I love grammar. I can remember in sixth grade when we spent weeks parsing sentences. There was a moment of self-awareness when I thought to myself, “If I let anyone see how much I like this, I’ll never get invited to good parties.”

So I know I love grammar and I know it's not normal.

My first real corporate job came right after I went to graduate school for English. The job I landed was managing content for Ingram Micro‘s web site. The experience I had was HTML—I turned my master's thesis into HTML before anyone knew what HTML was.

So the head of copy writing had to teach me the AP Stylebook. I was the only person in the department who had gone to graduate school for English. I was the only person who had been published in literary journals. But when it came to grammar, there is a whole book of rules I had to learn so I could write in the Fortune 500.

An example (which, by the way, is e.g., not i.e.): Follow up is two words if it's a noun: “I'm doing a follow up.” But it's hyphenated if it's an adjective: “Follow-up meeting.” But when I say I love grammar, that is not what interests me. I’m interested in how we naturally know grammar because we naturally speak in sentences with good rhythm. I will spend an extra hour editing a blog post by reading it out loud and hearing in my cadence where a preposition is wrong.

This is all to tell you that I think we need to stop judging people by their grammar.

We should judge people by their ideas, their creativity, their enthusiasm. None of this naturally comes at the heels of good grammar.

(Please note that I am not talking about typos, even though I do think you should largely ignore them. Writing without typos is outdated. It's impossible to proofread your own work, and it is not financially viable to produce typo-free copy—if it made financial sense, the newspaper industry would be booming. But instead, the riddled-with-typos blogging industry is booming.)

What good grammar reveals is what sort of education you had. The more conventional and well-funded your education was, the better your grammar will be. And this is largely how people use grammar—to make snobbish judgments. Here's a great example of someone doing just that. The person who wrote the post says that if you don't know grammar rules, you're stupid.

It's snobbish because it's a set of rules that are not actually that useful. Yes, there are some grammar rules that, should you violate them, completely change the meaning of your sentence. However these situations are so rare that they are actually interesting, and even created a bestselling book: Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

Most grammar rules don't matter, though. That is, if you get them wrong, the reader still can find the meaning. For example, few people know when to use effect and when to use affect. But it doesn't matter because the first is a noun and the second is a verb so the likelihood you’ll mistake the meaning of a sentence because of a grammar error in this case is extremely low.

Here's another example: Find me a sentence with the wrong version of it's that you can't understand due to the error. Wait. No. Forget it. Because you can't. So a lot of grammar does not clarify meaning, it just serves to show you are good at grammar.

But why is being good at grammar more important than, say, having good social skills? It shouldn't be. People get hired and fired for getting along with people. Not for knowing when to use lay and when to use lie. The irony is that most people who are great at the rules and details of grammar do not have great social skills — it's just how the brain works.

Why do we need to spend our brain power learning the rules of grammar if it is not interesting to us? Why not focus on what we like? Really, if each company is hiring a range of personality types with a range of talents, then only twenty percent will be interested in the philosophy of grammar, and only twenty percent will be good at memorizing rules.

Do you think I'm nuts?

Here's what's on Google's home page on May 16, 2009:

Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage.

Vote for the one that will appear here!

Test yourself: Can you find the two grammar errors?

The AP Stylebook says “over” is a way to move—a preposition. And “more than” must precede a number. Also, if you are voting for one, specific doodle, then the AP Stylebook tells you to use “which” rather than “that.”

But look, there is no page in the universe that gets more traffic than the Google home page. So you can bet someone who knows grammar knowingly violated AP Stylebook rules.

Anyway, if Google is deciding that these rules are no longer useful guidelines, then we can all follow suit. And if you don't, you risk being more newspaper and less Internet, and we know where that's going to put your career…

248 replies
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  1. Kathy DeWitt
    Kathy DeWitt says:

    When did Google become the standard against which to judge grammar? That’s like basing your ethical barometer on politicians because a lot of people voted for them.

