Why you shouldn't be a grammar snob

Agreed; but as my Gram was fond of saying, there’s a time and a place for everything.

Context matters, as does the audience one is addressing.

I love using slang and especially my personal colloquialisms, but I am still well aware that such speech is not appropriate in the classroom or in the workplace.

Furthermore, I have issues with Chalabi’s basic contention; “It doesn’t really matter,” because that mentality can all too easily justify and contribute to the Dumbening.

How we speak often does matter, just depending upon the particular circumstances.


I love it. Just as, in parts of the South, “y’all” is singular, so if you mean everyone, you have to say, “ALL y’all.”


I find that grammar usage should be proportional to the seriousness of the conversation.

  • Talking with friends (including IM and SMS) Grammar needed, low. I can always ask for clarification.
  • Posting on a forum, BBS or Facebook? Grammar needed, moderate. I’ll make sure to be as clear as poss bile, but I may forget where the apostrophe goes or miss a homonym on my editing pass.
  • Blog posts, articles and other unpaid/unsolicited creative works? Grammar moderately high. I need to be as clear and bulletproof as possible, but I may still miss things.
  • Paid work, work communications, especially with outside individuals? Grammar needed, very high. I represent a business and need to make sure to represent them well.
  • Legal, scientific or other scholarly papers, grammar needed, Perfect. A misplaced apostrophe here could undermine your entire argument or significantly affect many people.

It’s rude and unnecessary to apply the standards of scientific papers to my friends when we are discussing the latest Marvel movie. On the other hand if you are getting paid for your writings you need to not mistake figuratively for literally, unless it is intentional for style (quotes from teenagers in fiction, for example).


Should that not be “Why one shouldn’t be a grammar snob”?


I agree with you on their, there, they’re and your and you’re these are actually completely different words. But It’s vs. its pisses me off. It’s a collision of two usages that share a meaningful symbol (the apostrophe) with one (as far as I can tell) arbitrary winner. contractions with “is” and the possesives “s” both legitimately use the “'s” construction, but one is stripped of it “for clarity.” why did the contraction win the apostrophe in this case?


There is, and should be, I think, a distinction between formal and informal speech and writing.

In academic texts, scientific reports, and especially in the legal profession, care must be taken to ensure that there is only one possible meaning to what is being said. Every word that doesn’t conform to an existing, unambiguous definition should be have a clear definition listed somewhere in the document, and the authors should be very careful to not use that word to mean anything other than that listed definition.

In practical, informal speech, though, it’s just not feasible to speak unambiguously 100% of the time, especially since a word might be unambiguous in your mind, but have a different meaning to someone else. Or because even though the words you’re saying might be perfectly clear, the intent behind them may not.


Any language* has different registers. What is unremarkable in one may jar in another. When Ms Chalabi invokes the OED in support of the use of the word ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’, she skates over the fact that it has the qualification ‘informal’ next to the definition.

If you want to maximise your chances of being taken seriously in a given context, you should use the register appropriate to that context. Anyone using ‘literally’ to mean anything other than ‘literally’ in a piece of formal written English is undermining those chances. Conversely, anyone using excessively formal language in a web forum risks being regarded as a pompous idiot. Double for people who criticise others for not using such language in that context.

And ‘less’ for ‘fewer’ is perfectly standard in formal Scottish English.

* I’m expecting someone with more knowledge than me to list those languages where this isn’t true.


I’m not a grammar snob when it comes to casual conversation and ephemeral Internet posts, but when it comes to usage in formal writing and speaking I can’t help but fall into Stannis mode:

It’s in large part the result of an education where I could have received a failing grade on a middle school paper for confusing “it’s” with “its”, “your” with “you’re”, or for making one of 28 other common grammatical errors. Fortunately, the same education allowed me the freedom to break certain other rules deliberately in the name of style and voice.


grammar is one thing – spelling is another. have no problem correcting spelling errors, but i can be far more forgiving regarding incorrect grammar if the meaning intended is successfully conveyed. i was with her 100% until she added a class and racial spin to her argument. i don’t think fastidious grammar is the realm of only rich white people.




I think that video is a missed opportunity because it limits itself to a comfortably banal point. Those are the easy targets. You don’t want to be a grammar snob about those things because they are thoroughly accepted by the mainstream. There is a much more interesting and complex debate to be had about the role of standard dialects if you are willing to deal with “mistakes” that are actually controversial.


Linguists have a different word for “grammar snob”, and it’s “grammarian”. But this term isn’t meant be to flattering. The truth is that there’s a lot in grammarian ideals that are at direct odds with how language is used functionally or evolves. Worse still, is grammarian ideals are often rooted or in concert with racism (hence Ebonics) or other social stratifications.

One of my favorite examples is in how African American English isn’t considered “grammatically correct”, yet contains provable forms that are incorrect in SAE (standard American English) which are functionally unique to AAE and are not found in SAE.

Also, to toss this in: Chomskyan linguistic theory is pretty much dead in the water in natural language processing.


I’m irked by bad syntax, not bad grammar. The latter still preserves meaning, whereas bad syntax can render an expression ambiguous or even contradictory to the speaker’s intended meaning.

Incorrect grammar, clear syntax

Double negative: I don’t got no money.
Incorrect conjugation: She don’t have feelings for him.
Adjective misused as adverb: He plays guitar really good.

Correct grammar, bad syntax

Mis-placed adverb: Only reprimand your children when they’re behaving badly. (Suggests that reprimanding is the only valid reaction)

Mis-placed negation: All politicians aren’t liars. (Self-explanatory)


Such as omitting the Oxford Comma?



When I use text to speech I get gibberish. Both Enhanced Dictation and Dragon for Mac keep writing the wrong words, and converting names into words, and have trouble with punctuation. But I tried to use these to take notes, to transfer data, to correct their own errors, etc.


“Grammar snobs are patronising, pretentious and just plain wrong,” or alternatively, “Unsupported conclusory statements that make me feel better about my ignorance.”


Yeah, but who gives a fuck about the Oxford comma?


What about products or services that are “not available in all areas”? Grr…


I think you mean speech to text. I was talking about listening to text using the text-to-speech feature on my phone or computer. Homophones sound exactly the same, yet we have no trouble understanding what they mean.

I do think a lot of homophone errors I see on the net are due to automated voice transcription on phones which isn’t very good about getting homophones correct. I find it particularly annoying that it isn’t standard practice for Google’s suggested contextual corrections to always include the alternate homophones.

Edits: speech to text messes up a lot more than homophones! My unedited post, with its errors proved your point :slight_smile:


You’re right. Slipped my mind.

1 Like