During a recent discussion here at Grammarly HQ, someone on the team asked a very good question: is there actually a difference between correcting someone’s grammar and being a grammar troll?
As a copy editor by trade, I have a strong opinion on this one. Yes! Of course there’s a difference!
A good editor, a caring teacher, or an upstanding grammar lover offers corrections that are helpful, polite, and appropriate. A grammar troll insults, mocks, or tries to embarrass another person for making an error. It’s time for that to stop.
But the Internet is destroying proper English! the grammar trolls whine. Everyone is just too stupid! Somebody has to draw the line!
Actually, English is doing just fine. Ask any actual linguist. And everyone is not too stupid. Misspelling a word, making a grammatical error, or even writing a sentence that’s hard to understand doesn’t make you stupid. But insulting someone for making a mistake does make you a grammar troll. And a jerk.
I don’t care! Part of me dies every time I see the word IRREGARDLESS, cry the grammar trolls.
Wow. Aren’t you special.
Consider this: Maybe the person on the other side of the screen is a nonnative speaker who is trying hard to learn English. Maybe it’s someone who speaks a dialect of English that’s different from your own. Maybe they have a different educational background than you do. They could have a disability that makes writing or typing difficult. Maybe they do, in fact, know the difference between to and too but accidentally mistyped.
Ugh, my eyes are bleeding, the grammar trolls sneer. You just used the singular “they.”
Yep! I do it all the time—proudly. So far, exactly zero people have died because of it.
PEOPLE? The Elements of Style clearly states that it should be PERSONS.
Listen, Strunk and White were full of baloney. They couldn’t even identify the passive voice correctly.
You’re a moron and I hate you!
That’s what it really comes down to, isn’t it? Grammar trolls claim that they just want to uphold the standards of proper English. But if that were true, they’d offer polite, respectful suggestions instead of contempt. Why would I change what I say and write just because of some rude, angry stranger? Why would anyone? Grammar trolls don’t want to fix anything. They do what they do because they feel smart when they shame others.
But what if you really do just want to help people write better? What if you’re convinced the typo on the sign in the window of your favorite diner is hurting business? What if you enjoyed someone’s blog post, but there’s a typo the writer missed? What’s a well-meaning grammar lover to do? Here’s what you do: BE NICE. Don’t be rude. Don’t be mean. Don’t be condescending. Just be nice. Tell someone about the mistake if it’s important, and if it’s not, let it go.
If you’re not sure how to be nice, or if you’re a penitent grammar troll without a lot of practice showing kindness, read on. We’ve got all the tips you need in one handy infographic.
Now go out there and give grammar lovers a good name. And if you have a tip for fighting grammar trolls, share it in the comments section!