Is it Wrong to Judge Someone Based on Grammatical or Spelling Errors?

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This topic contains 78 replies, has 48 voices, and was last updated by  Isaak Garcia 7 months, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #145472

    Eric Erickson

    Over the past few years, I’ve noticed more and more people seem to be making errors when they write – many in social media, and some right here on this site.

    There are some mistakes that I can overlook and forgive.

    However, there are others that no adult should EVER make.

    For example:

    • Not knowing the difference between YOUR and YOU’RE – or THEIR, THERE and THEY’RE – or ITS and IT’S.
    • Using an incorrect article – like ‘A’ being placed before a word beginning with a vowel.
    • Beginning sentences with a conjunction – a practice many people think is acceptable because ‘everyone is doing it.’ Remember, just because something is acceptable, doesn’t mean it’s correct.

    When a mistake is that glaring, I have a hard time taking the author seriously, which means their message is muddled in the morphological mess. I mean, do people just not review and edit their work? In this age of auto-spell check and a wide world of online grammar guides, it’s my opinion there is not a single excuse for simple slip-ups in our sentences.

    So, good people of GovLoop – can you forgive grammar gaffes?

    Which ones make you want to throw things?

  • #145624

    Denise Petet

    I’m rather infamous around work for ‘this isn’t in English!!!!’ We’ll be doing voice overs and we’re reading what others have written and it makes no sense. Sentences without subjects or verbs, you’re instead of your. ‘This isn’t English’ has almost become a personal joke.

    A typo in a casual e-mail…eh. Who hasn’t done that? But when I see ‘I’ll meet you their’ I have a knee jerk reaction of ‘wow, stupid’….which is cruel to say but…when I was in school I had this stuff drilled into me.I had to memorize prepositions. I was taught how to tell when it needed to be their and there. I write as a hobby and don’t have much patience for basic grammar being ignored. And, yes, I do kind of look down on people that continually make glaring errors simply because I was taught differently.

    Spell check can help, but quite often, spell check is wrong. Or sure, you can spell the word right, but pique and peak are not interchangeable, no matter how they’re spelled. I do, however, quite often get a chuckle out of tv prop newspapers where ‘Storm reveals grizzly find’…and it ain’t a bear 😉

  • #145622

    Dawn C. Dehlinger

    I am so glad that someone has finally mentioned this! Many have called me an English professor on a Language Policeman. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t routinely confront people with these types of mistakes. But I have been known to show third parties obvious errors in spelling, syntax or grammar. What is especially confounding is the education level of some of the perpetrators!

    Thanks for bringing this to the attention of so many!

  • #145620

    Steve Lunceford

    Where this annoys me most in an official news product. I seem to find a lot of grammatical errors whenever reading USA Today’s iPad version.

  • #145618

    Steve Ressler

    Personally it depends on the type of message.

    I write quickly and actually have a lot of errors on my quick emails/etc. But on a cover letter or important document, you know I have no errors – you got to double-check, spell check, etc

  • #145616

    Don’t you think we’re all just too busy to get it right the first time?

    We whip off a quick email and don’t proof it just to keep the ball rolling. We write up a blog or a comment and, in order to be timely, we post it up immediately.

    Text and Twitter are big culprits behind this shift, too. When forced to fit <200 chars, u have 2 get creative, eh? 😉

    But (ha – take that!) I agree overall: writing has eroded.

  • #145614

    David M. Shumway

    I agree that writing has become a lost art. I often feel guilty when reading a letter from someone else and being asked to review and edit it. I find myself rewriting it because it does not flow or the tense is not consistent. I try to write, not e mail, not text, but write a letter a week to a good friend in Massachusetts once a week, in long hand (and my hand writing is awful). It helps me stay grounded. I also like to write letters to the editor as we live in Frederick, MD and the Frederick News Post is always looking for letter writers. I do use spell check too as I do not claim to be a great speller.

    We all make mistakes, we are human after all, but we try to avoid them as best we can.

  • #145612

    Jeff Ribeira

    I’m with you Eric! While I do not proclaim to be a grammar aficionado, and many mistakes I can overlook easily enough, some things are simply inexcusable for anyone over the age of 18. I’ll admit that I have been known to call out not a few of my friends over mistakes like these, and not feel a hint of remorse. I’ll happily be “that guy” in an effort to make this world a better place to live and read freely without the fear of having my eyeballs assaulted by the grammatical equivalent of pepper spray. I say that somewhat jokingly of course, but it really is such a simple fix for something that is so critical to the way many perceive another person’s intelligence.

  • #145610

    “…the grammatical equivalent of pepper spray.” Nice!

  • #145608

    I agree with GovLoop. It just depends on the type of message. Sometimes it’s just that serious; other times it’s just not that serious. The writer should know the difference and adjust accordingly.

  • #145606

    Mark Hammer

    It is never wrong to be mindful and attentive to spelling and grammar. They are the heart and soul of precise, effective, efficient, and considerate communication. If someone has taken enough care to do what is required to facilitate MY comprehension, and prevent my mis-comprehension, that’s someone I can probably place my confidence in.

    At the same time, we live in an era when spelling and grammar receive short shrift in education, when so many have grown up assuming that software would take care of such things (so they didn’t have to master it), when the entire world of marketing and popular culture has taken spelling and grammar hostage for purposes of seizing our attention and selling us things, and where the technological means for communication impels us to communicate on impulse, that you have to be a bit forgiving of people.

