You’ve just read an interesting article online. It covered a subject you’re passionate about, so you dash off a brilliant comment. It begins:
Your right about most of your assessments, but I think you missed the big picture.
You go on to write a carefully-worded paragraph, and you’re certain everyone who reads it will be dazzled by your brilliant insights. And then the first reply to your comment rolls in and it’s simply:
You’ve inadvertently tossed out some troll bait, and you’ve captured the attention of a grammar troll. It doesn’t matter whether that mistake was a typo or a momentary lapse; you’ve been publicly corrected in a way that undermines your intelligent response and maybe even implies you’re not as smart as you think you are.
Is it possible to troll-proof your online writing? Grammar checkers help, of course, but careful proofreading before you hit send is always the best way to sidestep embarrassing gaffes. Here’s how to avoid throwing chum into the murky online waters and keep those bottom-feeding trolls where they belong.
Mind your apostrophes
How can one little punctuation mark cause so much trouble? Apostrophes trip up even the most seasoned writers from time to time. Examine your comments before you post them to make certain you’ve used the correct form of your/you’re or its/it’s.
Also remember that apostrophes show possession; they don’t make words plural. Here’s an apostrophe primer in case you need a refresher.
no any double negatives
A subject-predicate construction should have only one negative form in standard English. You’ve probably bristled at statements like “I don’t have nothing better to do.” That’s because the speaker used a double negative, pairing don’t with nothing. The standard usage would be: “I don’t have anything better to do.”
Many double negatives are obvious, and they sound wrong (or at least colloquial) when we hear them. Although some double negatives are part of our casual vernacular, if you use one while trying to eloquently communicate a point in an online discussion, steel yourself for potential backlash. Ain’t you got no learnin’?
Use “literally” with care
If you comment with “I literally died when he said that!” don’t be surprised if a troll comes calling to let you know that, unless you’re typing from beyond the grave, you meant “figuratively.”
Beware then/than and loose/lose
Just one little typo can give a grammar troll a raison d’etre. If you write then when you mean than or loose when you mean lose, stand back—Trolly McTrollface can’t be far behind.
Avoid nonstandard English
Yes, irregardless is a word, but you’re unlikely to get away with using it in an online conversation, or even a face-to-face conversation with a grammar pedant. Seventy-four percent of those who responded to a Grammarly survey expressed the opinion that irregardless is an abomination. Don’t expect a grammar troll to forgive the nonstandard usage.
Be careful with homonyms . . .
To, too, and two don’t mean the same thing. Expect any grammar troll lurking in the bushes to pounce on a mistake like “Maybe he ate to many tacos for lunch” by letting you know that you should have written too, instead. There, their, and they’re are similar troll bait when used incorrectly.
. . . and other commonly confused words
There’s a reason many language resources contain lists of commonly confused words—they trip us up on the regular. Be on the alert for similar words with related but distinct meanings, such as lesser/fewer, affect/effect, further/farther, and among/between.
Know whether it’s lay or lie
True story: I was once laughed at for telling my dog to “go lie down.” We’re so accustomed to using the wrong word in this instance that the correct one sounds foreign. But sleeping dogs do indeed lie, not lay.
Lie means to recline and lay means to place. And then there are different verb tenses, and . . . well, it gets a bit complicated. But grammar trolls are likely to know the difference, so here’s a guide to tackling the lay vs. lie challenge.
Don’t feed the trolls
If you do post a mistake, and you attract the attention of a grammar troll, don’t sweat it. Trolls feed on chaos, so the best thing you can do is deprive them of what they crave. Here’s an example of superb troll wrangling:
You: Your right about most of your assessments, but I think you missed the big picture.
Trolly McTrollface: *You’re
You: Whoops! Nice catch.