4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers

Grammar policeman points out errors in your writingby Linda Formichelli

The other day I received this email in response to a marketing message I sent out to my subscription list:

Basic grammar forbids the use of double negatives, “…using the wrong
set of skills for the wrong job”. An authority on writing must master
the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.

(I so wanted to let this guy know that “the wrong skills for the wrong job” is hardly a double negative, and that some of the greatest writers of all times used double negatives for emphasis — Shakespeare, anyone? But I took my own advice and hit Delete.)

And here’s a small excerpt of a 400-word comment I got a few months ago pointing out two typos in a post:

This the very first article of yours that I have read and I already have an image of you built in my mind. A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done! Not very flattering, is it.

I DO NOT think that of you, but I could and all because of two little mistakes in your writing! A person’s writing is a reflection of them, is it not? Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?

I know other professional writers get all kinds of emails pointing out their typos and grammatical errors.

So what’s the problem? People need to know when they’re wrong so they can improve, so why not be the one to let them know — right?

Wrong. Here’s why you should retire your Grammar Police badge forever.

1. Grammar Police aren’t perfect

Did you notice the mistakes in these two Grammar Police messages I received? In the first one, he put the period outside of the quote marks. (And I know he’s American, so he has no excuse.) In the second, he wrote “advise” for “advice.” (And there were many more mistakes in the rest of the 400 words he posted.

People in glass houses and all that.

If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect. And who wants that kind of stress?

2. Grammar Police waste time

The time and energy you spend policing other people’s grammar is better spent elsewhere — like, say, writing.

I just had to look up the guy who unsubscribed from my Morning Motivations emails because of a perceived double negative, and discovered that he has a book on Amazon. A book with a flabby three-star average rating (out of five stars). And reviews calling the book “boring.”

With all the time he spent getting PO’d about my grammar, writing and sending me an email, and unsubscribing from my list, he could have improved his own writing by reading a writing blog, reading chapter of a book on the writing craft, or editing some of his own work.

I guarantee you will never see, say, Stephen King shooting off an email to a writer admonishing her for a typo. He’s too busy, you know, writing bestsellers.

3. Grammar Police have bad attitudes

I love it when people write to me and say, “You may not have noticed this, but I wanted to let you know you have a misspelled word in the title of your post.” That is constructive criticism and that writer doesn’t earn the moniker “Grammar Police.”

I think the term “Grammar Police” refers specifically to people who berate you for your grammar errors — all out of proportion to the severity of said errors. Those who tell you your writing won’t be taken seriously with typos, or who paint a picture of you as a frazzled writer who can’t cope with life.

If that’s the attitude you display to other writers, you’re going to have a hard time networking and making friends in the writing community. And we all know how important contacts are in this industry, right?

4. Grammar Police have trouble writing

People who are sticklers for grammar and who blow up over typos tend to be perfectionists who never get their writing out to the world because they’re too concerned with making it perfect — which it will never be.

When you see a writer who is über prolific, you’ll find that they make the occasional error. That’s because they don’t get hung up on getting it perfect — they get hung up on getting it done.

Also, show me someone who gets hyper about grammar and I’ll show you someone whose writing is probably stilted, businesslike, and boring. I mean, “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously”? Snooooze.

Good writers know how and when to bend — and break — the rules. For example, sometimes purposely breaking a grammar rule adds emphasis, or makes a piece of writing more conversational and reader-friendly.

Okay — time to hang up your Grammar Police uniform for good, and instead spend your time writing, writing, writing.

Ever had a run in with the Grammar Police? Let us know what happened in the comments below.

Linda Formichelli has written for over 130 magazines, is the co-author of The Renegade Writer and blogs about writing at The Renegade Writer. Her new book is Write Your Way Out of the Rat Race and Step Into a Career You’ll Love (Carol’s link there. Appreciate your support!).

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179 comments on “4 Reasons Why Grammar Police Make Terrible Writers
  1. Linda

    Gotta say I’m someone who keeps myself pretty well drilled on spelling and grammar. First, it helps keep grammar sticklers off my back. Secondly, I always think ‘Why make mistakes in your writing when you can avoid them?’

    BUT …

    I couldn’t agree more with the message of this post.

    What we all really need is Boredom Police not Grammar Police – people who are prepared tell us when our content is boring and give us reasons why.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…3 dangerously destructive writing habits every copywriter should avoidMy Profile

  2. Roger Lawrence says:

    I seem to recall that Oscar Wilde continued one single sentence for almost two pages of Dorian Grey. It should have been a disaster but as he was such a great writer it worked perfectly. If the author is making a point then any and all rules may be broken – provided the he/she knows the rules in the first place.

  3. Hi Linda,

    I really enjoyed this post, and completely agree with what you’ve said. I have a friend who will write one perfectly written 1,000 word article a week, and spend the rest of the week on Facebook complaining about misplaced apostrophes. Sometimes you just have to write, y’know? 🙂

    Thanks,
    Daley

  4. John Soares says:

    “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

    This quote guides all of my writing. I do make sure I give my freelance writing clients top-notch work, but I also don’t obsess about making a zillion microscopic improvements.

    The quote especially applies to what I write on my blog and in online forums and in blog comments such as this one. Say what you have to say, read it over for clarity, grammar, and punctuation, and then publish it.
    John Soares recently posted…19 Successful Freelance Writers Share Their Top Goals for 2014My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, John.

      I consider the occasional mistake the price paid for generating as much content as I do. It happens…and it’s OK. And people who zoom in on that one mistake instead of using the info you’ve given them to go out and earn more have misplaced priorities.

      Thanks for this post, Linda!

  5. Laurence says:

    Hi Linda,

    I do tend to pick on errors that people make BUT I do fall in the category of politely informing them to help them instead of admonishing them.
    Usually I get thanked for the information.
    Occasionally I get blasted by somebody criticising me for having the nerve to pick on them (which I find ironic, especially when they also claim to be a proofreader.)
    I recently had one person who refused to believe they were wrong so I just let it be. No point in arguing.

    I am an Aussie so please note my Aussie spelling as well. 🙂

    I agree that rules can be broken if there’s a reason but NOT just because you don’t know how to spell. 🙂

    Thanks for the wonderful work that you do.

    Cheers,

    Laurence
    Laurence recently posted…Comment on Praise by LaurenceMy Profile

  6. Wow! Linda, the grammar police made a pretty basic mistake
    when writing about how a master of writing has
    to be careful about what “they” write. Huh? Great post!
    Miriam Hendeles recently posted…5 Loehmann’s Takeaways about LifeMy Profile

  7. Rachel says:

    So apropos to read this now.

    I had a run-in with the grammar police in a big way on a LinkedIn group for writers.The OP made a comment like “aren’t you irked when writers make grammatical mistakes in posts?”

    I commented not only on the fact that 57 people felt the need to berate those writers who can’t take the time to make sure their work is perfect (kind of like preaching to the converted), but also at the subtle arrogance of some of the people commenting.

    When one commenter dared to disagree, he was accused of not being a real writer (he’s a photojournalist). Although he writes for The Examiner, there were 2 or 3 comments on the legitimacy of the paper – which degenerated into questioning whether he – with his “lousy” credentials, should even dare to belong to such a forum.

    Truly appalling.
    Rachel recently posted…3 Reasons Why You Should Say No to TherapyMy Profile

    • I was in on that LinkedIn thread, Rachel. That guy was a total ass and got the whole conversation off track. I had to bite my tongue and force myself to not get in the foray.
      Shauna L Bowling recently posted…What Do You Want to Know About Me?My Profile

      • I recall a conversation in one (mostly Christian) editors’ group on the subject of whether the Divinity pronoun should be capitalized (e. g., “He” vs. “he” in reference to God). Notwithstanding that the majority of Bible translations, and probably at least half of major religious publishers, opt for the latter version, one fellow got very nasty about rubbing everyone else’s noses in the opinion that no REAL Christian would EVER do that. He eventually had to be asked to leave the group, and did so (in direct violation of the official rules) by posting a long parting rant on the heretics we all were. Grammar Cop and Theology Cop rolled into one!
        Katherine Swarts recently posted…New Things ComingMy Profile

      • terre says:

        (Did you mean fray?)

