How I Collect Your Grammar Mistakes
No one loves a grammarian. Trust me. When someone asks for help … that’s one thing (and even that can destroy a friendship). But when someone is mid-sentence, that’s another. Let’s just say I’ve learned to hold my tongue.
My children I can correct. My co-workers? Forget it.
So, instead, when a grammar gaffe really bugs me, I write it down. I collect mistakes.
The same is true when I’m reading articles on Medium. I don’t know why I still read people’s writing advice when they say right up front that they’ve only been writing for a year. (No one who has done something for a year or less should give advice.) But I sometimes do, and I’m often horrified by the counsel they’re giving while not correcting their own errors.
But I don’t want to be a jerk. So, on my computer, there lives a document with a one-word title: “Grammar.”
What’s the point of hoarding these mistakes in my little collection?
Why I collect mistakes
I love grammar. I love it like it’s a person — someone I need to protect. And I hate when people do violence to it. I sometimes actually physically flinch while reading.
I studied English grammar in college (and the grammar of other languages since). I worked as a writer for years. Then I went back to school to get certified to teach English as a second language internationally, which required 40 more hours of grammar!
Is everyone excited about my life of practice and my newly honed skill?
No. No they’re not. No one cares.
After I finished that international English certification, instead of heading back out of the country, I began working in an agency-type setting. (My plans to consult, freelance, and teach English abroad were postponed, but not forgotten.)
With my new, super-powered grasp of grammar, I would serve my organization well. I was excited. But you know what I learned really quickly?
Most people don’t want to learn to speak and write correctly. They don’t want to change. They don’t mind if you fix it on paper (or online) and make them sound better, but they don’t want to get better. They don’t care.
My grammar doc, my confidante
When I studied journalism, it was the job of those who were more experienced (my professors, yes, but also other student editors) to help teach. We were supposed to correct each other, make each other better. I still treasure this experience.
It seems like people listened more to each other back then.
But in our current culture, it’s nearly impossible to correct someone without offending. Grammar is supposed to mind her own Ps and Qs (so I guess she will, but without apostrophes, thank you).
This saddens me, frustrates me, even angers me sometimes. But I’ve had to choose between a battle over the use of one single comma and having friends (don’t think for a second I’m joking). Honestly, it’s been a hard choice. I still get frustrated.
That’s where my document comes in. “Grammar.doc” is who I tell when no one cares. She hears my frustrations, always remembers what I tell her, and shows me, when I work with her, how to make them into something productive.
When I’m in a meeting at work and someone on our communications team uses a word incorrectly, I say nothing. When I’m editing, I quietly fix mistakes instead of calling them out … and then I write them down.
My grammar document is my confidante.
Now, I don’t tell my co-worker that there are more prepositions she can use besides “around.” I just write it down. And then I write an article about how to use prepositions.
I don’t tell a writer that it’s a bad idea to include a dull, three-sentence quote in the middle of a paragraph when what is quoted could be said in one seven-word sentence. I just suggest an edit and add it to my document.
And then I write a story about how to use quotes.
(Mind you, no one’s going to get hurt. I don’t mention anyone’s real name. I even disguise situations, so I’m not calling out my co-workers on a public website. Only the grammatical error remains the same.)
Medium, my therapist
At work, my document morphed into a useful style guide. On Medium, it becomes articles. But honestly, the process of taking something frustrating and turning it into something that could potentially help people is healing.
I don’t correct Mac when he says, “Me and Suzanne will take care of it,” (even though it makes me want to scream that the director of an agency misuses pronouns!).
I don’t even correct Suzanne when she says, “He was helping Mac and I fix the problems” (even though Suzanne has a Master’s degree in Journalism and should know better)!
Instead, I write it down. And then I write an article about how to go back to 3rd grade grammar to learn to use a pronoun. Writing the articles is somehow soothing. It calms me down, makes me feel like maybe I can make a difference, for grammar’s sake.
Mistakes don’t really bother me. People not caring about them makes me want to pull my hair out. But taking them to Medium makes me feel better.
Medium is like a therapist who pays me for showing up. I tell her my frustrations, and she rewards me with a little cash.
If anyone reads my articles and learns from the mistakes I’ve collected, maybe they won’t make these mistakes again. Maybe I’ll reach enough people so that others will begin to appreciate my beloved grammar too.
Even if just one person learns that “alot” is actually two words and that “anyways” actually shouldn’t ever have an “s,” I will celebrate a small victory. If just one person will backspace and put that period inside the quotation marks, I will do a little dance.
I know these things don’t really keep people from reading an article, but they are tiny stumbling blocks, frustrations. They can make it more difficult for readers to make it through your articles.
And they make a grammarian want to cry.
I’m thankful for the professors and students who corrected my work as I was learning to write. I was excited when I submitted a draft on a ghost-writing project and was told by the publishers that they were thankful for clean work, that there wouldn’t be any of “those kinds of edits.”
I love it when my own editor now hands things back to me and says “no edits.” But this doesn’t happen that often. I still make mistakes. And when he makes edits to my work, I thank him. I’m grateful that his work makes mine better.
I wish everyone could see it this way. Why wouldn’t you want your work to improve?
My love pays off: Good grammar is about to give me $15,000 a year while I do nothing
Stories can change lives. Don’t you want yours to be as clear as possible? Don’t you want to remove all the stumbling blocks for your readers when you have something so important to tell them that it could rock their world?
Letting someone correct your grammar does pay off. I’ve corrected my children their whole lives — not a ton, but enough that they know better. I try not to now. They’ve proven they can correct themselves, and teens, like co-workers, don’t like to be corrected.
Years of grammar correction mattered recently when my daughter took the ACT. Her grammar score? A 36 out of 36. Oh how good that felt, especially when she thanked me.
But you know what feels even better? When she attends the college she chooses, that score, and the scholarship it earned her, are going to save us $15,000 a year.
Why do I collect grammar mistakes? Creepy habit, or wise choice? Decide for yourself. But know this: Good grammar may pay off in ways you don’t expect. And it’s a gift to your readers. They may show their appreciation by sticking around.