    I also disagree with the author’s suggestion that the downfall of the newspaper industry is somehow tied to typos — what springs to mind is a certainly grammatically incorrect “huh?”

    There’s a definite difference between writing for promotional, entertainment, advertising, etc. vs. professional writing. The failing of newspapers lies in their shift of writing more for entertainment purposes than for actual newsworthiness. As such, they are in competition with sensationalist writers like this author who have no ethical, moral, or legal obligations to adhere to facts maintaining the integrity of a story. Instead of espousing whatever whimsy of opinion strikes you as appropriately confrontational……thus increasing readership……eliciting more opinion-based debate…….and having zero substantive value.

    What’s killing the newspapers? You are. And the sheep who look to the wolf pretending to write the news.

    • Jeff
      Jeff says:

      “What’s killing the newspapers? You are. And the sheep who look to the wolf pretending to write the news.”

      Bravo, Kathy. Good grammar isn’t killing the newspapers – it’s an outdated business model that can’t hold the attention span of the twenty and thirty somethings who use facebook, twitter, and text messages to have their “news” delivered to them. The newspaper industry would be “booming” if it allowed typos? Are you kidding me? Penelope, did you read that out loud to yourself after you wrote it?

      Jeff

  2. HR Chick
    HR Chick says:

    @Christian–Wow– bitterness everywhere!
    It is virtually impossible to give 100% to everything you do and if you did, you would exhaust yourself in the process. You would be thinking that you provided 100% when actually, it was half-assed. Be honest enough to admit that you can’t do it all, all the time, 100%.
    It’s not wisdom. It common sense and logic.
    That’s all I’m saying…. but thanks for the rant.

  3. Christian
    Christian says:

    “Be honest enough to admit that you can’t do it all, all the time, 100%.”

    LOL. Oh, I am. And I’m not being bitter. I don’t think I give 100% of my effort 100% of the time. I don’t think anybody does and I don’t require of it anybody. The problem is something else entirely. The problem is telling people to throw rules of grammar out the window just because, “Hey, nobody’s perfect.” It’s not, “Hey, we all make mistakes from time to time.” It’s, “We should make mistakes (or at least do little to nothing to correct them) because the intent of our thought is more important than how we convey it.” But the rules of grammar are given to us, not to show how much better we are than others by our usage of them, but to convey our thoughts in the most accurate way possible. They’re our friend, not our enemy.

    I can repeat this ad nauseum and ad infinitum and people will still respond with, “Oh, Christian thinks he’s better than us. Why doesn’t he just let us do whatever we want? We’re too cultured to be restricted by grammatical rules,” little realizing that they ARE using grammatical rules to convey their thoughts, just not to the magnitude that they could be doing so.

    But I’m pretty sure Penelope is just trying to provoke discussion.

  4. Christian
    Christian says:

    “not especially tolerant- you’ll enjoy life more if you can hear the message over the rules. Life is poetry.”

    Another person entirely misunderstanding what I have been saying. You’re like somebody saying, “Don’t teach me how to hang glide. I want to just jump off a cliff and flap my arms and fly and be free. If you try to teach me the proper way to hang glide that just shows how intolerant you are. It’s people like you who think things can only be done one way that are ruining the world and stifling free expression.”

    Are you aware that you yourself are using grammatical rules to convey your thoughts? According to your own line of thinking your usage of grammatical rules is preventing you from hearing the message over the rules.

  5. Gardner
    Gardner says:

    The article you reference by Jodi Gilbert says poor grammar “makes you LOOK stupid”, not “makes you stupid”. There’s a difference. When the chief executive at my company says “Less things” instead of “Fewer things” in a group meeting, I cringe. I know this person is not stupid, but he appears that way. What if he were in front of soemone that didn’t know him? Would they assume he was not well educated? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the audience. Isn’t it safe to err on the side of caution and assume your audience will notice and care?