    I’m a stickler for grammar and spelling, but all too often my screen is set to so small a font that I miss many of my own errors. It eats away at me when I know I can’t go back and fix them.

    When I used to teach university, it was often a fairly trivial task to identify someone with a reading disability or A.D.D. via their writing. The same word would be spelled several different ways in the same paragraph, and NOT because of speed, but because the writer was simply not tracking whether what they wrote was comprehensible or not. That IS the central deficit in most forms of discourse processing: people just stop paying attention to whether what they are reading or writing makes sense or not.

    Socio-linguist Basil Bernstein proposed the distinction between what he called elaborated and restricted code in discourse (very nicely explained here: Elaborated code is what people use when communicating with others who may not share any assumptions or background knowledge. All details are fully articulated, since it is the details that facilitate clarity. Restricted code is what we use when interacting with those whom we believe share assumptions with us. It is those shared assumptions that permit conversations like “Want some?”, “Nah”, “You sure?”, “Yeah”, or “So I’m, like, what-EVER! And she’s all, like, OH NO YOU DIH-INT!” to take place and be construed as communicating effectively between conversants. Restricted code is also the principal approach to discourse adopted by adolescents and young adults. It is the very engine that permits something like Twitter, and other highly abbreviated forms of text-based communication, to be realizable, insomuch as short bursts of what is otherwise nonsense have understood referents shared by one’s cultural subgroup. Keep in mind that “#Mark” can only be used if we share assumptions about what that means.

    The gradual shift towards what I like to call “the adolocentric society” has pushed us further towards use of restricted code much of the time. And since restricted code does not require spelling and grammar or avoidance of colloquialisms, to be effective, spelling and grammar are viewed by many as dispensable when it comes to oral or written communication. Ironically, where restricted code could traditionally have been viewed as exclusionary – something that only I and my friends share and that you cannot be a part of – it is now elaborated code that gets treated as exclusionary and elitist. If U can spel gud, yer a snob.

    Would I judge the person whose spelling and grammar are lacking? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Would I judge the societal norms that produced them? You betcha.


    As an aside, I don’t know whether it is solely my problem, but I’ve been typing since my first Olivetti Lettera 32 that I got at 13, and now I’m probably somewhere in the top 5% of two-fingered typists in terms of speed. The majority of my typos tend to be short high frequency-of-use words where the fingers fly so fast that letters get missed. “The” turns into “he”, “for” into “or”, and so on. Unfortunately, shaving a letter off such words passes muster with spell-checkers, and doesn’t get caught. Then there are spelling inversions and other letter sequence errors. While typing the word “eats” above, what came out was “east”; again, something that would not be readily detected.

    As a Canadian, as well, there are discrepancies between spelling, and many on-line spelling checkers will highlight words that I know are spelled correctly (ahem!). So one tends to ignore the red underline for legitimate reasons after a while.

  • #145604


    I agree on what you’re saying. But, another pet peeve is when people use filler words/expressions such as ‘I mean’, especially in writing.

    “I mean, do people just not review and edit their work”

    What is the meaning of ‘I mean’ in this context? We say it all the time orally. I notice we are now saying, in an effort to be diplomatic, filler words like “sort of” when we speak as well. It softens up what we’re trying to say.

    There is so much we can improve upon.

  • #145602

    I appreciate good grammar and spelling as much as the next person and of course a government agency has to be watchful that communication is accurate.

    But when government officials are talking, I actually don’t trust those who are too perfect with their grammar and spelling. I would rather they focused on the message. Formality is distancing and an excessive focus on it obscures the real issue, which is substance.

    “Real” or informal talk is closer to what people say in real life – which is what they want to read.

    Kids – the next generation – don’t even write in Strunk & White type English.

    Ref: A couple of good blogs on this (#1 and #2) by Penelope Trunk

    Know the rules, but be able to bend them to reach your audience.

  • #145600

    Mark Hammer

    If you’ve never seen it, get your hands on…at least for the flipping-through…a copy of Maira Kalman’s illustrated Strunk & White. She’s one of our favourite children’s authors at our home, and when I heard she was going to illustrate “the little blue book”, I just had to have it. It doesn’t disappoint. Who would think a writing-style book could be fun?

  • #145598

    I respectfully disagree with you on the third point – beginning sentences with a conjunction. It is not just simply acceptable anymore – it is actually perfectly correct in modern English. Starting a sentence with a “But” or an “And” helps with transitions. Transitions are words that take us by the hand from one thought and smoothly guide us to the next. It is natural to write this way because this is the way we talk. It makes reading much easier.

    Your statement on not taking authors seriously if they made a common mistake also begs a question – haven’t you met smart people who couldn’t spell? Haven’t you met highly effective communicators with beautiful minds who weren’t born grammarians? They don’t pretend to be professional writers – they are just looking to get their thoughts across to communicate.

    As long as the venue is NOT the official documentation such as memos, reports, and proposals; and as long as their thoughts are clear, and the slip-ups are not egregious and numerous, I would suspend judgment. I would look for substance, rather than getting distracted by the annoying little errors.

  • #145596


    @Eric, I am glad you blogged on this subject. I really dislike misuse of pronouns, e.g. “they” when “he or she” would be correct. It’s especially annoying when professional writers or journalists do this and I have seen it often. As an employer, I am interested in people who can communicate well orally and in writing. I have seen many job applications that were laden with grammatical and spelling errors. Unfortunately, effective writing is a lost art and lost subject in schools.

