May (not Can) I Correct Your Grammar?

I probably should have studied to be an English teacher. Before she married, my mother taught English in a Colorado junior high school. In my opinion, she was–and is—more than qualified. I became used to her correcting my grammar when I was a child and I have developed an exacting attention to proper grammar and usage, myself. I sometimes worry about it coming across as “annoying.” But I try to be gentle and merciful, even framing my correction in the form of a question. I say, “Should that be…?” I need to make sure my corrections are meant to help and improve, not to nitpick. But I have sometimes wondered, is good grammar important, given the state of our world?

In professional settings, it is. It can make a difference between getting a promotion or not, or even being well thought of by your boss and colleagues. Using good grammar in writing and speech shows attention to detail, a standard qualification for many of our knowledge economy jobs. With texting and email, and the increase in speed of our society, good grammar has taken a hit. My husband Frank said it makes him cringe to see spellings that contain numbers in place of letters (Go2, for example). That doesn’t bother me too much, but I do want to whip out my correcting pen when I see “could of” rather than “could’ve.” Now, I’m not going to buy one of those t-shirts that says “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” But I am going to use my talent for picking out mistakes to make your writing flow as smoothly as possible.

Just because I’m a proofreader, however, doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I’ve caught the phrase “I’m like…” coming out of my mouth more than once. I once saw a shirt saying “Good grammar costs nothing.” I thought to myself, “…Except a little effort.” My experience in proofreading does not permit me to overlook an error, just as nearly ten years of customer service experience makes it hard to ignore a ringing phone. I realize I have set the bar high for myself in this work I’m pursuing.

What can I do about the bad grammar I see and hear? All I can do, all that is within my control, is to make sure my grammar—spoken and written—is clear, concise and correct. My reputation as a proofreader depends on it.