  6. Zak
    Zak says:

    P-lope,

    I disagree. It’s not snobbish to judge people by their grammar. What we may interpret as typos are often a lack of understanding on the part of the author. Slipping up when writing its/it’s or your/you’re is one thing, but not knowing which one to use in the first place is another. I constantly read emails with phrases like “miss spoke” and actually listen to people say “however comma.”

    When someone doesn’t understand the difference between moot and mute, it often indicates an even greater ignorance.

  7. casualencounters.com/blog/
    casualencounters.com/blog/ says:

    The AP Stylebook has absolutely nothing to do with good writing. It’s an ancient, perverse collection of incoherent and indefensible rules for American journalists and newspapermen.

    If you want to learn anything about writing clearly and expressively try The Chicago Manual of Style.

  8. Gerald
    Gerald says:

    You have a lovely way of discussing writing!

    You’re certainly right about “more than,” but I can’t find an entry in the AP Stylebook that calls for anything other than “the one that…”

    The expression “one that” appears many times in the AP Stylebook online, but “one which” does not show up in a search.

    The entry on essential clauses and nonessential clauses contains the AP’s advice to use “that” in sentences like the one in the Google example.

    There is another kind of error in the passage, however — a squinting reference. “One” could refer to either one drawing or one child.

    Will one drawing appear on the homepage, or one child?

    (And the AP, reckless of the space taken by the added space, spells “home page” as two words.)

    If anyone is starved for grammar practice, try the 2000+ free exercises at newsroom101.com.

  9. Eric
    Eric says:

    @HR Chick

    We don’t speak about being 100% perfect all the time. It cannot be done as you said.

    But we don’t think neither that write down our own native langage without typo errors is called perfect.

    No, it’s not to be perfect, it’s to be normal. You can have the best ideas in the world, if you are unable to share them with clarity and typo errors free, then it’s useless to have good ideas.

    You cannot pretend to a certain level of professionalism if you are unable to write something without typo errors in it.

    Sayin’ that you can do whatever you want with typos without givin’ a damn is… decadent.

    And I really hope that people will continue to consider typo errors as abnormal status for a manager or entrepreneur.

    I really cannot see the point to write like a five years old child.

    To write something without typo errors in it is really that hard for you all ? You know that’s supposed to be as easy than speaking ?

    Especially in our days, when we all have business (or friends) contacts all around the world. Especially in our days when we all keep in touch by e-mail and stuff.

    I expect from my applicant that they send me top-notch resume and cover letter, without ANY typo in it. But I expert the exact same from myself (and my associate) when we contact our partners. I rather prefer spend ten more minute to ready again myself before sending anything than be considered as lacking of professionalism.

  10. CAS
    CAS says:

    Ok, perhaps you can’t give 100 per cent to everything. And sure, not everyone needs to have perfect grammar.
    BUT, Penelope – you are a professional writer! Professional writers MUST get it right – regardless of whether it’s a book, newspaper or blogging site.
    If you want people to read your work, then it is essential that your work must be accurate – and the very best it can be. It’s not good enough to say, oh it’s only 80 per cent because I’m too busy doing 1000 other more important things.
    Otherwise go do something else where it doesn’t matter (eg professional volleyball).
    And, as a journalist and copy editor (we call it a sub-editor in Australia) I would not hire anyone with a typo in their resume. If a professional writer doesn’t care 100 per cent, I don’t care for them.
    Do it right or don’t do it at all.

  11. Jane N-B
    Jane N-B says:

    Call me a snob, call me a predominantly white, middle-class, college-educated person somewhere between the ages of 18-65 who is a native English speaker, call me a crank – I don’t care. I do care that people care enough about their culture, their friends, their colleagues, their companies, etc., to use “good grammar.”

    I find it highly interesting that everywhere I turn I am hearing some variation of “me and Robert went to the movie,” or “…me and him want to walk over to the library,” or “me and Carole are headed over to the coffee bar,” etc., etc., etc.. Ack, ack, ack. How awful.

    It’s a wonderful reflection of the increasing emphasis on “me, me, me” in our society – what’s in it for me?

