Correct me if I’m wrong

Posted on 17/09/2019 · Posted in Dialogos, Our languages, Writing tips

We reckon correctional fluid wouldn’t have been invented if people used language perfectly. Now and again, everyone stumbles linguistically – when talking, writing and, increasingly, when texting.  Every so often the linguist in us may notice our conversation partner has made a language error. We thought a bit about how one could react to such mistakes, and we came up with four different ways, each sporting a unique set of circumstances and consequences.

1. Correct the person mid-sentence
– “So I says to him…”
– “Told him.”
Usually this is the most effective way to draw attention to a mistake, forcing the speaker to deal with the error right there. The drawback is that it disrupts the flow of the conversation and, well, it’s rude. If your conversation partner is someone who’s easily thrown, chances are they’ll forget what they were trying to say. Constantly doing this could make you seem tyrannical and might discourage people from talking to you for fear of making a mistake. This strategy is therefore best saved as a last resort.

2. Correct the person once they’ve finished talking
– “… and my cousin is doing good, despite what happened.”
– “That’s great to hear! Just remember it’s ‘doing well,’ not ‘doing good.’”
This type of correction is as direct as the first one, but far less disruptive… and less rude. Unlike the first one, this could also be used during a text conversation. This strategy does become difficult to follow if someone is telling a long story. By the time they finished, pointing out the error could make it seem like you stopped listening and just waited for your turn to tell them they’re wrong.

3. Correct someone by example
– “It shows that you shouldn’t take things for granite.”
– “That’s true. I’ve taken things for granted before.”
An elegant solution, but not always an easy one. This kind of correction isn’t direct, which is best if someone is sensitive about being corrected. What makes this difficult is that the onus is on you to think of a sentence in which you can demonstrate the correct grammar or word choice. Because this kind of correction is more subtle than the others, there’s always a chance that the speaker could make the same mistake again.

4. Ignore it
– “There’s too much people around here.”
– “I hear you.”
Not everything in life has to be perfect. If you feel your correction won’t add anything to the conversation, why do it? As the Dalai Lama says: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”