How to keep your friends while correcting their grammar

By Curtis Honeycutt

I love reader feedback, especially when it is glowing. Luann wrote in with a great question. She asked, “How do you keep from correcting other people? My friends think I am obnoxious.”

Luann, you’re not alone in that your friends think you’re obnoxious. My friends couldn’t stand me if it weren’t for my mom sending them large checks every month. They’ve actually told me so to my face.

Although my friends can barely stand me, I do not correct their grammar, except for under very specific circumstances. You can have friends or correct people’s grammar; you can’t have both.

The only reason to publicly correct a friend’s grammar is to stop them from getting a misspelled word tattooed on her body. You’d better speak up before your buddy gets “No ragrets” tattooed on his forearm. If you’re wondering how prevalent misspelled tattoos are, simply perform a Google Images search for “misspelled tattoos.”

The only other acceptable way to correct a friend’s grammar is to do so in private. To judge someone out loud in public is an impeachable friend offense. It will make them feel dumb, and it’s not a good look for you, either. A private grammar correction is akin to pulling someone aside to tell them they have some spinach stuck between their teeth. A friend only corrects another friend’s grammar in confidence.

Now I’ll stop dancing around answering Luann’s question: how do you keep from correcting other people? This is difficult! Believe me, I am constantly correcting other people’s grammar in my head, but it stays there. To learn restraint, you have to ask whether or not you’d like your friend to correct you if your roles were reversed.

Just as nobody’s mind has ever been changed through a Facebook political debate, no good will come out of a public grammar correction. Here’s an idea for Luann, as well as other self-deputized grammar police officers: when you want to correct someone’s grammar, instead send yourself a text message with the grammar gaffe. Later on, if you remember it, you can allow yourself to gently correct your friend in the privacy of a one-on-one conversation.

I strongly believe that possessing and practicing good grammar can make your life roughly 17 percent better, and I appreciate people who want to help their friends achieve grammar greatness. Just as there is a proper place to put quotation marks in a sentence, there are also proper times and places for correction. However, if your friend is on the tattoo chair, feel free to exercise your spell check skills on the spot.

—Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.