in which natalie explains some things, or why i don’t judge you for your poor grammar

Hello, world.

For those of you who don’t know me (which, granted, probably is most of you), I am an English major. Which just means that I really love reading.

(My whole educational career is built around *light* readings.)

In addition to making an education out of reading words by dead authors, I am also an editing minor. Which just means that I know a lot of grammatical rules, most of which are really dumb.

Whenever I tell people that I study English and editing, they usually ask one (or all) of the following:

  1. Oh, so what’s your favorite book? (An impossible answer, but under pressure I usually say Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.)
  2. That means you can edit my papers, right? (No.)
  3. You probably get really annoyed with people’s grammar, then, don’t you?

The short answer to number three is no, and yes, but mostly no.

The long answer is, well, longer.

We live in an age where the Internet is a thing that exists, which, in general, is pretty great. Within a minute, I can look up the amazing history of clotted cream while simultaneously watching the latest Miranda Sings video. (I have no shame.) The Internet is a beautiful, bizarre, and blessed gift. But with this gift comes a vast group of people who either don’t know how to write clearly or choose not to.

And that’s okay.

The thing most people don’t understand about language is that in addition to grammar, there is an equally weird and important set of standards called usage. While grammar asks questions such as is this choice right or wrong?, usage asks questions such as is this choice right for this situation? There are levels of formality in language that vary on the situation and context of our communication. If you are writing a 10-page paper for a class, chances are using poor grammar and words like bae (or whatever it is the kids are saying these days) isn’t going to fly. (I should know.) But if you are writing a tweet that you, your friends, and maybe your mom are going to read, then who cares if you write your when you meant you’re and write synonym roll instead of cinnamon roll?

It never gets old.

To be honest, I do make fun of people when they make grammatical mistakes. It’s funny. I definitely have acquired that weird, grammarian sense of humor that makes dangling modifiers seem like the most hilarious thing since anything. I won’t lie and say I don’t sometimes read things on the Internet and think oh my gosh, how could they write their when they obviously meant they’re? Society really has gone to the dogs. Once you study grammar, there is always a small part of you that will hardcore advocate the strict rules.

But I’m also a descriptivist–meaning I like to observe people’s speech and notice the ways that the English language has been changing. Language is a fluid thing. No matter how the prescriptive grammarians complain that “English is going to the dogs” (which, last time I checked, it hadn’t), English will keep on changing and progressing into something new and appropriate for its time. So, if you make a few grammatical mistakes every once and while (or all the time), don’t you worry. The English language will keep chugging along as it has since it became a thing in the first place. Most of the grammatical rules we have were created by stodgy, old men who probably didn’t have friends, anyway.

Long story short: I don’t care if you use poor grammar. In fact, I encourage it. It gives me something to feel happy about in the morning.

So, write confidently and terribly, my friends.

yours, natalie



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