    @Denise, I, too, write as a hobby and take writing very seriously.

  • #145594

    Denise Petet

    Writing is a lost art in schools because they aren’t judged on that for the tests. The focus is math and science. Which I can understand, however what good is it to have kids passing their math tests when they can’t spell well enough to be hired?

    I’ve seen professionally published works with typos and grammar errors in them. So you have a writer making mistakes and then an editor that, either lacks the ability or time, to proof read and you end up with professionally published works full of mistakes.

    There are also different types of writing. Are you writing to be read or writing to be heard? You use different sentence types and structures for silent ‘eyeball’ reading vs what you want something to read aloud.

  • #145592

    Dennis Rodrigues

    An interesting piece on how some react to grammar. Beware the Witches of Grammer

  • #145590

    Daniel Crystal

    I actually have one of our interns researching the Plain Language Act so we can put on a workshop for our office. Although I’ve seen plenty of grammatical mistakes in the correspondence that comes across my desk, I think our tendency to write documents in acronym/legalese is a bigger problem.

  • #145588

    Faye Newsham

    @Susan – In the early 1990s “they” was taught at college level as more politically correct in technical writing and editing courses at two universities I attended. I’m not a big feminist proponent but having been graded on it during those times it has stuck. Do you fail to understand who is meant? What if there is a transgendered person involved?

    @everyone – I do agree that too many mistakes are distracting and will lead me to think poorly of an applicant for a writing job or one (most) where communication is important. I also acknowledge the formality of a GovLoop post or personal email is not as great as a broadcast email to an entire Federal department or a white paper that should have been reviewed by at least two other people. Please note, I originally had a run-on sentence back there with a “but” between and edited it to two sentences and removed the “but” – at this juncture a personal preference, no longer a hard and fast rule.

    Oh, and to fully qualify myself, I can’t spell worth a darn. Polysyllabic words are easier than monosyllabic, but endings are often the death of me. My mother, on the other hand, turns off both the MS grammar checker and spell checker as she is much more proficient than those tools. Tools, such as this, without a spell checker? I copy into another tool if I have enough time to do it. TIME is the major factor I think we are all dealing with. The sheer volume of text we read and respond to has increased significantly over time and the time we take to consider and correct it has exponentially been reduced.

  • #145586


    An applicant submitted a resume for a position in my office that required high-level writing and analytical skills. What particularly struck me was his use of the ampersand as a total substitute for the word “and” throughout the document.

  • #145584


    @daniel, Well said! In government, we tend to drown ourselves in jargon.

  • #145582

    Andrew Rorick

    Using ‘media’ as a singular noun drives me crazy. Many if not most contributors to this site do so egregiously (same goes for ‘data’ and ‘criteria’).

    It’s just plain lazy to use the pronoun ‘their’ as a substitute for a gender-specific pronoun when the sentence predicate is singular.

  • #145580

    Carol Davison

    YES! I think that one of the largest problems is government is our judgementalism. We need to learn to collaborate with people so our collective competencies make us for our collective weaknesses.

    For example, as a visionary, strategist and systems thinker I sometimes wonder why people have so little of these qualities. Then I realize that because I am gifted in these areas it is inequitable to judge others to my standards. On the other hand, I “waste” a lot of time looking for my errors that I know others can pick out in a second.

    Did you ever stop to think that perhaps people have ADD, ADHD, visual or dexterity disabilities? Too much work, family obligations, were exhausted, or didn’t think it counted because it was only social media?

    By the way, where is the spell check on

  • #145578

    Mark Hammer

    Over the weekend, we had a visit from some old friends from my undergrad days. Currently, he heads a public sector think-tank tasked with overseeing the quality of post-secondary education. As we were chowing down on some apple crisp, he asked our younger son, presently in Grade 10, how much writing he does in his various classes. We were rather taken aback at how little writing they did. He noted that he’s spoken with a great many who indicated that, over the course of an undergraduate degree, many students will not write one essay, being assessed largely on the basis of machine-scorable exams.

    I commented that it was rather ironic that, in an era when we can so easily express our erudition by referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s note about “the 10,000hr minimum” to acquire expertise in any area (taken from K. Anders Ericsson’s work), we expect our youth to master the finer points of written expression yet systematically deprive them of virtually any opportunity to acquire that expertise. There are a number of reasons why this is taking place, but I’ll set those aside for another discussion.

    So, while I sympathize somewhat with some of the views expressed here about taking the psychological and training obstacles into account, in addition to the current trends in usage, the end-point is pretty much the same: it’s not great for the culture. Obviously not quite the same as declining to express your disdain for a neighbour who joins the Hitler youth, but complacency about societal decline nonetheless. Sometimes, you owe it to everyone to set the standards just a little higher, if only to hang onto what has been fought for so hard for so long at such cost.

  • #145576

    Robert Eckhardt

    If someone has taken enough care to do what is required to facilitate MY comprehension, and prevent my mis-comprehension, that’s someone I can probably place my confidence in.