  8. The grammar police are everywhere – like a boozed-up heckler in a comedy club. I use proofreading software quite frequently, but there are many times I click the “Ignore” button to keep the tone of my piece flowing (unless of cause the error is obviously blatant.) Some writers sometimes confuse blog post writing with academic or formal writing. They would do better to spend more time reading more content than assigning it a score. It would help them to get a better feel for what the current, literary norm is in print and online. Of course, I’m not promoting the use of stuff like ending sentences with prepositions, but using words like “And” or “But” at the beginning of sentences is becoming more acceptable. After all…who authorized them to give out the academic degrees anyway?

  9. While I agree that minor mistakes happen by everyone, I think writers do need to be aware of how they are writing and spelling. I belong to a group on Facebook, and one writer friend there cannot even make a post without SEVERAL errors every time. Would I hire her to write something for me? No. I enjoyed your article, though! Thank you!

  10. Mary says:

    Great post. Even as a former grammar teacher, I find grammar police tedious. It’s like having a conversation with someone who is too busy thinking about THEIR next rejoinder to actually listen to what you are saying.

    I often had my grammar corrected mid-sentence when I was a young ‘un, and while (perhaps) it did make me aware of the importance of grammatical precision, it also tended to make me feel uncomfortable about expressing myself.

    Good writing is more than just grammar.

  11. Karen says:

    I’m British and have lived in both Canada and Australia. My pet peeve is being told I’ve misspelled or misused words when I use standard British English online. I actually use American English when writing for American clients but on my own blogs I reserve the right to use my mother tongue.

    What is amazing is that even though most English speaking countries use standard British English I’ve actually received a comment saying that if I’m writing for the web I must use US English! I do appreciate that the US is a huge market and even state over at my website that I will happily write in US or standard (British) English, but I really resent the accusation that British English (ie the spellings used by all major English speaking countries outside the US) is ‘wrong’.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I think that’s true though, Karen — US English dominates the Web.

      I recently learned an interesting Britishism reviewing press releases in the Den, that companies are refered to as “who” where in US English companies are an “it.”

    • Melody says:

      I was taught in the ’70s to first determine whether the punctuation belongs to the quotation or to the sentence the quotation is within, and then punctuate accordingly. (I’m American, by the way.) IMO it’s logical, makes sense, and looks better than the current way of putting everything inside quotes.

      Five years ago, I find out that’s the “British way” and it’s “wrong”. (Yes, I purposely did that.) When I write for hire, I do it the “correct, American way,” (on purpose again) but in my own writing, I do it the way I was taught.

      Not everything modern or American is necessarily better. 🙂

      • Christine says:

        I’ve been working for several years in American English, Canadian English and Canadian French.
        I recently did editing for a woman doing masters work in her second language, English. Her first language is Farsi/Arabic.
        I had to begin by asking her if she wanted to use American or British spelling. Your choice, I said, just be consistent. I can apply whatever rule set consistently.
        The best thing an editor can do, is not mess with the writer’s voice, but just tidy and clarify.

  12. Trevor says:

    Here’s a fun game I’ve learned to play whenever I get a message from the grammar police. Usually they are doing their best to become my next editor.

    I go to their site, find 15-25 mistakes in grammar they’ve used and ask them to show me 3 errors one the page they’ve posted.

    They never write back and I usually lose them as readers…but that’s OK because the community I’m building makes people who jump all over others really uncomfortable.
    Trevor recently posted…My thoughts for the New YearMy Profile

  13. Pinar Tarhan says:

    Hi Linda,
    I don’t like anyone who makes it their purpose of existence to catch others’ mistakes, grammar or otherwise. And they do it in a really annoying, pretentious way, and then as you pointed out, they do it while making more obvious mistakes themselves.
    They’re just another group of trolls and best left alone:)
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted…So I Wrote My First Short Story (That Wasn’t Required for an English Class)My Profile

  14. Thanks for this post! Because I’m an editor, most people assume I’m a grammar snob. In reality? Not so much. I won’t read a post riddled with errors, but I’m also not going to berate someone for making a typo in an e-mail.

    My biggest problem with grammar police is their holier-than-thou attitude. They don’t point out others’ mistakes because they’re trying to be helpful; they do it because it makes them feel superior. It’s a jerk move. Even worse, they usually have an incomplete understanding of grammar and stye. And they probably don’t realize that some people, myself included, choose to break antiquated grammar rules because we just don’t like them. (I’ll split my infinitives all day long if I want to, thank you very much.)

    Thanks again for writing this. I’ll be sharing it with all the grammar police I have the misfortune of meeting!
    Ashley Brooks recently posted…Unleash Your Story in 2014My Profile

  15. Reminds me of the number of times a commenter on this blog has apologized for a typo noticed only after posting, and been told, “Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t count here.” Personally, I belong to the crowd that instinctively proofreads every e-mail twice before sending (and yes, it is probably a major time suck in my life), but I definitely don’t reply to other people’s e-mails (or blog comments) just to tell them they left the N out of AN.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…New Things ComingMy Profile

  16. On the other hand, I’ve seen more than a few published typos that were unintentionally hilarious and probably needed to be corrected before they went viral–I still remember, some fifteen years ago, when a political candidate took out an ad that twice cited his “long record in PUBIC service.”
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…New Things ComingMy Profile

  17. Casey says:

    Ah, the grammar police! Thanks for writing about this, Linda. I know a few folks who are very prissy and precise about grammar but whose writing is free of fresh ideas and a confident voice. I suspect their fixation on grammar rules comes from the notion that writing is about following a form to a “T,” rather than having something to say.

    For me writing is about expressing ideas and telling stories. Grammar is a means to that end because it makes my writing easier for readers to scan and understand. But if I have to choose between making a point in a particular voice and following a grammar rule, the rule’s gonna lose.

  18. Gary Korisko says:

    (Standing and clapping)

    You’ll have to take my word for it.

    Wonderful post, Linda. I’ve noticed that the Grammar Po-Po tend to live on the sidelines, too – be it the sidelines of the book-writing game or the blog writing game. It’s largely a passive-aggressive act.

    As Ashley says above – many of us choose to break rules for the sake of style or readability. I have a degree in English, and I break so many rules I’d need a degree in math to count them 🙂

    At any rate, a post that makes so many people say, “Man, I’m glad someone finally wrote this!” is a great post indeed. This is going in my Evernote and getting shared everywhere I can share it. Nice work!
    Gary Korisko recently posted…Comment on How to Reboot, Rejuvenate, and Reload For the New Year by Dean BrightmanMy Profile

  19. Elise says:

    Hilarious, Wierd projection: A harried, hair all over the place woman who rushes around to get her work done!

  20. DT Krippene says:

    With some notable exceptions, I couldn’t agree more, Linda. In testing potential critique partners, some got so hung up on sentence structure and wordsmithing, they lost the story string. Grammar has an important role, but as you aptly point out, it’s about the story or message, not a missing pronoun.
    DT Krippene recently posted…Til We See the LightMy Profile

  21. I agree!

    It’s easier for me to freely write when I’m not focused on grammar. After I’m all done writing something, I put on my editing cap…but wearing “that hat” comes (way) later.

    Thank you Carol and Linda!

  22. Jennifer says:

    Love this POST! I am a very prolific writer and typos do slip by. I try my hardest, but I will drop words or make typos occassionally. I have learned that when it HAS to be perfect that I hire a Virtual Assistant to proofreader for me and honestly that has paid off in spades, especially when working with new to me editors. But grammar police are SO annoying and I agree, most of them don’t write near as much as I do.
    Jennifer recently posted…Six Goals to Set in 2014 for Your Content Marketing Writing BusinessMy Profile

  23. Jawad Khan says:

    A much needed post.

    As writers, our objective is to deliver a message through content, to deliver results for our clients and to help them grow their businesses.