    You have only to go back a generation (and further) to see the radical change. We used to have an emphasis on “other” vs. “self,” and this shift is showing up in the language (Good-bye Judeo-Christian belief system…hello…whatever).

    I’m not the grammar police, but this sloppy use of language is a reflection of sloppy thinking. The rise of the Internet means we all have access to lots of information…but fewer and fewer people seem to be developing much “knowledge” or “wisdom.”

    Who cares about history? Who cares about economics? Who cares about English (grammer *or* literature)? Who cares about spelling? Who cares about…anything? If it doesn’t entertain me, titilate me, or speak just to my little world today – fuggetaboutit.

    I do pity lots of young people today. They don’t know what they don’t know…and I fail to see how sloppy grammar is going to help them acquire the knowledge they’ll need to navigate their future.

    Told you I was cranky on this topic!

    p.s – the demise of newspapers is also heavily correlated with the shift from “objective” journalism to “mission” journalism, again, over the last 25-30 years. Hummm…any connection to that shift from “you” to “me” in this gneration of editors and reporters?

  12. R Day
    R Day says:

    My fourth grade teacher said that when you open your
    mouth or write a paper, people can tell how educated you are (or not educated, as the case may be). You decide how you want to be perceived.

  13. M E 2
    M E 2 says:

    I am as FAR from an English major as one could be.

    However, my mind is boggled by the number of people who (claim to be) are college educated and spell these two words (in my experience at least) wrong 99 times out of 100. Seriously.

    The two words?

    They are :

    definitely (which I ALWAYS see spelled definately…WTH?)

    and truly (which I don’t see as often, but the fact that I see it at all is scary to me, is spelled truely…WTF????)

    How did these people graduate high school let alone college????

    My 9 and 14 year old nephews were able to spell these when I asked them to. Obviously, neither is a college nor high school graduate, yet.

    OY! @@

  14. Christian
    Christian says:

    However, my mind is boggled by the number of people who (claim to be) are college educated and spell these two words (in my experience at least) wrong 99 times out of 100. Seriously.

    The two words?

    They are :

    definitely (which I ALWAYS see spelled definately…WTH?)

    and truly (which I don’t see as often, but the fact that I see it at all is
    scary to me, is spelled truely…WTF????)

    I’ve spoken about this before (I think even in this thread); I simply cannot figure out for the life of me why people think “definitely” is spelled “definately.” Where in the world did that come from? And why have I seen it literally hundreds of times from people who are supposedly native English speakers? I cut non-native English speakers slack but I actually think they spell this word correctly, or at least mangle it so bad that you know they are sincerely trying but at least haven’t convinced themselves that a wrong spelling is the correct one. And the one common misspelling I see even more is people spelling “lose” as “loose.” This happens so often that it is becoming an institutionalized misspelling and blurring with the real definition of the real word “loose.” I would love to hear an explanation (somebody . . . anybody!) why these two misspellings happen sooooooo much.

    • Unemployed As Well
      Unemployed As Well says:

      I think it’s because lose has a long sound but short letters, whereas loose has a short sound but long letters- people expect to find a long sound reflected with the double “o”- hence they mix the two up. As for definitely vs definately this is a pronounciation issue- clear pronunciation always helps with spelling, but lots of people lack clear diction.

  15. maurice
    maurice says:

    “I'm doing a follow up”

    soory I am dyslexic and took 3 years longer to pass my O level english and no way is that gramatical.

  16. Tony Brown
    Tony Brown says:

    I guess I see the erosion of proper grammar in serious communication as another small indication of decay in civilization. It’s kind of like the first broken window in an abandoned house. Or running stop signs and red lights (less dangerous, though, of course).

  17. Andy
    Andy says:

    Oh look, there’s a typo in my previous post. Ah, so what? Saying that newspapers are failing because they care more about good grammar than good ideas would be like me saying that newspapers are failing because your column appears in more than 200. It’s a spurious connection (not an ironic one).

  18. Walter
    Walter says:

    If you can’t construct a sentence using good grammar, why should I trust what the sentence says (or may not say, if the grammar’s improper)?

