Does good grammar matter anymore?
The Internet seems to be filled with two groups of people – each representing their own attitudes towards grammar (and spelling, and punctuation). There’s the group whose attitude towards grammar is cavalier to say the least; this is the group which uses whose and who’s interchangeably, and tosses apostrophes randomly at status updates and tweets, hoping they’ll land in the correct place. Then there’s the group which will remain calm and open-minded when reading websites which hack at their political and spiritual beliefs, but begin hyperventilating at the sight of any mix-up between your and you’re.
At Quantico Copywriting Singapore, we eschew both extremes, but do tend to lean towards the latter group – i.e. the group which really does care about good grammar, spelling, and pronunciation, whether it’s in a comment on a friend’s Facebook post, or a professional email to a prospective employer.
Still, there is the school of thought which asks, why bother with good grammar? Why do you need to spell words correctly, as long as people generally understand what you’re saying? And, indeed, isn’t that the purpose of language – to make your meaning clear? If your meaning is clear, and you happen to misplace an apostrophe, does it really matter?
This debate represents the endless struggle between pragmatists and purists. What impact does good grammar really have on communication? Decent grammar is definitely essential, and decent spelling is, too. But if a message is already relatively clear, is it unnecessary pedantry to pick on the little details? Or perhaps, sometimes, does it represent a sense of mental superiority?
Those who bemoan that grammar has gotten worse seem to have a point – but it’s not really that grammar has gotten worse, it’s just that we have that much more access to the way many more people write. In just sixty seconds, you can read fifty people’s opinions on the 2012 Olympics by doing a simple hashtag search on Twitter.
Perhaps the visibility of our language on the Internet should be evidence enough that we are all being judged by what we write, and how we write it. While a tweet may be perfectly clear with imperfect grammar, there’s no denying that well-constructed sentences create the impression of precision, style, and substance. And for many of us, the Internet is our foremost tool to create an impression.
The principle of going to an interview with well-manicured nails and shoes with no scuffs applies here too. Details count, and while we don’t always notice them when they’re present, their absence can be conspicuous.
At Quantico Singapore, we tell budding copywriters something very simple: Not everyone will notice a grammatical error. But if you happen to come across someone who does, you’ll risk a poor impression.
Perhaps good grammar only matters to those who know, but those who know certainly don’t forget.
That’s why it does no harm (and probably does a lot of good) to make the effort to write well.
At Quantico, we’re here to help you do that. If you have any questions about the right way to say or write something, post them on our Facebook wall and we’ll answer you.