    While it’s important to have an acceptable standard of language skills, it should not distract you from the actual objective of your content.

    Unfortunately, grammar police miss this point.
    Jawad Khan recently posted…5 Things To Do Right After Your Guest Post Gets PublishedMy Profile

  24. Great advice, Linda. I’m sure that both you and Carol get more than your fair share of trolls, and I admire the way you guys roll. People who feel it necessary to take pot shots for minor infractions disturb me infinitely more than a misplaced comma or random misspelled word. Write on…I’ll be reading and learning. 🙂

  25. Sherri says:

    Oh! This brings back memories of a community college English teacher. He was such a stickler on grammar that he made me feel like a complete failure in writing. He didn’t seem to care about the story, just that you had a comma in the wrong place. Ugh!

    When you consider that most writing is not doctoral theses, but for mass consumption I really don’t see what the big deal is, as long as it reads well, is proofread and isn’t a big mess.

  26. Nico says:

    Great piece. I write and edit, and they’re very different hats to wear. If you worry to much about the latter when writing the first draft, it’s true, not much gets done.

    Though frankly I’m more bothered by the very gendered response from the second commentator. The first thing the person mentions is the writer’s appearance, as if that’s the most important consideration. That kind of response is even more frustrating and harmful, not to mention condescending.

    Keep up the good work, Lisa!
    Nico recently posted…Bookish stuff for She Does the CityMy Profile

  27. Kimberly says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thank you for writing this post on grammar. I find the rules of grammar confusing at times and I don’t want to spend more time ‘being correct’ than just writing.

    All the best to you in the new year!

  28. Oludami' says:

    Nice post, Linda!
    As a trained copywriter, I can rightly say that intentional abuse of the rules of grammar is part of the tricks we sometimes resort to when we need to bring out (and pass on) the deeper meaning in some words or sentences. And this is same with web writing.

    Imagine an all-time winning headline that says “Bills it’s Okay to Pay Late”! What’s the Po-Po got to say ’bout this?
    Oludami’ recently posted…How To Write a Quality 500-Word Article Under 20 MinutesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Great point — copywriting breaks those rules all the time.
      And what a lot of people don’t understand is…blogging more resembles copywriting than article writing.

      • Oludami' says:

        Exactly, Carol! In fact, blogs writing – and even articles, to an extent – is part of the skills you must have as a copywriter. It’s not unusual for a client to demand it as part of a package!
        Oludami’ recently posted…The Best 10 Proven Ways to Get Freelance Writing JobsMy Profile

      • Oludami' says:

        Hi, Carol. Thanks for visiting my blog and actually commenting. I’m only ashamed you found it in such shape. Already on the verge of a complete overhaul and relaunch of my blog, latest 15th January – had to abandon it a bit because of law school.

        Your visit is a big kick in the butt. Thanks again!
        Oludami’ recently posted…The Essence of What I DoMy Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Wow, you’re going to law school AND blogging! I’m impressed.

          I’ve been trying to revamp THIS blog for ages…and it’s GOING to happen soon! Always takes longer than you hope.

          • Oludami' says:

            Sure, revamping does take more time than hoped. And that’s my fear. Anyway, I’m half-way into an AWAI ‘site audits’ training, and I hope to use my blog as practice before taking on clients. This I believe should aid my revamping.

            I will now be blogging better since Law School is out of the way. Got called to the Nigerian bar November. Though I started making money from freelance writing 2 months to my exams, and it’s been regular since then. Thanks to your tips, amongst others 🙂
            Oludami’ recently posted…The Essence of What I DoMy Profile

  29. Tom Bentley says:

    As H.G. Wells said, “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone’s
    draft.” What can be galling about grammar cops is the absolute glee you sometimes see in a jabbing, “You’re wrong, wrong, dammit and let me explain—in five lengthy paragraphs—why!”

    Ugh.

    I’ve been an editor for a zillion years and know that no matter how carefully a work is polished, errors will crop up. You can’t catch ’em all, but its so easy to be obnoxious in pointing them out.

    (Except when it’s professionally requested, of course. The pointing, not the obnoxiousness.)

    And language being a living (and dying) thing, the “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” is breathing its last. But for every agreement there, there is another skirmish over “who” and “whom” and using “they” as the object pronoun for a singular subject. The contentions will go on and on, but pulling out your grammar cop badge to contend is graceless. (And heaven forgive me for the times I’ve done it in the past.) Thanks Linda!
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Caution: This Fiction Contains PulpMy Profile

  30. Holly says:

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I keep my FB account personal and for fun. On at least a few occasions I’ve had to block someone whose sole purpose in life seemed to be correcting grammar in other people’s posts. It seems like the people that do this never do so out of wanting to help you either… it’s like they are spiteful about it.
    Holly recently posted…Powerful messaging made easy.My Profile

  31. Linda, there’s a time and place for public grammar correction. Most of us make errors from time to time and sometimes they are on purpose – as you say, to emphasize or make a point. Then there are those who call themselves writers and the spelling/grammar is soooooo bad, I just click out rather than berate the person publicly.

    Unless an article or post specifically asks for corrections to be cited in the comment section, I will privately email the author if I have a personal relationship with him/her.

    Give us a break. Sheesh! Ain’t they got no learnin’? 🙂
    Shauna L Bowling recently posted…What Do You Want to Know About Me?My Profile

  32. Cinthia says:

    I work as a journalist and there’s nothing readers like better than pointing out grammar and spelling errors. I swear, they’re almost gleeful about it (OK, they are gleeful). I think it gives people a temporary ego boost: I’m as smart as that newspaper writer.
    It’s annoying, yes. I want to shout: We’re all human! We all make mistakes!
    I don’t mind the occasional error in blog posts, since they’re often fly-by-night writing forms. But if I browse a writer’s site and it’s loaded with errors, I probably won’t return.
    My big pet peeve is seeing “lay” instead of “lie.” This happens ALL the time. I see it misused in newspapers and magazines, blogs and formal writing: Ahhhhh!
    I do think that if you want to write professionally you need to know the basic rules of grammar.
    That said, pointing out another’s errors is silly and pompous. We all misspell, and we all miss our own mistakes when we self-edit.
    I think it has to do with security: If you’re secure about your own writing and skills, you can forgive others for their slights. If you’re not, it’s easy to condemn others, probably a type of defense mechanism: I’ll criticism you instead of admitting to my own faults.

  33. Cinthia says:

    And I made a mistake in my reply post (criticism instead of criticize): I LOVE it!!
    Cinthia recently posted…Best reads of 2013My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      See my response to Tom. 😉 I officially don’t care and don’t want writers to feel they need to come back to point out their own mistakes in my comments… and we all knew what you meant.

  34. Marianne says:

    I have a couple of decades’ experience as a professional developmental editor, and I likewise find grammar police to be clueless time-wasters. In my experience, some of the best, most compelling authors I’ve worked with have first drafts riddled with shocking grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, and they can’t even see them unless you point them out.Guess what? THOSE ERRORS ARE EASY TO FIX. BUT YOU CAN’T FIX BORING.
    Marianne recently posted…How to Help an Author (Beyond Buying the Book): Part OneMy Profile

  35. Halona Black says:

    And this right here is the problem with writing teachers. I taught writing to adult students studying for the GED for a number of years. Most of my students were deathly afraid of writing because they were afraid to make mistakes — couldn’t even put down the first few words out of fear of judgement from the grammar and spelling police. Then I explained to my students that even some of the best writers that they highly respect had editors! They had no idea! They honestly thought that those who were “good writers” took their pen to a piece of paper and wrote their prose correctly the first go round. Absolutely ridiculous! But their teachers are to blame for their deep fear of expressing themselves through writing.

