Grammar Geeks

I belong to a LinkedIn group called Grammar Geeks, where one of the most popular discussions right now, with 269 comments, is “What Makes You Shudder?”  Each of these 269 entries contains someone’s comment (or more often complaint) about a grammar gaffe.

At first I was interested in some of the conversations…  but quickly, the conversation itself was the thing making me shudder.  In fact, I began to shudder each time another member of the group posted a complaint.  Even the word “shudder” began to make me shudder!


My shuddering at the shuddering forced me to look at my own way of being around grammatical errors.  Do people shudder when I let them know I am shuddering?

A Turning Point for The Essay Expert

At Unleash the Power Within, the Tony Robbins seminar I attended recently, I discovered multiple errors in the handouts we were given.  Believing I could make a contribution, I brought some of these errors to the attention of one of the staff.  This man pointed out, quite correctly, that the errors certainly did not prevent people from signing up for programs – in particular the ones that cost $10,000.

“Why do you care so much about this?” he asked.  “Why is your focus on finding things that are wrong?” And “What would like be like if you started finding things right?”

I took his comment seriously, and perhaps it was the corresponding self-reflection that had me shuddering at the relentless list of grammar complaints populating the Grammar Geeks conversation.

A Shudder-Free Life?  Finding my Commitment

Have I stopped shuddering at the things that have traditionally made me shudder?  Well, no.  But I am putting more attention on my commitment to effective expression in the world.

I am also considering that there are bigger problems in the world to shudder about if I want to shudder – like the way we treat our environment, and the failures of our mental health system, and the hunger that still exists in the world side by side with opulence.

And I still care deeply about clarity in writing and other verbal expression.  My job is to help people and companies say what they want to say, powerfully and precisely.  When I write, or when I edit someone else’s writing, I care that the final result is moving, compelling, and result-producing.

Often grammatical correctness is required to produce an intended result.  An error in a resume, cover letter, or college application can be the difference between acceptance or rejection, an interview or no interview.  It can change someone’s life – maybe someone who is destined to find a cure for cancer, or discover new treatments for mental illness, or advocate for environmental issues (I have worked with people doing all of these things).

As for the shudderers, I believe there is something to be gained from acceptance.  Not everyone will write or speak perfectly all the time, and I can accept them for who they are rather than putting distance between us with a shudder.  I think I’ll listen for the meaning of their words instead.  Because even with a grammatical error or two, I can hear what people are saying loud and clear.


  1. I read your article and felt very uplifted.

    Then I read the titles of the related posts.

    I can’t write and I’m a writer. I don’t let it stop me. I just plow away. My gift is ideas not grammar.

    Some have talents other then grammar. That doesn’t make their contribution to this world any less valuable.

    If one can become president with less then absolute perfect grammatical correctness more power to then. This person has probably been judged for their lack of grammatical correctness and have plowed away at their goal – witch was most likely beyond grammatical correctness.

    I’m glad this Tony Robbins staffer opened your eyes to the vast world out there full of errors we can live with while we take care of the bigger picture.

    I do agree that there is a time for grammatical correctness and I also see that as a professional you suffer from professional deformation. Just as dentist instinctively looks at our teeth, you look at our grammar. Nothing you can do about it. But just as the dentist doesn’t think any less of someone with yellow teeth, learn to judge deeper then grammatical correctness. Especial when it comes to someone who has overcome the odds to reach the highest office in your country. (Nothing political here. Just saying)


    • Thank you Suzanne, yes my point exactly! I am reevaluating my own way of talking about other people’s grammatical errors, including the President’s. I appreciate your calling me out! I am thinking it would be useful to use the “errors” I see out in the world as jumping off points for learning opportunities, rather than as platforms for complaint.

  2. I love it Paul! And you have the perfect last name for this topic 🙂 I often adjust my grammar to match the situation I’m in. On the streets of Brooklyn, I ask for directions by saying, “Where’s the post office at?” and on a dentist’s intake form recently changed “Whom should we thank?” to “Who should we thank?” because it just sounds more normal to the general public.

  3. I say focus on meaning and did the information enlighten you? I get a few gripes on my editiing –when the meaning is clear. why do these kinds subscribe to my 170 blog posts and books when the only thing they say to me is “This is a grammatical error.” They miss my humor and the picture. Certainly, if they read my body of work, they would think amazing, not grammar minutia.

  4. I’m afraid that I find it hard to compromise. Writers should learn, among other things, to use correct grammar and punctuation. It’s a sign of respect for their readers. If there are grammatical errors, as someone above pointed out, there may be other more important mistakes in the content. Some popular bloggers maintain that it’s their creativity and content that count, and not their grammar. “Why focus on what’s wrong?” is the usual retort when you point out, for example, that the possessive “its” does not have an apostrophe. Little do they realize how many of their so-called readers are turned off by or not reading their posts anymore for this very reason.

    However, spoken English is another matter. People can speak it the way they like. Anyway, the language/lingo is changing so much that almost anything is acceptable.

    • Thanks Penelope. I admit that while I hold high standards for myself and for other writers, I also know that there are fewer and fewer great writers out there. Hey, not everyone can have The Essay Expert edit their writing, as much as I would like to take that on! My intention is to be forgiving while not relaxing my standards. Quite a trick!

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