  19. Steve C.
    Steve C. says:

    This is just another example of Penelope pandering to the “Gen Y” population, most of whom could not achieve a passing grade in an elementary school English class. If you must attempt to write, at least make an honest attempt to write well, and keep a dictionary(preferably a pre-1980’s edition) and a thesaurus handy. Bad grammar is like a virus, and the internet is the perfect system for its delivery. All this blathering on about the message vs. the correctness of the delivery is just a cover-up for laziness and a poor education. I too am very suspicious about the validity of the content if the expression of the content is sub-standard. It’s discouraging to find that those for whom English is not their native language have a far greater command of the language than the children who are born and raised in an English-speaking country, such as the United States. It is another sign of our seemingly inevitable descent to third-world status.

  20. Marty
    Marty says:

    There have been many interesting studies in the relationship between language and perception. In the book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”, Ruby Payne warns educators about the danger of “eduspeak”…using language that most teachers understand but that may intimidate parents.

    Marty

  21. Steve C.
    Steve C. says:

    The fact that “eduspeak” intimidates parents explains why teachers exist, and why most parents don’t teach. Those parents who are intimidated are poorly educated and it is their children who are most in need of quality language education. “Talking down” to parents is just another facet of “dumbing down” our schools, pandering to the lowest common denominator. Under those guidelines, sooner or later, everyone is a trash-talking illiterate.

    • Marty
      Marty says:

      I wouldn’t say that all parents who are intimidated are poorly educated and illiterate…but there is a level of “higher” speech in every industry that can confound anyone unfamilliar with the industry.
      When my mother and my niece (both nurses) get together and begin “med-chatting”, I lose track of parts of the conversation, and I have a Master’s degree…but in education.

      Marty

  22. Arizona
    Arizona says:

    Very interesting. I caught both style errors immediately and always notice grammatical errors. And yes, I lack social skills. In fact, “sucks in social situations” describes me well; although, I have become slightly more comfortable in social situations as I’ve gotten older. Maybe its because lately I’ve been confusing lie with lay

  23. Darcy Murphy
    Darcy Murphy says:

    I see your point. I don’t agree with it, and I think there is definitely something to be said for speaking and writing language appropriately, but I see it.

    But I think the reasoning behind it, if you can call it reasoning, is that it’s simply not worth the effort to sweat over an email for 30 minutes to make sure it’s written properly, when you have another 5 to get back to. It’s easier and more effective to just crank out the first thing that comes to mind, use the built in spell-check if there is one, click ‘Send’ and move on.

    On the other extreme though is writing emails in IM speak. If I received an email from a professional colleague that read like “omg ur sooo rit,” I’d reconsider my relationship with them immediately.

  24. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    Penelope, your posts are generally entertaining, but I won’t be following along with your “AP stylebook == correct English grammar” stance.

    If you’re actually interested in learning more about the linguistics behind this, I recommend this post on Language Log (which actually mentions your blog post): What’s wrong with this passage? by Arnold Zwicky, a university professor of linguistics.

  25. bingo sites
    bingo sites says:

    I did a html copywriting course a while back. You’d be suprised at how different people’s readin habbits are online. I still haven’t grasped it fully

  26. Marie-Laure
    Marie-Laure says:

    I’m coming late to comment on this post. However, I have to say I strongly disagree with your point, Penelope.
    Sure, re-reading for hours to get details right when you have other important stuff to do is a waste of time. But as a foreigner (French), whose mother tongue is not English, I find it really difficult to understand some bloggers and writers when they misuse grammar.

    For instance, the case of ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ that (which ?) you mentioned : my English teacher told us ‘it’s’ could mean either ‘it is’ or ‘it has’, contractions of pronoun and verb, which was already tricky for us. Good thing was, it could not be confused with ‘its’, that was a possessive pronoun. But more and more people use one for the other and, as ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ are different kinds of grammatical objects, it can get really confusing because I don’t recognize the structure of the sentence any more. Same for ‘their’ and ‘they’re’.