    My second problem with the grammar police is that they never consider the medium through which the writer is expressing herself. A blog is not really meant to be a piece of finished artwork. It’s a place to share thoughts and ideas with those who are interested in having a conversation with you. It’s not a term paper. Sometimes ideas and discussions are grammatically incorrect with a few spelling errors here and there. What matters most is whether or not the message was communicated. If the errors get in the way of communicating an idea, then it’s a problem. But that is never a problem here on this blog. So bid peace and blessings to the writer to the writer who couldn’t stand your mistakes. They probably aren’t make much of a living as a writer anyway.
    Halona Black recently posted…Create Your 2013 Content Marketing Year in ReviewMy Profile

    • So true…bloggers are producing TONS of writing, and they’re doing it fast. Typos are bound to slip in. It’s not like, say, magazine writing, where you can labor over an article for weeks and then it goes through a copyeditor.

  36. Jessica B. says:

    When I saw the title of your post, I thought, “Uh oh – this must mean I’m a bad writer!” 😉 People often ask me for grammar advice. But I liked how you differentiated between “Grammar Police” and those who give constructive criticism. I think the kind of Grammar Police you quoted are simply haters; Probably they’re jealous of you in some way (although I’m sure they’d hate me, too, for saying that).

    You’re right, even the most well-versed grammarian slips up! And I’ve also noticed that being too tied to good grammar – the editor side of my brain – can often stifle my creativity and give me a terrible case of writer’s block. (Your Point #4 says it well.) Better to “sin boldly” when it comes to grammar/punctuation and fix it in the proofing stages.

    • Carol Tice says:

      The one I do all the time is “here’s” when I want to say here ARE. Ask my longtime Entrepreneur editor Peggy Bennett, who’s now one of our Den moderators — I think she had to fix that at least once in every story I wrote for her!

  37. Chris says:

    I was a real estate broker for 25 years, and often deliberately misspelled a long descriptive word (funtastic, spaacious, etc.) in ads or info for other realtors. Got lots of calls from the critics….and amused buyers – sold several houses as a result of writing outside the rule box.

    That said, when critiquing writing for myself or asked to do so for others, my red pen is at the ready. Nobody’s perfect, and that’s why we help each other.

    And I wonder if sometimes what people refer to as G.P. may simply be thin skin – I get a newsletter from one of copywriting’s godfathers and know he uses ghost writers occasionally. Typos and inconsistencies frequent the posts, and one time when the topic was professionalism in writing, error after glaring error leaped from the copy. A rank newbie at the time, I sent a post politely asking if proofreading and editing, important backroom elements in the news business, were relaxed on the web. Since web copy does not have the luxury of last-minute “oops” repairs before typesetting, I thought it was a legitimate question. I got a one sentence retort: “You obviously know NOTHING about writing.” Thanks for the insight, big guy. Sorry I asked.

  38. Julie says:

    I found this post refreshing, humorous, and comforting. Just yesterday, I vented about how embarrassed I am by my own writing — mostly to make fun of my own grammar mistakes on my blogs. However, this “4 Reasons…” post makes me believe it’s possible to make thousands of dollars a month on writing even if I don’t catch all my typos.

    This encouragement came a month after a cheap content mill who thinks I’m only worth about three dollars an hour max booed me down.

    For me…

    It’s hard to run blogs and meticulously edit every post myself. At some point I intend to make enough money to have someone look over my blogs for minor mistakes, but for now, it’s rough! I have to do it all myself!

    Other than that…

    I love the comments people made in reply to this post: “Boredom Police,” “Grammar sticklers,” and similar phrases are ingrained in my memory right now.

    I also hope to join the Writer’s Den soon. I have to catch the emails about new openings at the right times! 🙂
    Julie recently posted…I’m Embarrassed by my Own Writing! Have you ever Been?!My Profile

  39. Irene Ross says:

    This is so spot-on! You’re comment about good writers knowing when and how to break rules really hit home. A few years ago someone who was then a client, had the audacity to start a sentence with the word “And.” I knew exactly why she did it and I have to admit it had the desired effect. So I didn’t change it. However, the person above me (who was eventually fired, by the way) insisted she change it–and when I stepped in to defend her, it created a (totally pointless) brouhaha.

    I also love this one: I follow AP Style, and one of my clients, who lets his wife review my posts, says it’s wrong “and she’s an English teacher, so she really knows.” (By the way, I’m seriously thinking of letting that client go)

    • Irene Ross says:

      Uh-oh–I didn’t proof, and now I found a mistake. Here comes the grammar police!

      • Carol Tice says:

        There are actually a ton of small errors in MANY of these comments, which I think only highlights Linda’s points in the post. Fortunately, you are covered under my Universal Blog Comment Typo forgiveness insurance policy! We all know what you meant, and you don’t have to come back and point out your own mistakes here. 😉

  40. I agree that some “grammar police” are very annoying, but I would caution about “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” I have been a professional copyeditor for many years, and I can assure you I am not a bad writer. Good grammar is vital to effective writing, and a writer can often be helped by engaging competent copyediting help. I have saved many a writer from embarrassment by preventing such errors as these: “The driver lost control and hit a telephone pole going 40 miles an hour.” Or this headline; “Health Insurers Should Cover New Breasts.” (Last example from “More Anguished English” by Richard Lederer). A good copyeditor does not insult the writer but works constructively with the writer to help the writer see errors that could be costly in terms of rejected work, lost sales, and even embarrassment, while preserving the writer’s unique voice and message. I would urge you all to think about the value that good grammar and editing bring to your work. And to all those self-appointed grammar police: Make sure you know what you are talking about before you correct someone else.

    • Chris says:

      Right on, Jewel! My point exactly. And you made me remember one of my all-time fav books on the subject…..”Eats Shoots and Leaves.” Or, “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.” I forget if the title includes the commas, but either referring to pandas or criminals, it makes the point exquisitely!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, misplaced modifiers are my fave. I had a high school English teacher who cured me of that one forever with classics like “Running down the hall, my jacket caught on a locker” and “Creamed and boiled I like my onions.”

      • Oh, what fun are the misplaced modifiers (along with faulty pronoun references)! These 2 grammar problems can create some hilarious sentences. If you want to have a great laugh with some funnyl writing bloopers, you should read Richard Lederer’s books “Anguished English” and “More Anguished English.”

  41. Tom Crawford says:

    Very good, Linda. The loudest noises come from the sidelines, but the glory is to be had on the playing field.

    Point 2 stands out for me – the time wasted. If they posses such a beady eye for mistakes, then why not write, speak or teach about it. Sending irritable emails seems a waste of their obvious talents!
    Tom Crawford recently posted…5 Ways Freelance Writers Can Generate Repeat BusinessMy Profile

  42. Karen J says:

    Great post, Linda!
    It’s not easy to be both Prolific *and* a Perfectionist (not without having ulcers and no other life) – and you just can’t please everyone all the time!
    Karen J recently posted…Collected Drafts – Just Do It!My Profile

  43. Allen Taylor says:

    I have at times envied the success of writers I knew were lousy grammarians. In my younger, more impetuous days I couldn’t understand how the could succeed. I finally figured out. They were good at telling the story, and they were fortunate to have good editors.
    Allen Taylor recently posted…Blog Post Structure: Inverted PyramidMy Profile

    • Yes! I’m currently reading a self-published sci-fi novel on my Kindle, and the author could definitely have used a good edit. But the story — wow! That’s what keeps me reading, and the reason he got so many great reviews.

  44. Hey.. I have been guilty of wearing my grammar badge and I will take your advice in general. I do think,however, that we have a couple of generations coming from the tech age who simply write poorly. A swipe at those writers once and a while may improve the level of communication for all of us. GLR
    Gary Reagan LEED AP recently posted…Golf; for older gentlemen like you and me.My Profile

  45. Alicia says:

    Awesome article, Linda! I like that you point out that it’s a waste of time for the Grammar Police to pick on typos. Typos are different than not knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” or “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” It doesn’t take the perfect person to write well, and typos are only part of the process. For instance, I always have to watch myself when typing the word “imagine” because it always comes out as “image” due to muscle memory.
    Alicia recently posted…20 Resources for Becoming a Better Guest BloggerMy Profile

  46. What an incredibly timely piece. I had a run in with the Grammar Police just last night. Not only did I get a snarky email pointing out I’d used the wrong word in my submission guidelines, they took it one step further, and decided to point out that error to everyone by leaving a public comment on the page. While it is always tempting to respond in kind, I deleted all the bitchy or sarcastic responses I so desperately wanted to send, and just responded with a “thank you very much. I wish you all the best in your endeavors.”

