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.


  1. Our father always corrected our grammar. We would ask if we “could” have something and he would say it was possible and then we would correct to “may we”.

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