Should Grammar Mistakes Be Overlooked When Writing is Clear? Our Facebook Community Says, “No.”

by • August 14, 2012

Recently, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story, “R Grammar Gaffes Ruining The English Language? Maybe Not.” The article discusses whether or not we should be concerned with the apparent increase in grammar and writing errors that are showing up in written English. Citing some experts, the article implies that the perceived degradation of the language isn’t anything to get hot and bothered about.

Not everyone agrees. The article itself refers to a recent Harvard Business Review blog post where the CEO of the iFixit community and founder of Dozuki Software, Kyle Weins, states: “I won’t hire any people who use poor grammar.”

This disagreement got us thinking, “where do our followers stand on the issue?” Last Tuesday, we ran a poll asking the Facebook community what it thought. We asked: “Considering the recent NPR article, ‘R Grammar Gaffes Ruining The Language? Maybe Not,’ do you think grammar rules may be overlooked if the meaning of the writing is clear?” The results were clear.

Results as of 7:00 am, EST on 10 August 2012.**

Of 771 respondents, 71.2 percent disagreed with ignoring grammar errors.  One user commented on the topic, saying:

“I do not believe we need to choose between good composition and good grammar. We can have both. To assume our children are incapable of becoming good writers without sacrificing the details of correct grammar is an insult to their intelligence.”

Another commented that:

“This [is] very interesting, and I certainly agree that language evolves. However, I have not seen the evidence cited by the folks in the article who say that students today, while not adhering to the rules of grammar, are nevertheless writing more coherent essays. I must say that as a professor I’ve seen quite the opposite.”

In contrast, 28.8 percent of voters thought that grammar errors could be overlooked. Some commented about the nature of the evolution of language and the meaning of grammar.  One user clearly pointed out that:

“The primary purpose of language is communication. Grammar was intended as a way to codify and standardize communication to make it easily understood by disparate individuals. Therefore, grammar becomes unnecessary if the idea is clearly transmitted and understood by the audience… Language is a living and developing entity, responding and reinforcing cultural developments, not a set of rules to remain consistent.”

Many remarked about how grammatical flexibility allows more wiggle-room for creativity.

Despite the difference of opinion, most commenters from both camps did admit that context and clarity are important. Several conceded that minor errors, like comma over-use, can be forgiven in most situations, but that strict, more-prescriptivist rules should be used in formal and business settings.

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**The Grammarly.com Facebook Page is a fun, open community for all people interested in English language, writing, grammar, and education.  Many of our users are passionate about the English language and do not represent a random sample of the population.  With this in mind, we’d like to state that, for this poll, approximately 64 percent of interactions were organic (coming from our follower base), while 36 percent of interactions were sourced from non-followers.

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