    IMO this is the only purpose of grammar. All the rest simply falls under people being petty and pedantic. All these discussions bring to mind is:

  • #145574

    Mike DeVirgilio

    Responding to your initial question – yes, it is wrong. Many of the respondents make excellent points, which are hard to refute. Communicating with the public, it is especially important to present well-written, correctly spelled, material. Empirical data, in my own case, overrides those concerns as the only means to judge a person. Two of my co-workers are among the most intelligent people I have ever met. Both of these individuals hold college degrees, and work successfully in an area that demands precise and clear thinking. They constantly bring written materials to me to review their spelling and grammar. Rightfully so, given that they continually mis-spell words. Reaching the conclusion that either person possesses a less than capable mind would be a real mistake. My conclusion is that those siutations are only a part of the picture. First impressions, while valuable, are not always to be trusted. When possible, all of the information needs to be considered. Taking from another poster, substance is the real issue.

  • #145572

    Susan Pcola-Davis

    Thank you

  • #145570

    Susan Pcola-Davis

    Love it..amen

  • #145568

    Steve Ressler

    100% agree. Easy to beat people up on spelling/grammar. But the goal is does the other person understand what you said. Is it simple, clean, and clear is the real goal

  • #145566

    James Walker

    I would agree that finding spelling and grammatical errors can be off-putting and detracts from the intended message. However, it is important to recognise that in a person’s haste and excitement to get their point across and keep up with the conversation, they may not place as much importance in proofing their posts.

    Spelling and grammar checking tools are not fool-proof and over-reliance on them can be detrimental to people’s language skills (which may be part of the problem).

    In addition, other factors such as levels of literacy, English being a second language, or learning disabilities (for example dyslexia) can impede people’s effectiveness when attempting to communicate in writing. This should not undermine the fact that they may have very important and thought-provoking contributions to make.

    It is worth considering the fact that in a world which discriminates and excludes on a regular basis, we could all do with striving to be more tolerant and open to other ways of thinking, no matter how at odds with our own beliefs they may be.

  • #145564

    Denise Petet

    On the other side of the coin….If I was a customer and I read a press release and it was full of typos and misspelled words and nonsensical sentences, I’m sure not going to want to do business with this company that, seemingly, can’t even take the time to spell check and proof read their press release. Not to mention that, with misspellings, an organization can misrepresent itself. A misspelled word could, theoretically, void a legal contract.

    There is a difference between a public release and ‘official’ material, and an e-mail that someone bangs out. And I think that’s where the judgement comes in. For example, what about an online learning site? If I take the class and I see mistake after mistake, incomplete sentences, misused words, misspelled words, what am I going to think about the material on that site? How can I trust the info you’re expecting me to learn and have faith in your ability to teach me when you can’t even tell the difference between your and you’re? It can go to credibility.

    I read fanfiction as part of my hobby….and this debate comes up quite often. Because you have people that proof and spell check and still have a few errors, vs those that continually have wrong words, misspellings, typos, etc.

    The general consensus is: ‘innocent’ mistakes, they happen. no big deal. But constant and consistent errors? It shows or suggests that the writer really doesn’t care and if they don’t care why should I? I’ve even seen writers, when told ‘hey, you spelled this wrong’ answer ‘eh, it’s just for fun, who cares?’ Ok, fine, I’m not going to struggle through translating your mangled English just to read.

    So, I think it comes to the intent or location of the mistakes. Are they in informal communications? Are they shorthand in an IM? Or a ‘on the spot’ Twitter abbreviation? Or is it a press release with wrong words or a professional publication or contract with typos and errors? I would honestly question the professionalism of a company that puts out a release full of mistakes.

    Part of this whole new era is the fact that you can communicate in real time. You can follow a twitter account and ‘live’ an event as it happens. And there’s an unprecedented amount of communication out there. But what good is all this communication if your message is so mangled no one understands what you’re saying?

    Call me a snob if you want 🙂

  • #145562

    Keena Cauthen


    I have read all of the responses and agree with a number of them. I do find misspelled words distracting when reading anything, no matter the reason, and common grammatical errors such as “a apple” or “that apples” tends to make me think slightly less of the writer. I am human and do judge the writer for those errors that I find to be simple errors that anyone who has graduated high school should be able to proof out of their writing. I also do not suspend this judgment based upon what I’m reading, be that a novel, a media column, or a blog. If you are taking the time to put your voice out there, then you should take the time to ensure that it is written correctly. Another responder stated (and I paraphrase) that in our haste to get out voice out there, we do not take the time to proof our work. Why do we feel that a response to anything does not require us to put the same thought, time, and effort into it that we would require from the original author? In addition, do we really need to respond to every blog, e-mail, column, or post that we see? Yes, there is a lot of information available to us, and a lot of communications that we may be able to add our views on, but if you do not have the time to ensure that your response is written correctly, is responding the best use of your time? Just because you can, does not mean that you must. And yes, this is one of the few posts that I have responded to, though I have read a number of them and agree/disagree with them as appropriate.

  • #145560

    Keena Cauthen

    On a different note for this same subject, I feel that some of this lack of writing skills falls on the parents as well. I am the mother of four, with my oldest two in college and my youngest two just starting school. My oldest two did not live with me during their younger years and I have noticed a distinct lack of writing skills and take part of the blame for this. I did promote reading in the family, but did not focus as much on the writing aspects. With the younger two, they live with me and I have them writing almost daily. I can see what they are learning in school, and supplement that by working with them at home in those areas where I feel the schools are not focusing as strongly. At kindergarten and first grade I expect them to write their spelling words nightly, and a common punishment for unacceptable behavior is the requirement to write sentences. They may only be copying the sentences from something that I have written, but they are expected to spell the words correctly, use the proper punctuation, and write as legible as they can. Sloppiness and laziness are not acceptable, as I point out to them that if they are taking the time to write it, then they need to ensure that someone else can read it. I have my proud moments, too, when I hear from their teachers how they are so precise in their writing, how neat their letters are, or how much they enjoy talking to them because of their vocabulary. Why, just the other day, I asked my second grader what he was doing and he responded that he and his brother were having a “delightful game of Uno” and would be to supper “momentarily”. Am I a busy mother? Yes I am, but I still take the time to ensure that what I feel is important is focused on in our family and do not expect the school systems to do it for me.