    It was the self-righteous tone that irked the most – not that they pointed out a mistake. I’m human and I’m fallible. But more importantly than that – I’m busy, which means I may not have the time to go over everything on my blog with a fine tooth comb. So if people point out an obvious mistake I made, I am usually very grateful. When they do it just to make themselves feel superior, it’s harder to pull off gratitude.

    I do love one analogy a writer friend uses in this instance – Bright lights always draw bugs.
    Rebecca Byfield recently posted…Marlon Wayans stars in A Haunted House 2My Profile

  47. Hi Linda, I strongly agree. These grammar policemen seems miserable people as they are always finding faults in other’s writing when they can’t see their own faults. Love the part where we could always put the energy to criticize to something more productive. The heck with double negatives. Do your craft. Hone it. If there is an error let it be. You’ll grow from it. Don’t be afraid to break the rules!
    Impossible is nothing! (okay that’s an Adidas slogan, love it with all its grammatical errors and so with all the Adidas fanatics out there)

  48. Kate Spezowka says:

    Excellent article! Not only do grammar police make poor writers; they also make poor editors because they can’t see the forest for the trees. They spend so much time gnashing their teeth over split infinitives and verbs-as-nouns that they fail to help their writers be effective, which is what editing is all about!

  49. Oh I love this so much!!!
    Renia Carsillo recently posted…How to Be Extraordinary: 11 Commandments and a themeMy Profile

  50. Charli Mills says:

    Great post and great point–get over being perfect and practice the craft! As editor of a small regional newsletter, I once received a concerning email from a reader posing as the Grammar Police. However, she failed to mention a single tangible example despite assertions that she was dismayed by the poor grammar throughout. When I wrote back to learn more, I discovered that she was a 15-year-old high school student who just landed her first gig writing for the school newspaper. Her biggest complaint actually had to do with her lack of knowledge about AP Style. And I felt silly for feeling concerned!
    Charli Mills recently posted…Warm Like Melting Ice Day 26My Profile

  51. Allen Taylor says:

    I once corrected the grammar of a popular journalist and got an e-mail from him. I won’t say who, but he gave a long rant that I found entertaining and partly annoying. I found a couple of typos and responded with a snarky remark. I usually don’t correct mistakes on blogs because I know even the best bloggers in the world make a few mistakes. No big deal. But in this case, I wanted to give a gentle jab and get the journalist in the same way he was getting those he was ranting about (even though now I can’t remember what it was). He sent me an e-mail that read, “That’s some funny sh*t.”

    It satisfied me that I got a laugh. I also learned that this journalist is dyslexic, hence the reason for his mistake. We parted on good terms and occasionally interact on Twitter.

  52. Emelia says:

    Wow! Linda thanks for the great post, especially for teaching us how to criticize constructively. Our aim as writers should be to build not destroy one another.
    Emelia recently posted…Evil Voices Tormenting New Freelance WritersMy Profile

  53. As both a writer and an editor, I have to admit that I enjoyed this very much. As a teacher, I try to help others when I see them making the same mistake repeatedly. I’m the first to admit that I’m not perfect and make mistakes, too. However, whenever I “police others grammatically,” I try to do so in a way that shows I care. My intentions are never malicious.

    I love your sentence about Stephen King writing bestsellers, too. 😉
    Lorraine Reguly recently posted…Posting, Planning, Publishing, Productivity and a PDF Planner for FREE for YOU!My Profile

  54. Love this, Linda. I remember reading about your commenter. I hate it when that happens.

    I’m a member of the Spelling Police. But guess what? I’m an undercover officer. I only correct errors when asked. Yes, it makes me squirm to see errors, but publicly humiliating that person is off-limits.

    By the way, I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to grammar rules. I hardly remember any of them, so I generally don’t offer any advice or editing. For me, it’s all about flow. Seriously, they should lock me up in Grammar Prison and throw away the key.
    Williesha Morris recently posted…Give Yourself Permission to Fail in 2014My Profile

  55. Found this great quote from Edgar Rice Burroughs: “I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly.”
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…New Things ComingMy Profile

  56. Hi Linda,
    I Enjoyed this, I usually email someone privately if there is a way to on their site to do so, but only when I notice a mistake that really makes a difference in clarity, (such as excepting vs, accepting) but I would never be mean or disrespectful. I’ve usually had people thank me. I don’t want to be The Grammar Police, because I read for pleasure not for punctuation. If there is no other way, but in comment section I usually don’t. On one occasion when I did, I noticed the person corrected the mistake and then deleted the comment, which I didn’t mind.

    On my own blog, in my about me page, I do invite people to let me know if they see mistakes, but perhaps I should put something about being respectful and playing well with others. 🙂
    Peter D. Mallett recently posted…You’re Writing it all Wrong… Maybe Not!My Profile

  57. Lisa Hlavinka says:

    This is so timely for me. I am working on a project with a co-worker who is a Grammar Police CHIEF and it’s just terrible. She is the type who likes to read your stuff without your knowledge, and then drop all kinds of rude hints about how you’re DOING IT WRONG.

    In this blog you’ve perfectly summed up what I always thought about her writing: that it’s stilted and BORING. Just mind-blowingly boring. I can barely make it to the end of the first sentence on the page, that’s just how boring it is.

    And the funny thing about that is, we’re writing marketing copy. If she lost me in the first sentence, then what does a potential client think?

  58. Rebecca says:

    I have always been a stickler for spelling and grammar BUT I keep it to myself! No one wants to hear about how they had a typo or incorrect punctuation. Nor do I hold myself to those high standards. As you said, sometimes we break grammar rules for emphasis or readability. I write like I speak for the most part. Sometimes it isn’t proper, but if it was it would read more like a white paper or instruction manual. Technical writing has it’s place.

  59. Dan says:

    Hah, great post! Nitpicky people like this drive me nuts, and they don’t realize how it takes all the focus off your writing and instead you obsess about spelling, and then you write a crappy idea.

    I avoid working with them at all costs. Typically, they don’t know the value or effort it takes to craft a well-written piece (of any kind).
    Dan recently posted…6 Copywriting Techniques Guaranteed to Skyrocket Your ConversionsMy Profile

  60. Linda, the sort of attitude you’re describing in this post is the very reason I convinced myself I couldn’t write years ago! I could never get any of my ideas complete when I would sit down to write because, as I am a natural editor, I was always so obsessed with going back over sentences to make them perfect that I would just get frustrated and give up. After years as a salaried and titled member of the “grammar police”, I am working my way back into writing again. I am so proud of my new-found ability to turn the editing chip off – at least till it’s all down, and then I can polish it to perfection! 🙂

    • Lindsay, It’s sad that you were discouraged from writing because you thought you couldn’t master the grammar. Writing is ever so much more than grammar. Grammar is important, but to someone who has ideas to share, it should not be a deterrent. Grammar is a skill that can be learned; no one is born knowing it. Also, that’s what editors are for: to help writers. All great writers have good editors and know that the editor and writer together make a team. I hope you will forge ahead with your writing aspirations and never be stopped by any concerns about getting the grammar right. That is a problem that be easily overcome. Good luck!

      • Thanks, Jewel! You’re right, it is a really depressing reason to think you can’t write. The problem was that I was so busy being an editor that I would lose sight of what I was trying to write because I wanted the sentence worded perfectly, or even the handwriting tidy! That’s when I thought I might make a better editor than writer, but during my m 5+ years working as an editor, I missed writing. I am only now getting that confidence back. I’m finding the best way to do that is to forget I am an editor while writing (what I like to call “turning the editing chip off”), then turning the grammar fiend loose on the piece once it’s finished. I’m finding this tactic is working wonders (it usually results in a fully developed, yet neatly worded and organized piece). It’s a shame I didn’t learn to do that years ago! How about you? Do you you ever have any challenges when it comes to writing, or does the editor experience help you with your writing?

