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Whenever I hear statements like "It was a great deal for he and I" and "Call Karen and I in the morning," I die a little. Such solecisms, as Twain said in another context (Cooper's prose style), "grate upon the fastidious ear." Moreover, I know that these things will likely become accepted usage in time, if that hasn't already happened.

As someone who tries to be careful with words and speech, I feel almost a moral obligation to hold the line against this kind of decline. I'm not a word snob; I say "ain't" when it works for emphasis, and so on. I've tried suggesting the grammatical alternative to the above constructions, but even when I phrase my suggestion in the gentlest possible way it never works well and I almost always wind up feeling pedantic and priggish at best, and at worst I feel I've alienated someone.

What's the general opinion here? Is it best to just let these things slide or to take up the fight? In sum, is there a good way to promote good grammar, or at least protect it from the most egregious violations?

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    If there were only a good way to be sure that the concerned people would be receptive to constructive criticism. But I'm afraid it's not easy to do it without making one of those "offending" remark.
    – Eldroß
    Nov 23, 2010 at 15:42
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    ...As someone whose pronunciation is often corrected, I've found that if the correction is presented as some new piece of information, I'm not annoyed at all. If it's presented as any sort of correction, however, I do not appreciate it in the least, even when it's directed at someone else. I have no idea why. It's probably just my personality. Still, you could try it.
    – kitukwfyer
    Nov 23, 2010 at 16:10
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    "For he and I" or "to you and I" are, for me, the worst offenders. Glad to know I'm not alone in this! Nov 23, 2010 at 16:13
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    It might be worth it to fix someone’s grating grammatical mistakes if they say to you, “Here is my new manuscript. If you will correct the grammatical mistakes, then I will pay you.” Otherwise, such corrections are a grating social mistake. Nov 23, 2010 at 17:01
  • @J Whitledge: Well put.
    – Adam
    Mar 23, 2011 at 19:33

9 Answers 9

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There is nothing wrong with having gut reactions to the way that people say things. I am completely aware that the standard/educated version of a language is arbitrary (i.e. is no more "correct" in any real sense than any dialect), and even still, I have pet peeves and things that irk me about people's language usage. I think these are unavoidable, just like my reaction to certain fashion choices that people make in their outfits. But, like with fashion, there is very little objective truth to my judgment about any of it.

I try not to actually challenge people on uses that bother me; aside from the arbitrariness of language, every bit of evidence suggests that stopping language change in any significant way is like going to the beach and trying to stop the tide from coming in. There was a more in-depth discussion about this in a previous question.

That said, I do believe there is a certain time and place where standards and clarity are important. In formal contexts, information is often supposed to be presented in a certain way, and, generally, these conventions benefit everyone. Also, following certain language conventions in these situations can eliminate ambiguity. If I am asked to proofread an academic paper that my colleague has written, I would make corrections for things that I would never object to otherwise.

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    Thanks for the link. I've come to the same conclusion, pretty much, but one tends to hold out hope that the battle is not yet lost. I am probably deluding myself that anything can really be done to win it.
    – Robusto
    Nov 24, 2010 at 14:21
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    "Dear all’s this is to inform you that <Organisation Name> Birthday celebrations program will be arrange by Today on 31-05-2011, at 5:00pm all’s are requested please make sure your presence in Hall and enjoy the celebrations." This is a mail inflicted on its recipients every month or so, How would one be able to not react? Jun 16, 2011 at 11:14
  • There is also the aesthetic quality of language to consider. Everyone benefits from using beautiful language instead of ugly language. As to stopping the tide, significant and fairly-long-lasting results can be achieved. Consider for example how some of Cicero's prescriptive rules were respected during most of the Empire, and picked up again in the Renaissance! Consider also that interest in prescriptive rules in other languages has become stronger and stronger since ca. 1800, and we still stick to certain rules first propagated a century or two ago. All is not hopeless. Jan 11, 2013 at 6:08
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For me, it depends on the context. In speech, I'd let it pass in anyone except my kids. I would correct them because it's one of my jobs as a parent to teach them a good command of their native tongue.

In casual emails and similar written communications, I'd also let it pass (kids aside); indeed, even in formal emails or documents sent by customers or the like. But in formal documents that I'm reviewing (design specs and the like), then I'll fix the problem, not necessarily with a comment, but often with 'change tracking' enabled.

If it is in part a problem with 'English as a second language', then I'll point it out to the person so that they can improve. That's especially the case if they use the 'please excuse my English' line; they are, of course, completely excused - if only because my command of Spanish, Chinese, or whatever is so much worse than their command of English - but I assume that is an indication that a private answer (not a public one) that improves the 'Use of English' will be of some assistance to them. In a public response, I won't correct them.

So, as I said, it depends a lot on the context. It always grates on me, but quite often there is nothing useful that I can do. When there is something I can do, I'll try the correction. If it causes angst, I won't repeat the exercise with that person. If it is well received, I'll help in future when the occasion arises.

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Does the grammatical faux pas compromise or endanger the communication, or is it merely annoying? (Annoying to you personally, of course. The speaker, and no doubt many others are perfectly happy with it.)

Language can be a delight, but it is also, and to many, merely a means to an end. If you are with friends who enjoy language for its own sake and who want to improve their understanding and usage of it, a courteous and appropriate correction will be appreciated.

If you are with strangers or persons with whom you have only a business relationship, then as long as the communication is not jeopardized you're probably best advised to bite your tongue and realize that you are a member of a small minority.

Unless, of course, you really do wish to be viewed as a snob.

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In addition to the other good comments posted, I'd say that familiarity should probably be a major factor in determining the best course of action.