  • #145558

    Mark Hammer

    I think one needs to make a distinction between grammar and spelling errors that are anomalies or exceptions within an otherwise articulate document, and more consistent inattentiveness to writing quality, or sheer ineptitude. If I had a nickel for every unintended use of “their” for “they’re”, I could probably afford a very nice lunch today, but thankfully not much more than that (well, maybe coffee and a snack later in the day!).

    It happens. At a certain point, however, we begin to cross the threshold of mere error into what appears to us like ignorance. So, in a sense, it is often a question of the relative density or errors/gaffes that tips us towards being judgmental.

    The rule applies to colloquialisms or speech mannerisms. I suspect most here would insert a “Like” or “You know” in their speech occasionally. I imagine the president himself does, too. But after you reach a certain density of these phrases/utterances, and they cease to become the pinch of saffron in a 4-gallon stock pot, and something more like the vegetables and soup bone, one’s speech begins to sound juvenile.

  • #145556

    Mindy Giberstone

    We all have our pet peeves, but I try to put this in perspective. I now save my “This isn’t English” for when I can’t understand what someone is trying to say, not typos or poor grammar. I know that I can just as easily be the culprit of a poorly worded email or text.

    Also, some of us are dyslexic and really count on spell check and auto-fill to get the message out. please be patient.

  • #145554

    Eric Erickson

    I was actually pleasantly surprised by the number of people who agreed. I thought most people would suggest I calm down! Thanks.

  • #145552

    Eric Erickson

    While I agree in theory – there is a difference between a typo, and an error made because the author doesn’t know – or care to know – how to write correctly. When a sentence calls for ‘their,’ spell check will catch ‘Thier’ – but not ‘There’…and I have a feeling there are many people who don’t really know the difference.

  • #145550

    Eric Erickson

    I will respectfully disagree with you 😉

    Any professional communicator worth their salt will tell you that you should not write the same way you talk. Different communication methods call for different communication styles and techniques.

  • #145548

    Stefany M. Mercer

    Agreed! SMH! Txting & other “flash” writing have killed the normally expected proofreading that would catch these mistakes. I’m much less bothered by the grammatical mistakes when in quick banter, but like Steve L. said, it IS bothersome to see these same mistakes in official documents/published materials. (Most recently, I saw an official government newsletter use “OMG!” in the headline.)

    As far as message versus style goes, I agree that the point of all of our communication tools is to communicate a message, and as long as the message is being communicated, then some minor errors should be ignored. Comma splices are the WORST flow interrupters, though! Comma=Break. When in doubt, PLZ go without! :-/


    P.S.-Spellcheck tends to be a waste of time outside of catching overlooked typos, but the autocorrect on smart phones can be a REAL killer! O.o; Check behind your checker….

  • #145546

    Mark Hammer

    And I would disagree with you, good sir, despite the stunning bowtie!

    There are most certainly aspects of grammar and usage whose primary purpose is to facilitate clarity and avoid ambiguity, and remaining in step with them assures effective communication. But there are also aspects of informal usage that can serve a rhetorical function within formal writing, and can often serve the communicative intent of the writer or speaker. And that would include starting sentences with “And”.

    For example, use of quotations marks around a term that may have multiple connotations can serve to establish an understanding between writer and reader, in the sense of conveying “You understand that I am as doubtful or questioning of this concept or ideological interpretation as you are, right?”. Precision and clarity is not sacrificed in this instance, even though the term does not really require the quotations. If anything, close examination of the roots of literacy in children’s preschool interactions with text through their parents indicates that text is first introduced as conversation, eventually becoming an implied conversation with an understood or imagined conversant, represented by the words on the page. The parent initially serves as proxy for the writer, gradually transferring control to the book/text as the child becomes more able to imagine the writer. Effective writers are cogniscent of that implied conversation and social contract. They obey the Gricean maxims (, and the most enjoyable ones regularly remind the reader that they are there in spirit on the page, if not in body.

    FWIW, I make a point of writing in a style very similar to the way I talk, although I suppose that I have a tendency to talk very similarly to the way many people write, so the similarity may not be much of an achievement! Still, people tell me they enjoy what I write, even when it is a report, densely packed with statistics and figures. There should be pleasure in reading; even technical or other serious documents. That doesn’t mean the document has to be frothy and persistently playful or silly. But, it should attempt to enjoy the language, to maintain clarity but occasionally skirt the rules, to introduce more vocabulary when feasible and not too demanding, rather than less, to incorporate the devices of poetry when possible (didja catch that “persistently playful” alliteration a moment ago?), to let the reader savour the sound of things on their tongue and lips, even as they contemplate serious ideas, to draw them in.

    I would rather the writer attend to my comprehension first and then my pleasure, so I always want writers to spell accurately and adopt proper usage. But when they have a moment, and the communicative objectives have been met, I am quite open to a little divergence. Jazz musicians have known for a century that you establish the melody first, and THEN you riff off the understood melody and play around it. That doesn’t make it any less musical. The same relationship can exist in good expository writing too. Certainly, commit the rules to memory, and abide by them whenever called for, but be prepared to take a left turn now and then.