    So I think grammar has a huge role to play in making yourself clear to people who do not necessarily possess perfect command of the language, be they foreigners or just less educated people. Besides, for such things like resumes, failing to check spelling and grammar is just disrespectful to a potential employer — and to yourself too, why give a bad image of yourself from the beginning on ?

    (so now you can go on enumerating my own spelling and grammar mistakes in this comment, which are probably numerous ;))

  27. Christian
    Christian says:

    Marie-Laure, you have actually have pretty good spelling and grammar. There were a couple minor errors, but overall you did great for a non-native English speaker.

    I would say grammar has a huge role to play even when speaking/writing to people who do possess a good command of the language.

  28. Jack
    Jack says:

    As a longtime (more than 40 years) professional writer (i.e., someone
    who is paid for my work), I vehemently disagree with the premise of this column, that good grammar might derail a career. Certainly, ideas, creativity and enthusiasm are valuable characteristics for potential employees (along with good grooming and personal hygiene), but such qualities can be undermined by the inability to express oneself in a manner understandable across a variety of audiences. While proper grammar might not be especially important in nonverbal occupations, it is essential in any job that requires extensive communication, and particularly so in work that demands clear, accurate writing where the the object is not solely to write to be understood, but to write so that you cannot be misunderstood. That’s the true function of grammar: to avoid confusion and ambiguity.

    For a writer to blithely claim that “most grammar rules don’t matter” is irresponsible. Such a statement demonstrates a deplorable ignorance in the ongoing development–encompassing more than 5000 years –of written communication. Grammar is the foundation of any language, ensuring the agreement between nouns and verbs, cases and tenses, the building blocks with which we writers must work. To cavalierly dismiss the rules of grammar is like asking an architect to build a skyscraper without a blueprint, to forget about loads and stresses and gravity,

    Adherence to good grammar isn’t snobbery, but common sense, usually a highly prized social skill. Improper usage, punctuation errors, typos, misspellings, and other faults may not necessarily indicate that the user is as thick as a brick, but such mistakes cannot enhance a reputation, either.

  29. susie
    susie says:

    I love, love, love grammar. I am definitely lightening up the older I get. I never correct anyone (except my husband, a foreigner, and my son, a student).

    I moved to Sweden fresh out of college and immediately began studying Swedish. I learned in a jiffy, mostly due to the fact that I understood my own grammar so well.

    You can bet that if you don’t know the intrinsic difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect,’ between ‘its’ and ‘it’s,’ or between ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re,’ you’re going to have a much harder time learning a new language.

    So let’s not get too lazy. It’s ok to love grammar. I’m just sayin’…

  30. Jeanette
    Jeanette says:

    Have you seen My Fair Lady or read Pygmalion?
    The entire premise is that the use and misuse of language is what separates classes of society (with the English language, anyway). Eliza wasn’t able to get a job in the flower shop because her speech was so crude she wasn’t seen as a lady.
    And while I agree that we should be less judgmental, there is a certain amount of trust in one’s ability that is lost when he doesn’t know the difference between “their” and “there.”

  31. Copy editor
    Copy editor says:

    I found this post to be contradictory. If you know so much about grammar, why wouldn’t you use it? Sort of like learning a foreign language but never speaking it. Grammar is easy, in the vast scheme of things; getting facts right can be hard. So if you can’t even be bothered to get the easy things right, like grammar and spelling (the spellchecker is telling you it’s wrong–why ignore it?), why should readers trust you to get the facts right?

  32. A Wall
    A Wall says:

    I work at a job where my typo could kill you – Medical Records. Paying attention to detail is not one of my natural strengths, but when I think about the possible repercussions of misspelling the name of the medication a patient is allergic to, I make the effort.

    One of my doctors does not know the difference between “exacerbate” and “exasperate”, or between “up and coming” and “upcoming”. I smile to myself and quietly fix his reports – but I would still trust him to fix my knee. It doesn’t make him a bad surgeon.

