Correcting Your Friends’ Grammar: The Dangling Proposition
In the eternal struggle between loving your friends and loving correct grammar, sometimes it’s better to choose your friends. Sometimes.
By Jill Phelan, Saint Vincent College
At the ripe old age of thirteen, I began to learn and appreciate the complexities of the English language.
In seventh grade my teacher introduced to me sentence diagramming, and from that moment on I was hooked. I would dissect sentences during recess, breaking apart the longest ones I could find into little organized word maps. And thus began my writing journey.
Now, every good superhero knows the “with great power comes great responsibility” spiel, and I’m not trying to suggest that all the English lovers like me are dynamic do-gooders (although I actually am suggesting that), but just that I have been bestowed with a special skill and feel that I have the responsibility to use it for good.
For I, Jill Phelan, have been given the gift of knowledge—knowledge of grammar, that is.
That’s right, I have the ability to detect misplaced modifiers and dangling prepositions and stop the world from spiraling into complete grammatical chaos one word at a time.
Try not to swoon at my sheer awesomeness.
However, the road to syntactic bliss is perilous and requires a great amount of sacrifice.
Probably the biggest struggle a grammar guru like myself faces is the constant choice between having friends and policing others for improper sentence structure, because I’ve come to realize that most of the time, I have to choose one or the other. The two cannot peacefully coexist.
Think about it: Do you ever see superheroes heading to the bar with their pals after a long day of fighting crime to shoot the breeze? I didn’t think so.
Alas, not everyone is appreciative of my talents. I’ve found that for some odd reason, common folk don’t like being told that what they’re saying is incorrect. I know, weird.
My fiancé in particular gets upset when I point out that his adverbs are missing an “–ly” or that he’s using the wrong verb tense. In fact, whenever I try to correct him, he defiantly repeats what he said, emphasizing whatever words I told him were incorrect.
When it comes to editing his papers for school, though, he doesn’t seem to mind as much when I fix his sentences. Funny how that works.
And while not everyone I’ve encountered is as overtly stubborn as Zack, my friends are more often than not a little sensitive when it comes to me acknowledging their flawed grammar. They might not even say anything when I do it, but as soon as I tell them that their “whos” should be “whoms,” I can see their faces tense up ever so slightly. Then I watch them stumble over their words as they lose their conversational rhythm trying to regather their thoughts.
What’s worse is when I try explaining to my friends why they’re wrong.
I’m not doing it to prove that I’m smarter than them or anything, I just want them to know for their own sakes how to speak properly and eloquently. I mean in general, if you knew you were doing something wrong, wouldn’t you want to be aware of it so that you could do it right? That’s my line of reasoning anyhow.
But I think maybe when I give my two cents on my comrades’ word usage, they feel that I’m insulting their intelligence and implying that they’re a bunch of idiots. It’s a double-edged sword of a situation.
If I could read my friends’ minds in the moments that I correct them, they would probably be saying something along the lines of, “Yes, thank you for that, you little (obscenity). I hope you choke on your lunch and lose the ability to speak forever.” I’m just paraphrasing but you get the idea.
And I wish I could tell you that I don’t care what anyone else thinks, that if I’m right then everyone else can get over themselves, but sadly, I cannot admit that.
For even though I am a syntactic superhero, I am still just a regular Jill who needs the love of my companions and the occasional acceptance from my peers.
So I manage to choke down my corrections and keep my comments to myself, because at the end of the day, good grammar isn’t worth loneliness. It’s not like I can go shopping with verbs or text with prepositional phrases (but someone please tell me if that ever becomes a possibility, because that would be a game changer).
The point is that when all’s said and done, even Superman had to become Clark Kent every now and then.
But just because I can’t flaunt my powers all the live-long day doesn’t mean I’m going to hang up my cape and retire. No sir, it only means that I have to hide out in my bat cave until the opportune moment strikes.
Because the same people that shut me down will eventually come to me in their time of need. It’s inevitable that just like Zack, my friends will want me to look over their research papers or edit their cover letters since they know I possess the right set of skills for the job.
It’s unfortunate that I can only spread my knowledge when it’s convenient for the rest of the world, but I have to work with what I’ve got. I imagine it’s what Tim Gunn would call a “make it work” moment.
And I continue to conform to this type of need-based system because it’s better than the alternative of hiding my light under a bushel. You’ve got to let that sucker shine, baby, let it shine. Relish the few opportunities you get to share your gift with your friends.
Moral of the story: you’ve got to figure out your priorities and compromise accordingly, lest you live out the rest of your days as the crazy lady who corrects the grammar of her two hundred cats.