  • #145544

    Denise Petet

    When I worked at a local tv station, obviously we’d hear a lot of interviews. We used to mock those that, you know, just seemed to unconsciously, you know, toss in phrases, you know, like all the time.

    For some it’s such an unconscious thing, they don’t even realize what they’re doing. How often they stick a phrase or word in almost every sentence.

    For some…it’s people that get interviewed once in their life. But for others, if you’re in a position to be speaking to the press often or are a spokesperson, it would certainly not be a bad thing to have a little coaching and even if it’s just a friend videotaping you, watch yourself talk. You’ll be surprised what you see yourself doing.

  • #145542

    I work within a training environment and for a boss who feels very strongly about grammar. He is in agreement that a poorly worded assessment item full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors will result in not only lower marks but will begin to form a bias as to the competence of the student.

    I on the other hand am more concerned about the concepts and whether they have full analysed the issues. Spelling and grammar can be corrected but if you fail to understand an idea or concept and cannot articulate it, then this is much more of a concern.

    My views anyway from here in Australia 🙂

  • #145540

    Peter Sperry

    I totally agree and have often noticed that many of those who focus the majority of their atttention on identifying and eliminating proofreading errors do so because they lack the intellectual capability to analyze an idea or concept on its underlying substantive merits. Organizations should always make sure skilled proofreaders are in the loop before any document “goes out of the office” but it is usually a mistake to include them in substantive policy analysis, development or implementation. They just tend to have thier priorities backwards and it is a waste of valuable time to argue trivia with them until it is time to polish the final product; at which point their contributions have some utility.

  • #145538

    Daniel Crystal

    I have to disagree with you Peter. There are some people who focus on the minutiae of your writing, and I’ve noticed that those type of people tend to be: 1) supervisors and 2) have an engineering type background. Nitpicking is annoying and unproductive, but if your paper has glaring spelling and grammatical errors, the content doesn’t matter. Nobody will take what you write seriously.

  • #145536

    Peter Sperry

    Daniel —

    I must conced that these types of supervisors do predominate at the lower and mid levels of most public and private sector organizations. Nick Charney started a good discussion of the type of work enviornoment they foster.

  • #145534

    Sunni M.

    Forgiving grammar gaffes is difficult. I’ve found that if it is a recurring problem, then offering positive feedback is an effective way to make the writer aware of the issue and, hopefully, encourage him/her to get help.

    I’ve also noticed that many “grammar errors” are just stylistic differences. For example, the Harvard comma! I have also found that, in some situations, a document will go out for review and, depending on the reviewer, will come back with completely different solutions to grammar “errors.” I have also known of people who have used previously-reviewed templates and been chastised for grammar errors that the reviewer had previously inserted!

  • #145532

    Allison Primack

    There were a lot of great responses to this question on GovLoop’s LinkedIn group. Here are some of them:

    Jaime Gracia, PMP, CFCMI have to admit it is one of my pet peeves, when I do not sufficiently QA written correspondence and find an error after the fact. These types of errors will always happen, even in the age of auto-correct, spelling and grammar checks, etc.

    However, persistent issues with grammar and spelling, IMHO, seemingly demonstrate a lack of attention to detail, or perhaps issues with professionalism and competence. Putting aside any type of learning disability or like issues, I do judge people by the written word. Spell check people

    Scott Morris – CCIEx4, JNCIE-SP, JNCIE-ER, CCDEAgreed. When there are plenty of tools available to assist, then it has nothing to do with mere skill level.

    What irritates me the most is when people at higher levels (presumed higher competence) send information to customers with blatant errors. And people who have blatant errors on their resumes.

    In a forum, I’m more forgiving (like here where there is no inherent spelling/grammar check). But I do have to admit that the more errors, or incorrect word choices (like someone thinking they are cool enough to use “moot” in a sentence but use “mute” instead!) will lead me to think less of their ability to contribute.

    I try to keep an open mind, but sometimes it’s difficult! 🙂

    Eric W. LoganMany “Senior Level” people have had these communication problems historically, however in the distant past, these people had secretaries who were responsible for the final output. Add to this, that the total amount of correspondence was low compared to today’s deluge of communications, and it is not surprising that some people are having difficulty getting over this raised bar for written communications. Finally, “shorthand” in written communications is not only tolerated, but actually celebrated as “cool” in some forms. I’m not suggesting this as an excuse for sloppy correspondence, but we should recognize the headwinds against the standards we desire to maintain.

    Janina HarrisonI agree with Eric about the change in communication. Now that people are empowered to do their own communication and not necessarily have a secretary to review, they need to step up. I know spelling took a dive when phonics was removed from the classroom. I can usually tell someones age by their ability to spell. People 58-59 or younger seem to have trouble.

    Help yourself, get a course/program that starts with the simplest spelling and grammer concepts and re-educate. I did not realize how much I forgot until I started teaching English as a Second Language. It made me more aware of my shortcomings.

    My pet peeves? Using have or has with every verb. My father taught English and journalism. His saying, “All verbs have a past tense, use it. Is, was, were, be, being, been, you don’t want to be a has been. Have, had, has, have very few appropriate times to use with other verbs.”

    Everyone trying to kill the word use by using utilize. I was taught that you use utilize when you are talking about the utility of something. The rest of the time it is ‘use’.

