When Is It Okay to Correct Someone’s Grammar?

By Mandi Janikowski, Editor

You’re in a conversation. The person you’re speaking with says something that’s grammatically incorrect. Is it okay to correct them?

The easy answer is: probably not. Let’s explore some situations in which you might be tempted to correct a person’s grammar–and why it’s not a great idea to be the grammar police.

when is it okay to correct someone's grammar
Let’s be honest, we all do it.

Family members

After arguing with my grandmother about whether you can use onomatopoeia in Scrabble, I’ve learned that it’s best to let things go when it comes to correcting family members. There are several topics people say to avoid when getting together with family, and I think we should add grammar to that list.

Friends

The majority of my friends do not work in the literary industry. Many of them don’t care one bit about using correct grammar. If your friends are like mine, they do not want to hear that it’s “could not care less,” not “could care less” (no matter how infuriated it makes you).

Coworkers

Think about when you receive emails from coworkers. Most of us rarely notice mistakes—and when we do, we usually forget about them two seconds later. If you do happen to catch something, in most cases the best solution is to move on and try not to let it bother you.

So, when is it okay to correct someone’s grammar?

In most situations, it’s best to grit your teeth and move on. Maybe correct the person in your head if it makes you feel better.

The key to answering this question is to determine whether you’re trying to help or you’re simply trying to correct.

If it’s the first option and may save this person from potential embarrassment, consider figuring out a way to politely tell them. I like to think of it like a “lettuce-in-your-teeth” situation. Just as I would want someone to tell me I have lettuce stuck in my teeth, I would want someone to tell me if I’m about to misuse a phrase in front of an entire group of people. But there’s a right time, place, and way to do it.

What do you think? Do you have a rule of thumb when it comes to correcting someone? Have you had an experience in which someone corrected your grammar? Share your stories with us in the comments!

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