[How] Do You Correct Friends Who Have Poor Written English?


I took the serious risk of correcting a friend today (privately, via Twitter DM) in regard to his use of “their/they’re”, and “your/you’re”. I told him, “s/your/you’re/ – s/thats/that’s. Believe it or not, English matters a lot to some people.”

In retrospect I should have added a smiley face or something, so as to counter any Internet-generated harshness that might have been added to the text. I actually rewrote my comment like five times to try and find the right tone, but I figured that since we communicate often it would be seen for what it was, i.e. a “heads up” regarding how others perceive things. Here’s what I got back.

Nice. So I wrote him a note that I think will serve well as a universal response to such reactions from friends, and I’ve included it below.

I was trying to be helpful by informing you, as a friend, of something that could be hurting you in the eyes of other people. Your choice of how to respond was, in my opinion, a poor one. But since that’s the language you’d like to use, the goal was not to give you an English lesson; it was to tell you privately, and in as kind a way possible, that you look like a fucking dumbass when you publicly demonstrate that you do not have a solid grasp of the English language.

If I thought, by the way, that you actually DIDN’T KNOW the difference between “there” and “their” or “your” and “you’re” I might actually send you a tutorial or something, but I know that for you it’s just a matter of laziness. Quite simply, you don’t think it matters that much if you use the right word or not, and that’s the misconception that I wanted to address. It’s not about correcting your English–it’s about correcting your perception of what others think is important. In short, you don’t think people care, but they actually do. For many people poor English instantly removes your credibility–despite any quality that may exist in your message.

And here’s the worst part: they won’t tell you. They’ll just internally label you an idiot, make fun of you behind your back, and proceed to ignore anything you do in the future (even if it’s cool).

So there are two main ways to hear about this: a) you can get flamed publicly in some Internet forum (which you’ll just ignore), or b) a friend can do their best to tell you politely, and in private. The thing is, most friends won’t because they’d rather not offend someone they care about. So, people like me who see our friends doing this are torn: do we tell them and become the asshat Grammar Nazi, or do we let them continue to look foolish because we’re too pussy to say anything?

With you I chose the former, and you reacted in precisely the way that makes friends reluctant to help. I ask you to reconsider. I’m not the asshole for telling you this; the real asshole is the one who watches you make the mistake, winces when you do it, but lacks the balls to say anything. ::

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