    Getting emails that look like text messages. OK if you are using instant messaging, but formal emails which might be considered FOIA or are kept as public record should be appropriate format and content.

    English is a living language. New words are added to the dictionary regularly and some that fall out of use are removed. I do think we need to keep some basic standards in place for communication.

    Jo Laurie PenroseTake an English class. Use spell check and then proofread your document yourself. Then, get another pair of eyes on your document. Grammar and syntax are important, also. Use a grammar handbook (a hardback book), not software. What’s up with using amongst and whilst? It’s among and while. Text mail abbreviations should be banned for business e-mail and paper correspondence. Writing constantly is an excellent method of becoming aware of spelling and grammar!

  • #145530

    Mark Hammer

    There is something to be said for having naive proof-readers. We know from considerable research that experts in a field can often mistake what they already know for what may actually not have been said in a text. Indeed, that’s one of the very reasons we need to have someone else proof-read our documents: we’ve been staring at them for so long, we can’t tell the difference between what’s on the page and what we intended to say. So, knowing nothing about the text permits someone to catch the sorts of errors that may elude our own eyes.

    On the other hand, if you’ve ever handed a document to someone, in the hopes that they will provide the services of an editor, and improve the document, and the best they can come up with is tiny superficial corrections, such as flipped letters (“wehn” instead of “when”), it can prove frustrating.

    There is algorithmic proof-reading of the meticulous superficial variety, and there is heuristic proof-reading, that relies on a degree of understanding about the ideas and communicative intent of the writer. Do NOT rely on your management to necessarily understand the document at a deeper level. All the same, they still have to make it look like they went through the document…which is where the little low-level corrections peppering the document are likely to come from.

    If you’ve ever been to grad school, there are many folk-legends about thesis/dissertation committee members who ask bizarre questions during the defense that seem to come from out of the blue. I can assure you that a large segment of those result from the committee member trying to distract from the fact that they have not either understood the thesis or read it.

  • #145528

    Ellyn Avila

    MUCH AGREED. A distinguished professor in a distinguished Masters program suggested I do this at times. I think it is useful.

  • #145526

    Cybele Cochran

    Dawn, my team at my previous job called me The Grammator. Wear your policeman badge with pride.

  • #145524

    Jason Brill

    I agree with all that you have mentioned save beginning a sentence with a preposition. It is common usage which, indeed is acceptable, and therefore not incorrect. It is no cause for derision. And, since all of the greatest writers in the english language are, or have been “guilty” of this, you just can’t call it a mistake. But I will gladly conclude that a person is not trying hard enough when the other grammatical errors are made.

  • #145522

    Seth Grimes

    Ah, you mean like can be seen on GovLoop’s main page? Glaring mistake; should we not take GovLoop seriously? Frankly I think you need to be more forgiving.

    Seth, @SethGrimes

  • #145520

    Bo Miller

    I am an active duty Marine, and I just happen to work in an academic environment (I teach at the Staff NCO Academy, Okinawa). It always seems peculiar to me that so many folks seem to be elevated to positions of authority and very senior billets, and yet have somehow bypassed the “English requirement” that I had to have to simply graduate high school! It is professionally embarrassing for me to be a SNCO in my beloved Marine Corps, and witness, on an almost cyclic rate, another much more senior SNCO send out an all-hands email of some sort with glaring spelling and grammatical errors.

    I hate hearing the excuse that people are in a hurry. C’mon, really? I guess no one was in a hurry back when we used typewriters, and white-out, huh? Whatever. People are lazy. Period. End of subject.

    All of what I’m saying manifests itself every day, all around me. I find errors in the newspaper. Regularly. Bear in mind that newspapers keep someone on their paid staff to weed these type of discrepancies out. That someone is known as the editor. Yeah, wow.

  • #145518

    Steve Ressler

    Ha – you got us 🙂

  • #145516

    Seth Grimes

    Right, and I’m forgiving of these *inevitable* errors, as should you be.

  • #145514

    Eric Erickson

    One or two mistakes: a person is human

    Three to five: sloppy

    Five or more: illiterate

  • #145512


    @Bo, Well said. I agree completely. I have seen many executives who cannot write effectively. Ironically, they really believe they write well. Sad.

  • #145510

    Seth Grimes

    So did George W. Bush have no credibility as president, in your opinion, because of his numerous English-language errors?

    After all, “You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.”

    I don’t hold that opinion myself, regarding a link between Bush’s grammatical errors and his competency.

  • #145508

    Peter Sperry

    Actualy during the period when we used typewriters and white out the military manual for correspondence allowed upto three pencil corrections per page on official correspondence.

  • #145506

    Peter Sperry

    Sounds like a reasonably good standard depending on the length and type of messege.

  • #145504

    Seth Grimes

    OK Bo, you’ve invited observation that:

    – The proper term is Wite-Out. It’s a trademark.

    – “weed these type of discrepancies out” — You mean “this type of discrepancy” and best not to split “weed out.”

    – “cyclic rate” doesn’t make much sense. “Fast rate” and “rapid cycles” would, but “cyclic” by describes a pattern and not a pace.

    But I know what you meant in every case. What I want you to do is understand that, for the 3rd time, we all make mistakes, and they do not necessarily mean we’re incompetent.

  • #145502

    Stephen Watson

    I am more forgiving when I know that English is not the author’s native language.