        I was reading your comment above – the examples you cited are hilarious, and you are so right about the self-appointed grammar police. They really ought to make sure they are right when they get on their pedestal to criticize someone else! I’ll bet those people make rotten editors too. As you said, a writer and editor should be a team, which means a good editor knows how to be humble and treat her writers with respect.
        Lindsay Wilson recently posted…Blog 1My Profile

        • Lindsay, to answer your question: I love both writing and editing. As a writer, I experience great challenges with getting the words right. I have to remind myself not to edit while I am just trying to capture the ideas. Producing a finished piece occurs in several passes. Nothing should ever be published in the first draft. I once went to an exhibit of original literary manuscripts with works from some of the great writers of all time. I was amazed at how severely these writers had edited their own manuscripts! It was very humbling to think that if a great literary giant cannot get it right on the first try, what makes me think I can?

          My greatest love in editing is making the writer look good. In the end, the work always belongs to the writer; it is the writer who gets the byline, not the editor. I have edited for writers who have later gotten some kudos for the work I edited. I get great satisfaction from that because that is exactly the editor’s job. But I do have to remember to take off my editor hat when I write.

          • Sounds like it’s universal then – you can’t be a writer and editor at the same time, as the editor’s perfectionist eye can stifle the writer’s muse, but they can be interchanged, and sometimes they can even be used together to make either better. 🙂

            I agree, it’s awesome being the silent helper that bolsters someone else. The sense of being a team is amazing, and there is nothing better than having someone trust you enough to turn their writing over to you.

  61. Rich Wheeler says:

    Yes, Grammar is here to serve us, not we to serve it.

    In another thread, I corrected somebody (as gently as I could, but apparently not gently enough) for writing “begs the question” instead of “demands the question.” Apparently, the mistake did not “beg the correction” because Carol commented that I could look forward to this article. Thank you, Carol, for YOUR gentle correction!

    Typos happen, and some forums don’t merit tedious self-editing. To draw an analogy, a government can create so many laws that people cannot breathe without committing some infraction. Writing can be like that. Police should save their ire for those who really deserve it.

    However, I think the Grammar Police deserve a word in their defense. I confess to having an Inner Grammar Cop, but I tell him to chill out, most of the time.

    Those who claim superior skill should forgive readers who hold them to superior standards. For example, some writers just beg to have their own writing criticized when they denigrate political opponents (often falsely) for being uneducated or inarticulate; or when they praise allies for their ghost-written oratorical skill.

    Those who receive frequently citations from grammar cops should not justify themselves too quickly. Grammar has a logic to it; and faulty logic in one area often accompanies faulty logic in other areas. Criticism about grammar may stand in as a quick substitute for the presentation of evidence that the primary topic would require. Such criticism might aim to shake the recipient’s self confidence so they will exercise greater logic in all areas.

    Common sense dictates balance, moderation, and an appropriate time for everything.
    Rich Wheeler recently posted…Should I ask for introductions to expand my network?My Profile

  62. Terri D. says:

    “An authority on writing must master the rules of writing before they can be taken seriously.”

    AN authority…THEY…?

    You’re a better woman than I am, Carol. I’d have been sorely tempted to throw that bit of bad grammar right back at the person who sent it. Loved this entry!

  63. This post obviously touched a nerve in many writers, both those who’ve been called out by the “grammar police” and those who wear the badge! But there are some awful generalizations in Linda’s post that really should be addressed. It’s true, writers who are obsessed with grammar rather than what to do with it to communicate thoughts tend to be self righteous and smug. Grammar is what they know well so it gives them a sense of superiority to catch out another writer. But to say that ALL grammar police have bad attitudes and trouble writing is to insult a lot of people who believe that good writing is a product of the skilled use of words and the system that connects them into meaningful units. Writers who don’t care about those things don’t really care about writing very much, and they harm their credibility with readers.

    I say this as a badge carrying member of the grammar police, a frequently published fiction writer and full-time blogger. While there are always mean-spirited, small-minded people who feel superior by pouncing on the tiniest misplaced comma, there are also people who believe that writing as a profession is undermined when the end product that readers see is messy and amateurish. Any craftsperson needs to have a basic command of the tools of the trade.

    • Kate Tilton says:

      Hi Carla,

      I believe what Linda means when she says “Grammar Police” is that negative person who is just looking for typos and flaws.

      I have happily been corrected before when I’ve misspelled something or made a typo. I have also learned a great deal by being corrected.

      But when I think “Grammar Police” I picture those who leave nasty comments along with the correction (such as “If I were an author I wouldn’t hire you”) over minor errors that anyone could make.

      I believe there is a line between helping others out and being the “Grammar Police”
      Kate Tilton recently posted…Author Assistants with Joanne Levy – #K8chat Thursday 1/9 at 9pm EST!My Profile

      • Yes, GP is more about HOW you say it than WHAT you say. For example, I’m sure you EMAIL and say something like, “I noticed a few grammatical errors on your post…I hate it when mistakes creep into my own posts and like it when people alert me, so I thought you’d like to know as well.” Or “I love your blog but have been distracted by the grammatical errors lately. I have a friend who uses a proofreader for her posts…would you like me to share her name?”

        On the other hand, I’m sure you do NOT publicly post a 400-word screed on how the writer must be a frizzy-haired lady who can’t get her act together, or let the writer know that no one will take him seriously as a writer if he uses a double negative.

      • Carol Tice says:

        Yeah, I agree — stop patrolling other people’s blogs for typos and write! Show us your wonderful grammar…in your own writing.

  64. Kate Tilton says:

    I couldn’t agree with this more!

    I have had emails before with people kindly letting me know of a typo. That was cool with me. I don’t mind getting the casual “hey I noticed you spelled this wrong, looks like something I might do! Just thought I’d let you know :).” That is helpful.

    On the other hand I’ve had editors write long emails about how something I’ve written was wrong, and how if they were an author they wouldn’t hire me (although what I do as an author assistant has little to do with editing at all). It was annoying. The point I was trying to make was simple that you should avoid “professionals” who clearly have no grasp on how to NOT make typos, not that you should look for someone who NEVER makes a typo.

    Even on Twitter I’ve received corrections from editors (one even on a tweet that I didn’t write but simply shared).

    There must be a better way to let people know when we find mistakes without making it our life mission to make others crazy.

    *sigh* Sorry. I had to get that rant out there after reading this. It is just too true.
    Kate Tilton recently posted…Author Assistants with Joanne Levy – #K8chat Thursday 1/9 at 9pm EST!My Profile

  65. Teresa says:

    This was so freeing! Thanks for the great read.
    Teresa recently posted…HeapsMy Profile

  66. Rebekah says:

    Yes, life is short, so why should someone waste time by nitpicking at other people’s writing? Also, when you get right down to it, who in the world has perfect writing without exception?

  67. David Harley says:

    Most of the criticism I get is for not writing like an American. Which is fine by me because I’m English. (When I write for US publishers/companies, I’m happy for editors to Americanize me if they feel they must, as long as they don’t change the meaning, but I don’t feel the need to assume a ‘foreign’ writing style.) I can’t say I ‘love’ being caught out in a genuine error, but I appreciate constructively-meant criticism. Flaming for an irrelevant error (genuine or not) in a public forum is beneath contempt.
    David Harley recently posted…A Pleasant SpotMy Profile

  68. Yvonne Mason says:

    Well said, I can’t tell you the times I have received such notes and reviews. My response to them was the same as your blog. I am going to send this to all of my fellow authors and especially those who will never be published because they think everything must be perfect.

  69. I will have to admit to having corrected signboards once or twice in my life, but I’ve never e-mailed a writer to admonish them over a typo. That’s just a waste of my time and theirs, not to mention RUDE. Get a life.

    Your post made me laugh. Thanks, Linda.
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  70. I’m not popular enough to be a target of the Grammar Police — yet! However, I do find that I notice the most glaring errors in my OWN work right AFTER I hit publish (or worse, ‘Send’).

