Confessions of a Grammar Nazi

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Why is Grammar Important?

We recognize the importance of communication skills for succeeding in what we do in life as leaders, professionals, parents, and partners. But the role of grammar in the accuracy and the quality of our communication often gets debated if not undermined. Those who point out grammatical errors in speech or writing often get brushed off, scoffed at or given names such as a Grammar Nazi. I am here to confess that I am one of those people. And I want to say in our defense: it’s not that we enjoy being a pest in your life. We really believe that good grammar is important even in the age of prevailing digital communications.

What is Grammar? It’s a system of rules that define the structure of a language, and its main purpose is to ensure clarity of communication.

So, does grammar bog us down with too many rules or does it help us understand and be understood? Below are some of the common objections that I hear. Each of them is a myth and here is why.  

  1. Why do I need grammar if I still make sense? Sure, we can say that poor grammar does not instantly equal complete incoherence, but allowing it in our language is a certain path to creating confusion. Do you really believe you make sense when you use “their” instead of “there” or “should of” instead of “should’ve? Then think again, because changing the way we use words and expressions can alter the meaning of our message. There are a lot of homophones in our language – they sound similar but have completely different meanings. For example, would you use “night” and “knight” interchangeably? What happens if each of us disregards rules of grammar and comes up with our own “acceptable” means of communication? We will soon drown in the cacophony of random noises instead of sounding like a voice of purpose, persuasion, and influence.
  1. I don’t have time for grammar, I am more concerned with the bottom line.  So are many other businesses. And so was Oakhurst Dairy, a Maine employer who lost $5 million in a lawsuit over a comma. Yes, $5 million in unpaid overtime to its drivers over the absence of an Oxford comma in the state law detailing overtime exemptions!
  1. Good grammar is not nearly as important as solid technical skills.  You may have established yourself as an expert in your field of technical knowledge. Congratulations!  But poor grammar directly affects your credibility – it brings to question your competency in the subject of your expertise. If you didn’t bother to check the correctness of your business correspondence or marketing content, it occurs as a sign of a less-than-professional attitude, inattention to detail, and inability to meet the communication needs of your audience. Would you hire someone like this to manage your projects or to represent your brand to customers? I didn’t think so.
  1. We already have more rules than necessary! Ok, we can agree that not every grammatical error is of equal significance. Maybe we should allow ourselves to use “saftey” instead of “safety” and “jounery” instead of “journey”. But what is next? Ditching all the table manners? Losing regard to our clothing and to personal hygiene? Then running the red light, and while we are at it, driving into the oncoming traffic?  The real question is – where do we draw the line? 
  1. Language is constantly changing. Why be fixed on grammar? Yes, language is not a fixed book of cemented rules. It does evolve with time. Modern English significantly differs from the Shakespearean language in many areas including vocabulary, verb forms, pronouns, spelling, and punctuation. Same is true for any other language that I am familiar with – the norms of acceptable and unacceptable linguistic forms eventually change. In today’s global marketplace, languages constantly borrow terms and concepts from each other which eases communication across the borders. But let’s remember that language is a self-regulating mechanism which evolves naturally due to both social and linguistic reasons. No need for an intentional human interference with polluting, butchering, or dumbing down the language with our incorrect use of it. This will only impede understanding both geographically and demographically.
  1. English is not my first language. So? To some of us, English is not our first, second, or even third language. It may explain why certain linguistic nuances don’t come as easy to us, as they must to native speakers. But this inherent limitation does not have to preclude us from striving to continually improve our language skills. The key to improvement is to speak, write, listen and read in English as much as you can. Do not limit your daily communication circle to people of your own ethnic group only. Spend some of your time interacting with native speakers. Listen to audiobooks, keep a journal, read at least 15-20 minutes every day. Install Grammarly on your computer to improve the quality and readability of your writing – learn from the patterns it applies. By the way, you can adopt some of these practices even as a native speaker in the need of bringing up a notch your abilities to express yourself professionally in your own language.

7.  Why learn to spell if autocorrect does it all? Technology is a double-edged sword. Built-in spell checks will highlight and possibly correct the errors in your word document. They can be helpful. But relying too much on them does lower our alertness to errors. Besides, since the rise of smartphones, how many times did we have those epic autocorrect fails in the texts and emails we sent through our mobile devices? In fact, with texting becoming a legitimate business communication form, our literacy standards are involuntarily lowered. Be aware of how low you allow them to drop because you never know who is watching, who is looking up to you, and who is learning from you.

Believing in the myths above as well as other realities of our fast-paced life contribute to making us less literate. The modern day definition of literacy is not the mere skills to read and write but the ability to express yourself with clarity and purpose. Good grammar creates a fair baseline for people, and you can build on that platform whatever drives or inspires you in your personal and professional endeavors. And the best part is, you don’t have to be a linguist or a Grammar Nazi, to be successful at it.

What is your view on following grammar rules and do you have any tips to share with us?

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  1. Another great thought provoking article Natella. Great points for further discussion in here I think too! I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I believe I am a grammar nazi as well. Can’t help noticing grammar errors wherever they exist. Once I saw it, I must correct it. 🙂 It is true though that not everyone takes it well.

  3. I would’t call myself a grammar Nazi. And I believe when you are sending a quick text some minor misspelling is an inevitable part of the process. But the way some people spell in their actual writing is a complete disaster. You are simply struggling to understand what they mean.

    1. I agree, texting cannot be held to the same standards as “actual” writing, especially if it’s used as a casual method of staying in touch with friends and family. But those who rely on text for business correspondence may need to bring it up a notch I believe.

  4. I may not be the biggest Grammar Nazi myself. But even without going overboard, people need to be more aware of what kind of image of themselves they are portraying to the rest of the world, if their message is peppered with poor grammar. Grammarly is a good tool to have actually. It does a lot more than your regular autocorrelation would pick on. Thank you Natella