How to correct grammar mistakes
“What do you do when you find a mistake in your writing?” I asked ProofreadNOW.com President Phil Jamieson.
“Well, the first thing I do is feel a great sense of shame,” he answered with his characteristic gravity.
He smiled. “It’s not a soul-crushing shame,” he added. “I’m not, you know, suicidal. But I hate making mistakes.”
I laughed more. Then sighed inwardly. I know that cringey feeling. I’ve yelled, “Oh, come on!” more than a few times after sending an email I proofed 17.43 times, only to notice “farter” instead of “father” in the text. Or some other silliness that my brain (and spell-check) refused to acknowledge.
Assuming you’re human, you understand. And if you’re reading this post because you just sent a mass email with the subject line “We apologize for the incontinence during renovations,” you have our compassion.
We can’t give you a time machine or a memory-altering device, but as people who specialize in correcting other people’s grammar (and our own), here are some action steps to take after you commit a grammatical faux pas.
6 Steps to Correct Grammar Mistakes
- Have mercy on yourself. This is exactly why I asked the top dog of grammar knowhow, Phil Jamieson himself, about HIS grammar mistakes. Because we’re all in this subject-verb disagreement boat together. No one writes, speaks, or spells perfectly all the time. Don’t hold yourself to a standard that’s impossible, then hate yourself for being unable to achieve it. An old coworker once told me, “You’re going to screw up. Accept it.” I’ve treasured that smart little chunk of cynicism ever since, and now I offer it to you. (I initially wrote “every since” in the sentence prior to this one. See?)
- Apologize. Get right out in front of it. An in-person apology works if someone else is going to bear the brunt of the mistake (maybe a boss dealing with customers horrified by your new office sign “Please satanise your hands.”). A follow-up email explaining the error while offering the correction is appropriate for mass communication. If it’s a real doozy, consider skywriting, “I done messed up” in a visible and relevant locale. Owning your mistake won’t make you lose any more face; in fact, you’ll probably gain the respect of everybody who noticed.
- Correct it, if possible. Update the webpage. Send an addendum. Tell the recipient that you are sending them the ACTUAL final version. Mail a package with a bottle of white out and a Post-it note with instructions. Send an email with the subject line “I am a silly potato. Here is what I really meant.” If you can fix the original, whether at the source or through additional communication, do so. If you can’t, then that’s that. You will live in infamy and silence for the rest of your days. (Just kidding. Don’t let past mistakes keep you from future writing.)
- Set up a failsafe. If you weren’t proofreading before, start. But considering the likelihood that you won’t catch all the grammar mistakes in your own work, enlist help. Have a friend, family member, peer, or boss review your writing before publishing/sending/mailing. Run spell-check, but don’t depend on it. Or contact a proofreading company (winky wink).
- Capitalize on it. Include the disaster in your email. Write a poignant social media post about it. Mention it at every opportunity and ask for pity. Directly, as in, “May I have your pity for spelling ‘transubstantiation’ wrong in a memo in 2004?” Turn it into your personal tagline: “Occasionally misspelling my own name since 1987.”
- Hide. If all else fails, take up residence in a nearby cave until the embarrassment passes or social media becomes obsolete. Don’t give out your new address. Change your name. Grow a beard. Only speak in gibberish; there’s no discernible grammar to gibberish, so no one can claim you’ve made another mistake. I considered this option a few times, but I was always held back by the lack of indoor plumbing. It’s up to you, really.
If you feel discouraged or disempowered after making a mistake, arm and encourage yourself with a better knowledge of how to prevent the most common writing errors. Check out the links in the post above or the additional resources below. We created them just for you!
- Top 5 Grammar Tips
- Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – Part 1
- Common Writing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – Part 2