    I have noticed errors in others’ work and decide whether I will mention it on the intent of their piece. I did privately contact one blogger who had some very good things to say, but her writing was one big block of text — no bullet points, headings, indents, line breaks or even new paragraphs. I kindly recommended she think about reformatting a little bit to make her great content easier to read, even offering to show her what I meant, but she would have none of it. Period. I’m sure I wasn’t harsh or mean-spirited. But it has made me even more cautious about offering advice (or advise ;-})!
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  71. Loved this article! Another good point is the fact that the more you write, the more likely a typo will slip in here and there. We can’t all be perfectionists, this sort of thing happens! So, anyone complaining about a typo clearly knows very little about actually writing!

  72. Steve says:

    Dear, Linda.

    As a trained grammaritician and an unwavering punctualationist, I never make mistooks (like that one I just did and this won, two).

    Folks that can’t see the forest for the uncrossed T’s usually miss the point of the article.

    Thanks for the article . . . I loved it!

    BTW, a recent comment in a LinkedIn group complained about this very idea. The whiny comments went on and on and on.
    An on.
    The collective errors in the comments alone could fill a book! Edit, but don’t obsess!
    Steve recently posted…The Seamstress and the CopywriterMy Profile

  73. Jonathan says:

    I am a frequent victim of the “Grammar Police” as I tend to write out large sections of work in big chunks, so when I proof read it, I inevitably miss something. I have also noticed the difference between the Grammar Police and the kinder person who corrects you without having to complain about how terrible you are at writing or even as a person.

    Thanks for the article, it really highlighted some of the mains issues that writers face with these people

  74. Samantha says:

    I think the funniest thing about this article is that it wasn’t just one or two typos in the “grammar police” letter to you, but several! He also said “When a writer….they should”, or something to that effect, using the wrong pronoun (should’ve used she). I agree, though, that the grammar police need to go do something productive. Everyone messes up their grammar every now and then, even those who are well versed in it. I mess it up sometimes and then look back and realize it, but it’s too late to change (like on FB or Twitter). People need to relax.
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  75. Lee J Tyler says:

    Thanks Linda and Carol! I am amazed that the Grammar Police don’t realize that their nitpicking is worse than any grammar rule that they are trying to point out. While going through chemo, taking an intensive course, writing and working on a paid membership site, I also helped other bloggers out on their blog by commenting and vice versa. Two of the people, in what is otherwise a great community, really hit on the fact that I had a phrase error and a misspelling. This was nearly a year ago. They were still fuming about this within the last month. How do I know this? I recently checked my Google analytics and the misspelling (which I had corrected, and forgotten about) showed up as a search term. Google analytics shows more about your readers than you would think. ;p
    Lee J Tyler recently posted…Writing 2.0 Changemaker Series: Focus on Melissa FosterMy Profile

  76. Most grammar police forget that, as writers, we don’t profess to be grammar experts, or Grammar Gods. Nowhere does it state a writer must never make a mistake. That’s what our editors are for. And even editors sometimes miss things. Writers are writers because we have a good grasp of the English language and can string sentences together in a cohesive fashion that gets a point across.
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  77. Rich Wheeler says:

    Samantha, on Facebook, hitting Post is not too late. If you hover the cursor over your name above a post or the first line of a comment, a symbol will appear to the right. You can click on it to edit or delete the post or comment.
    Rich Wheeler recently posted…Should I ask for introductions to expand my network?My Profile

  78. Daniel Williamson says:

    Oh how I love my spell / grammar checker.

  79. Rosanne says:

    While I agree as writers we need to be versed in grammar and spelling, making a mistake now and then doesn’t mean you are a bad writer. It means you are – gasp – human. If you write enough, you’ll make mistakes. It’s not if, but when. I write for the newspaper, and even though I do three edits, minor mistakes do, on occasion, slip through. I want constructive criticism because it makes me a better writer. Nitpicking, on the other hand, just makes me annoyed! 🙂 Great post!

  80. Mike Worley says:

    Aren’t those who go out of their way to point out ‘mistakes’ just a joy? My favorite was a reader who said, “I would give his book a 5-star rating except for the grammatical errors.” The ‘grammatical errors’ were in quotes spoken by one of the main characters, a Russian citizen living in the U.S. In my humble experience, almost everyone who is not a native-English speaker makes significant ‘grammatical errors’ in their English speech. That’s the joy of our wonderfully complicated language. (Native English speakers do too, but that for another time.) Suffice to say I was not impressed by the comment, which seemed to suggest I was wrong in not having a Russian character speak ‘the Queen’s English.’
    Mike Worley recently posted…7 Tips for Writing Crime FictionMy Profile

  81. Jennifer says:

    Ooh, I just had a runin with a grammar police – myself! I tweeted a not mean, but not nice tweet about a grammar mistake and then clicked through only to see they had made that mistake on purpose. I felt like a heel and promise never to do anything like that again. Except when I work because I edit for a living. So you see where I get it from. But still, so unsolicited advice was totally unnecessary. I have apologized to the tweeter.

  82. Thanks to you I now know that it is okay to start a sentence with a conjunction. Great post. 🙂

  83. While the rules of grammar are likely processed by the left brain any new and creative idea is likely the product of the right brain, so you can imagine the conflict here. The rules of grammar are not physical laws, they are just social constructions. Here is a secret. We made up grammar just like we made up spelling. Don’t get me wrong, Chomsky made a good point when he talked about basic sentence structure, but all the particulars are just rules that we made up. In my book I use four ellipsis and sometimes five or spell finger nails as two words rather than “one.” Most people never notice or care but those who do are always interesting from a psychological point of view. The point has always been about communication. If you break too many rules you may not get your ideas across but if you bend them the right way interesting things can happen. I once told my daughter there are many ways to spell a word. IMO, this is a much more interesting world than following rules for the sake of rules.

  84. John says:

    I find it ironic when they correct peoples grammar, but they leave a full stop out. If they can’t even do the basic stuff like that then maybe they should stop correcting other people’s grammar.

  85. Great post! I was once the grammar nazi, and still am a bit. I began to feel dishonest and unrelational in my posts when I worked too hard on “proper English”, though. I still cringe at mistakes, but I almost don’t want to fix them at times because I’m afraid I’ll lose my voice (which is probably going on the irrational side of things).

    For me it was based in fear; understanding that the people that matter aren’t usually judgmental is a huge step for me getting out of “grammar Nazism”.

    Thanks for the post!

  86. Jessica Mallard says:

    The more a person writes terribly, the more they get used to it.

  87. Alexandria says:

    I’ve been the grammar police. (Shameful!) In one case where I vented my bad day behind the anonymity of the computer monitor, I was shamed and awed by the gracious response. Truly shamed.

    Now, when I note an “issue” – I use the spirit of intention model. If I’d appreciate a heads up – I send one. Usually something like “Love the piece. I’m a department of one so I always appreciate a second set of eyes. In the the piece I noted *insert whatever*; you might want to check it.”
    Alexandria recently posted…What You Can DoMy Profile

  88. In a literary world where we can now begin sentences with “and” or “but’ it makes no sense to point out grammar mistakes in article or posts not written for the academic or a paid publication. Are you reading to proofread or reading to be entertained? Of course the sentence that ends with a preposition still looks odd (I can’t bring myself to do that) what average reader can spot a “split infinitive?”

    Any writer who wants to increase their chances of being published should concentrate on their own grammar. Forget about pointing out the grammar mistakes of others. Figuring out why and how that article got published is more usefull to you than playing grammar cop.
    Joseph Rathjen recently posted…How The News Media Supports The Hamas Terror CampaignMy Profile

  89. Check out what an experienced Washington Post copyeditor has to say about this: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/shopTalk/latestTalk.html.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…You Shower Your Grace on Human SoulsMy Profile

  90. So true, having recently moved to vancouver from the states I can see several differences that exist between our countries dialects such as cheque vs check etc…

  91. Tammy says:

    Great essay on the subject, and I agree. I am a technical writer; I write procedures, informational documentation, and the like for various industries. In a profession such as mine, grammar and spelling can mean the difference between a process going smoothly and people getting hurt. I think it is prudent, therefore, to describe the kind of writing one means when one says that grammar and spelling are or are not of the utmost importance.