  • #145500

    Jenny Heizman

    It is Police Officer, not Policeman

  • #145498

    Among my peeves is “try and” as in “We need to try and move this along faster.” It almost always should be ‘try to” in that a verb is almost always next after to. The only time “try and” works for me is when I hear Jimmy Cliff singing

    You can get it if you really want
    You can get it if you really want
    You can get it if you really want
    But you must try, try and try
    Try and try, you’ll succeed at last

  • #145496

    Iva Steele

    Is it wrong to JUDGE someone based on their grammatical or spelling errors? Will everyone who makes the same error receive the same verdict? Will the verdict depend on the sterling known qualities or less than sterling known inadequacies of the author? Is judging more helpful or harmful to the one wielding the pen?

    It is not always wrong to correct or want to correct someone’s consistent bad grammar or spelling errors. That being said, I have to know my audience. Are they thin skinned and passive aggressive or thicker skinned and appreciative? Do I pick my battles? Have I made them comfortable enough so they understand it is constructive criticism and not a personal attack? Am I being fair and treating everyone the same? Am I being receptive to their constructive criticisms of my work? If it’s social media, does it matter?

    Great discussion topic Eric. c:

  • #145494

    Iva Steele


  • #145492

    Robert Eckhardt

    I used to work in a lab with a bunch of Italians. They were the best proof readers bar none.

  • #145490

    Andy Gravatt

    And is their a point to this discussion? Its not like were discussing a important thing here!!!!

  • #145488

    Robert Eckhardt


  • #145486

    Ryan Deschamps

    When a mistake is that glaring, I have a hard time taking the author seriously, which means their message is muddled in the morphological mess.

    While I am not averse to some grammar-nazi-ing (I even like it sometimes), I think it’s important to remember that not everyone is text-aligned. You will get a lot of agreement in a medium that relies on text to show status and so on.

    So, go for it — just don’t complain too much when speech oriented people nitpick your public speaking skills, or graphic designers trash your website or bean counters criticise your lack of quants for every single thing or extreme extroverts complain that you are on your computer when you should be mingling. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – the internet allows the illusion that strong writing == permission to look down on everyone else.

    It’s a big mistake in any case to have a hard time taking anyone seriously for anything really. When the chips are down and I need a good decision on my program, I’ll take my poor-spelling-but-evaluation-genius colleague over your good grammar any day. On the other hand, that same colleague will not be allowed to write my blog posts. 🙂

  • #145484

    Andy Milam

    Correct spelling and proper grammar count. I may make an exception on twitter due to the need for brevity.

  • #145482

    Andy Gravatt

    Thanks for getting the joke! I get worried at times that I’m the only one who knows I’m kidding.

    I’m a professor at the iCollege of the National Defense University and there is nothing worse than reading a paper that’s full of grammar issues. It takes forever sometimes to figure out what the student is even trying to say at times and that leads to some poor grades. I’m not sure whether it’s okay to judge someone on this, but I can guarantee you that people are judged by their ability to communicate. Why would anyone with a career take a chance on losing an opportunity because they don’t know the basic rules of grammar? It just doesn’t make sense and just between us, it isn’t that hard.

  • #145480

    Eric Erickson

    Thanks to everyone for adding your comments – it’s been a scream this week reading them all. Honestly, when I wrote this last week, it was just a way to vent – I had no idea it would generate so much passion and interest. Have a great weekend fellow govies!

    Side note: I reviewed this comment about 300 times for errors. Lord help me if I missed one.

  • #145478

    Colleen Ayers

    If it’s something I can gloss over as a typo (including things like its when it should be it’s, or the “a” before vowel culprit), and it’s not a formal document, I don’t mind so much. What does bother me in emails, IM, etc., is the lack of punctuation and capital letters. Or the gratuitous use of “txt-nyms” and dropping vowels without the excuse of being on a phone or using twitter. (And sometimes even then!)

    ths wld ttly make me wnt 2 thrw somthing!!!! O.o

    Frequency also makes a huge difference. Once or twice, most likely they’re typos. Littered throughout, then someone doesn’t know what he’s doing, or doesn’t care.

  • #145476

    Tricia Adkins

    “Beginning sentences with a conjuction – a practice many people think is acceptable because ‘everyone is doing it.’ Remember, just because something is acceptable, doesn’t mean it’s correct.”

    This is the only area where you lost me.If it’s acceptable, it becomes “correct” over time. Isn’t that how our language evolves after all?

  • #145474

    Dave Bell

    I think spelling errors depend on where you find them. For example, on a résumé they would be the kiss of death. On memorandums, letters or forums, they should be rare or nonexistent. On instant messaging (I.e., communicator, AIM, etc.), however, spelling errors are, and probably should be, par for the course as the information is in neigh ‘real time’ and flowing quickly.

  • #340267


    I’m a bit late to a rather interesting discussion.

    Having worked as an editor, I can’t help but notice poorly used language. What really grinds my gears, though, is when someone rather proudly claims to be a grammar Nazi. I see it all the time.

    I’m going to assume that you know ‘so’ is a conjunction in the context with which you’ve used it.

  • #343903

    Isaak Garcia

    I absolutely agree with you. It is very wrong when there is discrimination against people who speak or write grammatically incorrectly. I remember at one time writing about this academic EC, which concerned students. In the process of writing, I was helped by a writing service that provided me with statistics on some factual data.

    • This reply was modified 7 months, 3 weeks ago by  Isaak Garcia.

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