep them from making the mistake again.
5. Don’t lecture.
If you notice that someone is a bit uneasy about being corrected, make sure to keep the explanation short. If you start lecturing your friends or coworkers as to why they’re wrong, they’re not going to be happy about allowing you to make your suggested corrections.
Knowing if you should correct someone’s grammar can be challenging, but if you use these tips, you’ll be able to do so in a less intrusive and more polite way.
Steven Peters is an English teacher and grammar fanatic. He enjoys writing and recently wrote about the importance of grammar checking in the workplace.