  92. Trinity Apostol says:

    I could agree with this post. I do like writer’s digest as a good helpful site but the feed back on there are full of Grammar Police. One place I wanted to get feed back from the guy said he wouldn’t bother reading it because so many grammar mistakes and I took the time to revise it and he still criticized it. I know grammar is important but it wasn’t so bad that no one can understand what I was trying to say. I even had sentences a certain way for emphasis but it was criticized. Because of that I placed a paused on my story since the criticism was so harsh.

  93. M Sohan says:

    I think it is important to understand the basic Point Of View behind any article. Whenever I write, the grammar part comes later, the subject matter comes first. While reading, No one micro-analyses your post until and unless there are gaping grammatical errors, I mean to say Silly mistakes. My mantra, Keep it SIMPLE & MINIMAL. The reader is smart enough to understand what you want to say …

  94. Gwyn Bosky says:

    Some of the best writers of all time were for a certain disregard for grammar and spelling. Both Mark Twain and Bernard Shaw thought that our language desperately needed its whole system of linguistics to be turned over completely. They still thought there should be rules, but not the ones we already have.

  95. Kabria Rogers says:

    Hi,
    It’s great to read an article like this. I’ve always had issues with grammar and its still a struggle. Grammar police make you question talent. Thank you for this perspective. How do writers improve their grammatical short comings without going overboard?

  96. Terri Cruce says:

    I strive to always catch typos and punctuation and I read and re-read. Sometimes I find them days or even months later, having missed them the first time through. Your eye definitely sees what it expects to see. And I don’t hold a few typos here and there against anyone. I know how hard it can be to catch them all.

    I have to say that when a grammar policeman/woman feels the need to point it out, I do wonder why they don’t have something better to do. I also wonder why they feel the need in the first place, to one up me, so to speak.

    I can relate to this post, as can anyone who does a fair amount of writing. And maybe that’s what makes the difference. Those who feel the need to point out every single little thing are probably not doing much writing themselves. Too busy proofreading everyone else’s copy. 🙂
    Terri Cruce recently posted…Is Facebook the New Theater of the Absurd?My Profile

  97. Scott M. says:

    I’m a technical writer. One of my pet peeves (okay, I have quite a few) is when members of the QE (Quality Engineering), Development, or other non-writing teams send me review comments concerning grammar or punctuation.

    Typos are one thing: but when a non-writer questions my use of colon vs. semicolon, I want to just hit something. That’s my bailiwick. Just review the content for technical correctness, please.

    My co-writers are the only ones that should be sending me that kind of feedback.

    • Oh, I know how you feel! I used to work in the Netherlands for a company that did its marketing materials in Dutch and English. I edited the English versions and the Dutch employees would argue with me over grammar and style! I was like, “Hello, native English speaker here!”
      Linda Formichelli recently posted…Why You Should Believe the ImpossibleMy Profile

  98. Kham says:

    Great article. I’m a poet. I love and look for opportunities to dissect, play on puns, sounds, etc. in poetry. The habit seeps into my normal writing and can’t stand grammar police.

    My aunt (fluent in 3 languages) is married to a 24/7 monolingual grammar police and fails to see the problem.

  99. Great article! I have noticed that even well-known, successful authors occasionally make mistakes. I rarely comment on any spelling/grammar errors and only if I feel that is important to not confuse the reader.
    Beuna Tomalino recently posted…When To Plant WhatMy Profile

  100. Eric says:

    I’m sorry Linda this piece is absolutely horrible. Your logic is weak and hypocritical.

    First of all, you start by pretending to take the high by clicking Delete instead of responding to your accuser. However, then you go on to write a whole post about why he should not be policing you and even admit tracking him down on your quest for vengeance.

    Look at your argument:
    “If you want to criticize someone else’s writing, you better make damn sure yours is absolutely perfect.”
    Look at his:
    “Given that you are teaching writers how to make a living from this wonderful craft, is it not prudent to be as perfect in your advise as possible?”
    You paraphrased his exact wording and tried to pass it off as your own while criticizing him! Go back and see if these four points fit …
    Are you perfect? Do you waste time? Do you have a bad attitude? Do you have trouble writing? Yes, Linda, I’m sorry, but you’ve become that which you condemn.

    And what’s with all that sarcasm?

  101. Given that this post is still attracting attention more than 15 months after being published, I’d like to see a few of mine prove that “horrible”!
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Life Is Not a TemplateMy Profile

  102. John says:

    I know I am guilty of it, but at times I simply cannot control myself. It’s difficult to even read the daily newspaper without being distracted by the many typos and grammatical errors. What is one to do? Simply turn a blind eye to the butchering of the English language?

  103. pamela Grath says:

    “An authority … they”
    “A person … them”

    Couldn’t help noticing that both your critics failed to obey the agreement rule. Ha on them!

  104. Ian Cooper says:

    Isn’t there a place for competence in writing though? I don’t expect perfect grammar and orthography from any Joe Sixpack on the internet, but when a person who gets paid to write (and his editor) gets simple words wrong, surely there needs to be be some criticism of that.

    Firstly, grammar police aren’t police, and I find they’re more concerned with orthography than grammar, and they’re not claiming to be perfect. They’re simply asking – that’s ASKING (no one goes to jail) – that professional writers write competently.

    I just don’t see why that’s too much to ask.

  105. Shauna says:

    Not necessarily. Miriam Webster defines foray as:

    Definition of FORAY

    transitive verb
    archaic
    : to ravage in search of spoils : pillage
    intransitive verb
    : to make a raid or brief invasion
    — for·ay·er noun
    Shauna recently posted…Pileated Woodpecker: Observations of a New FamilyMy Profile

  106. Linda, I LOVE this post! I haven’t read through all the comments (I’ve got deadlines to meet!), but will say this:

    Grammar rules change.

    I just wrote a blog post on this very topic. What was considered acceptable usage 20 years ago is now verboten. People who get upset (and gasp… horrified) over perceived typos from a professional writer simply need to get a life. Seriously. They don’t sign my paycheck and I delete their haughty correspondence.

    I’m also a direct response copywriter and my main objective is to get the reader to take action. I’m not writing the Great American Novel. I’m not writing a dissertation. I’m writing sales copy.

    That means I use fragments, weird punctuation, dangle the occasional participle, use colloquialisms and more in order to get a sale. And guess what? It works.

    My clients are happy. I’m happy. The customer who bought a great solution is happy. And Grammar Nazis can take a hike.
    Mary Rose Maguire recently posted…What an Empty Water Bottle Taught Me about MarketingMy Profile

  107. You could add one point to the four above: Grammar Police don’t accomplish anything with their “corrections.” Way back in the 1930s, Dale Carnegie wrote that “Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right,” and I’ve never seen a social media discussion on ANY controversial topic that didn’t prove his point. If there’s anything more boring to read than a self-published book by a Grammar Police Officer, it’s a string of 225 comments all effectively saying “anyone who disagrees with me is an obvious idiot.” Grammar Police not only waste their own time, they do their best to waste the time of the people they criticize AND of anyone who happens to innocently subscribe to follow-up comments.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…List FatigueMy Profile

  108. Paige says:

    I’m guilty of the grammar police in most situations because poor grammar can sometimes confuse the reader. However, in creative writing, I definitely think the rules are much more flexible and can actually contributes to a writer’s voice.

  109. Touchet says:

    I disagree with the posters who somehow equate intelligence with correct grammar. I have a M.S degree in a clinical science. I know I’m not dumb by any means. Sometimes, my thoughts are so quick, I make stupid mistakes. It doesn’t mean I can’t understand complex and intricate details, and be able to problem solve complex problems. Memorizing the steps and correct spelling of words is only just that…memorization. It says nothing about your actual ability to solve complex problems. In fact, it is only a level 1 cognitive skill.

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