I might wince, but generally I'd let these 'mistakes' pass without comment, unless I felt particularly familiar with the person speaking. A casual acquaintance or an general colleague will go unmolested, but a family member, a close friend or colleague will more readily be 'corrected'.

In the case of my wife, saying "We was doing this or that.." (**), I throw myself to the ground, kicking and shouting "WE WERE.. WE WERE!", not that it seems to do any good. OK, I'm joking, but I've been sorely tempted! ;)

** I (snobbishly) used to think it was a sign of a poor education, but in the case of my wife it isn't - it's a regional thing. A lot of people in the area we live say it, and even worse, none are seemingly even remotely aware of the fact!

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    I've given up correcting my mother, because she invariably misremembers and applies exactly the opposite correction. I just tell friends to keep in mind that when she says "while", she means "until", and vice versa. And we all just smile tolerantly when she says "he" instead of "she". The pronoun thing even came in handy when my sister was pregnant and we were trying to keep the sex of the baby a secret from the father.
    – Marthaª
    Nov 24, 2010 at 17:05
  • Actually, another local quirk is using while in a similar way: "I was there 3 while 4" = "I was there from 3 until 4".
    – CJM
    Nov 24, 2010 at 17:33
  • I'm very curious where you live. In what region does "I was there 3 while 4" parse like that?
    – Kevin
    Apr 11, 2011 at 19:37
  • @Kebin - in and around (North) Lincolnshire in the UK.
    – CJM
    May 27, 2011 at 13:24
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Many people take offense when you try to correct their grammar or pronunciation (or spelling, in a written document). Given that it's impossible to tell just how offended someone might be, and given that many people aren't likely to change how they speak even if they accept your correction, I recommend biting your tongue unless you know the listener wants your feedback.

I have a coworker who mispronounces words all the time. He is a native speaker, but certain words are just wrong in his mouth. The most grating is when the mispronunciation leads to a different word (my worst peeve: he says aTTRIBute instead of ATTribute, which makes it a verb instead of a noun). But if I correct him, will he get upset? Best not risk it.

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  • even if "they" accept your correction :)
    – jcarmody
    Nov 23, 2010 at 23:11
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    I think the best solution in this case is to use the correct pronunciation or usage explicitly in response to them, but without making it seem rude. i.e. "Did you look at the aTTRIBUTe list I sent you", "Yes, I had some questions about one or two of the ATTributes". If they ask you about the pronunciation ("Is that really how you say it? Gosh I feel stupid"), pretend you didn't notice theirs.
    – crasic
    Nov 24, 2010 at 13:57
  • I hate when people say "seems" instead of "seeing as". "We might as well close up, seems as no-one's been in for half an hour." It makes me cringe SO badly. Jan 16, 2011 at 20:32
  • @crasic: Great suggestion. I think I've done this before, and will try to remember to do so in the future if applicable.
    – Andy
    Mar 2, 2011 at 17:39
  • @crasic: I agree it's the best way. Although you have to be careful because if they interpret it as a correction, then I would say it's even worse than straight up correcting them.
    – Adam
    Mar 23, 2011 at 19:36
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I'm going to disagree with many of the other responses. In the examples given, the speaker is obviously endeavoring to speak properly, but have misapplied or misunderstood the rule. Because it is evident when someone mangles "I" for "Me" that they are really wanting to speak correctly, I think they may be more responsive to constructive criticism than others here feel. In this case, as with many other grammar rules, if you can provide an easier rule of thumb then they are already working with, they may even be appreciative. For example, "When deciding whether 'me' or 'I' is appropriate, leave the other person out of it." As in, "Cindy and me went to the movies." if Cindy is left out, you are obviously talking baby-talk with "me went to the movies." Or, "That room is for my husband and I", leave out the husband, "That room is for I" is clearly not correct. So, I think with a little tact and humor a mild correction is helpful, particularly if you get the impression someone is actually wanting to pronounce or formulate something correctly, but didn't.

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    "has misapplied" ;)
    – Kevin
    Apr 11, 2011 at 19:44
  • "than they are" ;) Apr 12, 2011 at 8:22
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There's a fine line when correcting someone's grammar. The vast majority of the time you come off like an arrogant prick looking to belittle someone.

However, if it's a friend of yours who is making the same mistake over and over, I think it's your duty as a friend to correct them so they cease looking like a moron.

My favorite "grammar correction" was when someone said that they "swimmed". I said "you mean swam?" And they said "oh sorry not all of us went to college" to which I replied, "true, but you did finish 8th grade right?"

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I am a medical transcriptionist, both acute care and diagnostic radiology. We get corrected for every comma and grammatical error we make, if caught! They (we) abide by the "Book of Style" published by the AAMT. If a person "checking" your work finds any errors at all, you get a warning. If you keep making the error, you get put back on "probation"! Some companies even will take mistakes out of your salary! It has gotten so bad with some companies that you are soooo nervous, that you question every single grammatical thing you type and every word! I live in the South, where almost no adult or child speaks correct English, and I have learned to ignore it. It seems funny that a child studies English grammar in school but still cannot speak correctly. I do not know how they graduate. Just a bit of info for you. S

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    It's not uncommon for people to speak in a different manner (or'register') from the way they write. I think this is because you know how the people you talk to think and react, whereas your readers (and particularly your readers) can only go by the words you have typed. Jun 15, 2011 at 21:57
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It depends.

As a foreign student living in the U.S., I am pretty open to any grammar suggestions from anyone!

But for a person with self-esteem just more than enough, it will be best not to bother their grammar mistakes.

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  • I think the point of your answer is that students of a language are open to constructive criticism Mar 15, 2014 at 8:32

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