  33. Shawn
    Shawn says:

    I think it’s hard for most people to focus on grammar at that level when they are struggling with putting together a sentence that (or which?) isn’t full of typos. But that could be the career counselor in me projecting after years of reviewing poorly written cover letters.

  34. Christo
    Christo says:

    I was concerned that your post had some support for “Good Grammar Might Derail Your Career”, but instead all it says is that mistakes in grammar doesn’t necessarily stop you getting readers. That’s not the same thing!

    Newspaper empires are going the way of the dinosaur while blogging “booms”, yes, but do you really think it’s because newspapers generally have better grammar?

    Are people really thinking to themselves, “I’m sick of all these grammatically correct newspapers, I’m going to go read blogs instead”?

  35. Deb
    Deb says:

    “Most grammar rules don’t matter”! I emphatically disagree. Especially when Penelope herself realises the value of at least the cardinal tenets of grammatically correct language by referring to ‘East, Shoots and Leaves’. If we choose to at least go by the rules set out in that book, that would do all of us a world of good as to communicating clearly.

  36. Deb
    Deb says:

    Sorry, it should’ve been ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’. Grammar should not only help us communicate clearly, but also help us maintain the elegance of the language. How elegant, for instance, is the increasing use of “noone” when compared to the original “no one”?

    • Catherine
      Catherine says:

      How elegant, for instance, is the increasing use of “noone” when compared to the original “no one”?

      Deb, do you also find “tomorrow” to be inelegant? That word was “regularly written as two words till 1500 and usually so till c1750,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

      I’ve always found the older spellings of “to morrow” to look very odd and inelegant — a product of what I’m used to, not what is more inherently “elegant.”

  37. Christian
    Christian says:

    “noone” looks less elegant than “tomorrow” because it jams two of the same letters together (the two instances of “o”) and because each of those two letters has a different pronunciation. It’s not like the word “noon” where the two vowels are the same but blend together to make one vowel sound.

    • Catherine
      Catherine says:

      What about cooperate (which is the standard US spelling) vs older spellings co-operate or
      coöperate?

      I believe that many complaints about a spelling being less “elegant” or “logical” are really just complaints about “that’s not how I learned it!”.

  38. Christian
    Christian says:

    Yeah, there’s a lot of things messed up about English. I just don’t think we should consciously allow people’s unfamiliarity with it to dictate changes. The problem is not that the English language is dynamic but when people who don’t know the current spelling of a word tell people who do know it that they need to change it.

    It’s like the situation we have now where the correct spelling of “definitely” is “definitely” but there are people who erroneously think it’s spelled “definately” (and there appear to be millions of them) and it’s done so often that through people’s collective lack of knowledge the erroneous spelling seems likely to enter the dictionary soon and take the place of the correct spelling. Same with “lose” being spelled “loose.”

    In short, it’s great when creativity affects the language but lame when dumbness affects it, and affects it unchecked, and especially lame when people who should know better can’t tell the difference between the forces of creativity and the forces of dumbness working on the English language.

  39. Alverant
    Alverant says:

    “Find me a sentence with the wrong version of it's that you can't understand due to the error. Wait. No. Forget it. Because you can't.”

    The doctor examined the patient with an injured eye.

    Who has the injured eye? Hmmm looks like I can find such a sentence. That was pretty easy. It was an example we used in my college AI class about why it’s difficult for computers to understand human speech.

  40. Christian
    Christian says:

    “But I’d wager that more
    often than not, ostensibly good grammar gets in the way.”

    Good grammar gets in the way? Clearly spoken by another person who mistakenly believes that good grammar is about showing others how much better you are than them at following rules even after it has been abundantly explained here that that’s not what it is for. But I guess you can only lead a horse to water…

  41. Paul
    Paul says:

    The upshot of all the comments plus Pen’s post – as I understand it, anyway – is that good grammar is not essential, but letter-perfect spelling and typing are.

    Substance over style – but appearance over substance.

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