Attitudes to usage: a thought experiment

Imagine you’re sitting at a big table as part of a large group of people. It could be a cafe, it could be a restaurant, it could be a meeting at work. Some of the people at the table are your friends, some of them are acquaintances or colleagues, and there are some that you haven’t met until that day. Everybody is talking, various conversations are going on, and you can hear each of them with perfect clarity. Then someone makes a grammatical mistake.


What are your motives for choosing any of these three actions? Does it matter whether it was a friend, an acquaintance/colleague or a stranger who made the mistake? What about if it had been on a semi-public space on the internet such as a forum, chatroom or social media site?

Please send us your ideas in the comments!

About Robin Straaijer

I am a linguist and EAP trainer, working on English prescriptivism and Standard English. Lover of photography and comedy.
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7 Responses to Attitudes to usage: a thought experiment

  1. Tessa says:

    3/C. Immediately followed by ‘Oh God, I’m so sorry, I did it again didn’t I, I’m sorry, I can’t help myself, you know that’
    And if it’s someone I don’t know, it’s about the same, only without the ‘you know that’ because obviously they couldn’t know.

  2. Lyda says:

    Of course, I wouldn’t say anything! After all, I live in Canada now, eh?

    • But what did you use to do before you moved to Canada?

      • Lyda says:

        Ha, I surely must have felt Canadian before we moved here; I can’t remember having spontaneously corrected someone’s spoken language – English or Dutch – except when teaching/tutoring or in the case of my children. That may be because I assume that: a) the person concerned knows the correct option, but just doesn’t care at that particular moment; or b) the person isn’t aware, and therefore probably can be bothered even less.
        But when invited … oh yes, I’d jump to the opportunity to correct them!

  3. I rarely correct people’s grammar or usage. I might playfully correct a fellow copyeditor’s grammar, but only if I’m already on good terms with that person. And once I had a Chinese roommate who asked me to correct any errors he made to help him learn. But otherwise, I would usually just say nothing.

  4. Dr. Kim says:

    I would never “correct” anyone. The exception would be if someone requested I help them avoid aspects of English usage that branded them as an outsider. Any feedback would be offered in private.

  5. I say nothing. My reason for this is that my mother used to correct my Dutch all through my life (ben vergeten, heb vergeten?). She would even correct the nurses in the hospital she was in (groter als). Most embarrassing, I wouldn’t know where to look. I’m sure she meant well, but still.

    Having said that, I sometimes feel I should correct people, particularly when I’m in a teaching situation. Even then it feels awkward if you interrupt a student (so better tell them afterwards, in private, I suppose), or when you tell a student they didn’t address you properly in an email (“Dear Miss Tieken”, “Dear Prof”). This I find hard to do, since it makes me feel like a pedant. I once corrected my (British) brother-in-law for misplacing an accent when he was speaking Dutch. I did it with the best of intentions (his Dutch is really very good), but it wasn’t taken kindly. He in turn corrected my English in his response to the Attitudes questionnaire which I conducted on this blog a year ago. This was useful of course, though it got to skew the data as a result. So for me (I’m a pedant at heart!) it is quite a dilemma and I don’t have an easy answer to this.

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