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Online grammar – does anyone care if you spell it “there,” “their,” or “they’re”?

“Trevor realized that the odd thing about English is that no matter how much you screw sequences word up up, you understood, still, like Yoda, will be. Other languages don’t work that way. French? Dieu! Misplace a single le or la and an idea vaporizes into a sonic puff. English is flexible: you can jam it into a Cuisinart for an hour, remove it, and meaning will still emerge.”
Douglas Coupland, Generation A

“People who cannot distinguish between good and bad language, or who regard the distinction as unimportant, are unlikely to think carefully about anything else.”
B.R. Myers

Writing online. (Photo by fish at

Let’s talk about online grammar today. (Not texting, however. I can stand just so much.) Read the quotes above and consider where you stand. Judging by a lot of the emails and Facebook quotes I receive, the psychology of Coupland’s quote is at work. And that’s okay for a lot of items – a quick note from a friend alerting you to some event or a time to meet, a reminder of some kind, a response to a funny photo, and such. Sloppy spelling, though, still gets me down.

But I receive a lot of newsletters, sales offers, and posts from businesses and organizations too. It’s not so cool to find spelling and other basic grammar errors – like incorrect applications of their, there, and they’re. And it’s totally cringe-inducing when emails come in from my kid’s school and teachers containing bad English. They usually aren’t that long, so, high school educators and administrators, feel free to take a few moments to scan through your message. Spell-check invariably highlights the obvious problems. Listen to it. That way you’re more likely to keep my respect. Of course, you might also consider hiring the Polished Paragraph to proofread your stuff.

But NOTHING is as bad as finding an error in one of my own emails. I’m freakin’ anal before I hit SEND. For heaven’s sake, what do I do for a living? I find instant messaging an incredibly stressful experience, and not just because I can never seem to extricate myself from conversations. Clearly, I am not immune to mistakes and the hurried nature of our society. Though, in all honesty, I would like to be.

Where do you fall in the online language camp?: “Don’t be so hard on them. They’re busy, and I got the point anyway,” OR “Incorrect grammar, particularly on a regular basis, shows a lack of care in other areas of the writer’s life”? And just for fun, what do you think about Margaret Atwood’s assertion below? Is the Internet and all the information contained on it really driving folks to read, folks who would otherwise be illiterate?

“I got into trouble a while ago for saying that I thought the internet led to increased literacy – people scolded me about the shocking grammar to be found online – but I was talking about fundamentals: quite simply, you can’t use the net unless you can read.”
Margaret Atwood



Author: Laura S

Laura Salamy is a published author. Her essays and short stories have appeared in print and online. As the owner of The Polished Paragraph, she edits and proofreads other writers of all kinds. She is currently an assistant editor for the lit journal Fifth Wednesday, and she blogs on the fourth of every month for get born magazine. In her past life, Laura spent many years in the environmental, health and safety industry. She also worked for a non-profit completing grant applications and doing other "stuff." In her spare time, Laura creates colorful and less-than-traditional hooked rugs and mats. Many are "up-cycled" from old clothes, funky fabrics, and notions. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, a teenager (oh no!), and a very silly dogs.


  1. Giiiiiirl. You have opened a can! I struggle with this. I personally feel twitchy when I see bad grammar and spelling. But I remind myself that good spelling does not correlate to intelligence or character. But it’s a struggle not to be a grammar snob. I think common errors rankle me more than unique ones. “I should of done something.” “Congradulations.” “Supposably.” All guaranteed to make me cringe.

  2. You’re right, Esther; it’s the common errors that rankle. That’s just being sloppy. And I need to remember too that spelling/grammar doesn’t always mean your a lazy dolt. I have a kid with ADD. She’s not stupid, certainly. It’s just that her brain’s wiring makes her impatient, not at all detail-oriented. Have a good weekend. Hope it’s warm where you are!

  3. Poor spelling makes me NUTS!!!! I’m not sure if it comes from being trained in Early Childhood Education, but I can spot errors at 10 feet! My poor husband will give me a work-in-progress to read and I immediately mark the spelling. Lay and lie get me, but ‘s in the wrong spot are the WORST. I don’t think many people know what to do with a ‘. I agree with you – I check my blog with the spell checker but then I read the preview and check again. For some reason I can see the errors more easily in that format. I have discovered that my computer learns my “errors”, which are generally typos, so I have to check for those. (Like huose for house and form for from)

  4. I think you’re right about spell check learning your mistakes. Or maybe we just start to bore it. :) I suppose the worst part if when I say something to someone, as I did smart-assedly to my brother the other day in a facebook post. Now I’m a snob. I hate that.

  5. I know what you mean, but good grief — everyone attends grade school where spelling and grammar are taught! One shouldn’t be called snobby or elitist for thinking people should be able to spell. I taught Second Grade and that’s when spelling tests used to start. I don’t know if that’s still so. And here I am living in the land of “ain’t”!
    (Speaking of living,, did I see that you live in Franklin??? I did, many moons ago!)

  6. Really, Franklin, Mass! Small world! Work related?

    Don’t even start me, Debbie! My kid’s school stopped doing spelling tests when she was in 5th grade. Of course, the spelling tests she was doing those earlier years were ridiculous. No use of phonics or “rules” that can help kids learn how to spell. I mean, she was being “taught” to spell “neighboring” as a 2nd grader! No training in long A, “ei” sound, “ing” sounds. Just what appeared to be random words for kids who weren’t ready for them. And the kid definitely can’t spell today.

  7. I am totally with you on this, Laura – I cringe and sometimes even whine when I get letters, emails, FB posts, etc. with poor spelling and or grammar. Another one that gets my goat is “your”in place of “you’re”.

    Seeing an email go whizzing away from me with an error is dreadful; gladly, not a usual occurrence.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  8. You have a great blog, Maureen. Good grammar. :)