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Kalen Delaney

What Do You Think? Do Spelling and Grammar Matter?

Ok, I'm not talking about simple typos. I can make typos like anyone else, but I don't like it. I try to reread anything I write before posting, on blogs and on newsgroups. With my blog, if I find a typo, I can go back and correct it and will always do that. With really nasty typos in newsgroup messages, I will post a followup correction.  For my published writing, there are teams of editors to seek out and destroy my typos, but still a few always slip through.

But does it matter? Is it important to spell correctly and use proper grammar? I am probably a bigger stickler than most people, and I understand in a quick blog post, you don't want to spend hours with an editor. But how about reading over what you've posted just for something obvious? There are always spellcheckers, too. (My blog writing spellchecker doesn't recognize the word 'spellchecker'.) I  know they don't catch everything, but many people let things slip through that would be easily caught.

And what about in emails? Does it matter in email to friends? What about to colleagues? What about to current or prospective clients?  What about on your website?

I have had business associates who thought that spelling and grammar did not matter at all. After seeing mistakes  in letters to prospective clients, I would always offer to proof read anything before it was sent out. I was told that it didn't matter because the writer was a technie, and that clients would judge them on their technical skills, not their writing skills.  I always wondered how anyone could be sure that they had never lost work because of this. If someone was put off by the writing, they might just not respond  and never explain why.

Yesterday, I saw a horrible paragraph on a website advertising a conference. In one paragraph, there were several basic spelling and grammar errors. But in the same paragraph, they wrote one of the speaker names as Willinam  instead of William. And for another speaker, they totally mangled his topic, repeating words from part of the description later in the sentence. (I guess they had meant to move words around, but did a 'copy and paste' instead of 'cut and paste'.)

The grammar mistakes I see most often  are:

incorrect use of its and it's
incorrect use of your and you're
incorrect use of "I" as the object (ex: The invitation was sent to my boss and I. -- yuck!)


(I just googled and found that ZDNet does think we should care, and has this list of top 10 grammar mistakes that make us look 'stupid'.)

Spelling mistakes are too common to enumerate.

So should I just give up caring? Please note that this is absolutely positively NOT directed at any particular blogger, especially none of my esteemed colleagues on SQLBlog. This post was triggered by the Conference Website I saw yesterday, but has been bugging me for a long time. I was just wondered if it bugged anyone else?



Published Friday, April 04, 2008 1:20 PM by Kalen Delaney

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Simon said:

Yes, it matters to me as well.  I'm not a pro at spelling or grammar, but I do make sure my spell checker is always on and usually have a look over what I have written before I hit send.

So it is not just you!  :)

April 4, 2008 3:59 PM

unclebiguns said:

Yes, I believe spelling and grammar matter.  With Spell Check available everywhere there is no reason to have spelling errors.  Text messaging had made spelling an afterthought.  It's like being back in DOS days where you only had 6 characters so you dropped the vowels and were left with STRWTR.  

I think taking the time to use proper grammar shows you care about what you are writing.  It also shows that you want people to be able to understand it.  I have actually had a discussion with an editor where I work about ending a sentence with a preposition.  I said that I tried to avoid it in my writing.  She said people don't talk like that anymore so why should they be forced to write it correctly.

April 4, 2008 4:00 PM

unclebiguns said:

And there is a mistake in my comment, "...were left with STRWTR" should be "...we are left with STRWTR"

April 4, 2008 4:08 PM

Peter Schott said:

Spelling and grammar do matter.  However, I will say that there are times it doesn't matter as much.  For business communication, I'd say that it matters a little more.  For personal communication, I think that you know those people best and know what they'll tolerate.

Business-wise, a lack of attention to grammar and spelling indicate to me that you don't care that much about your business.  If I see a product or conference page riddled with errors, I will typically close the page and never look back.  I won't say that I'm perfect, but I try to remain professional and not make the more common mistakes.

I've heard the same argument about people speaking and writing sentences they end prepositions with.  (like that one)  I don't completely agree and have actually tried to adjust my speech a little bit to be more correct.  I think that's minor for most current writing, but can still be something to which we give attention.

Don't give up on caring, Kalen.

April 4, 2008 4:40 PM

Alex Kuznetsov said:

It might be better to reform spelling first:

"(Countries like Finland don't have spelling bees because

everybody knows how to spell the words right: they've made their

spelling that easy. You can't have spelling bees unless everyone but

the top speller gets something wrong. In Finland, you'd have a really

hard time finding anybody who could actually misspell a word. No

spelling errors, no spelling bees "

"Newsweek: "Finland is the World's Best Place to Study"

According to the International Edition of the magazine "Newsweek", 18 July 2004, Finland is the country that offers its students the world's best education and equal opportunies to learn."

April 4, 2008 4:50 PM

joewebb0 said:

I agree completely! How can I reasonably expect to convince someone to allow me to help them with their SQL Server issues if I am not professional enough to at least run spellchecker?

I once had a rather prolonged but friendly disagreement with one of my editors over ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase. He said that it is generally considered acceptable now. I wasn't willing to do it. In the end, I rewrote the sentence in question such that it was clear and yet didn't end in a prepositional phrase.

April 4, 2008 5:03 PM

AaronBertrand said:

Spelling and grammar mistakes in e-mail, blogs etc. are okay... it irks me, and I notice it, but obviously the people who make these mistakes (e.g. my boss, who often uses to instead of too, or says "me and you", or leaves out little words, like "it used to" instead of "it is used to"  :-)) keep their jobs, and it is almost always the case that you still understand what they meant, even if they did not write textbook English.  So it's typically nothing too serious.  Personally, I still do my best to always write legibly and correctly, but we're all human (I caught myself in a your vs. you're situation not too long ago... 3 AM is not enough of an excuse for me).

What gets me is when spelling or grammar mistakes make it through to TV commercials, newscasts (even at small stations), web sites, printed customs forms, etc.  Someone is clearly not doing their job... the writer goofed up, but someone is supposed to review that copy and catch mistakes.

In fact, this is one of my more common rants.  Most recently, when returning from Greece, I noticed two spelling mistakes on the re-entry / declarations forms from U.S. customs.  They had "U.S. Redsidents" and "Welcome to the Unitied States."  This and others below (my favorite is the Charmin commercial):

April 4, 2008 5:28 PM

Ian Russell said:


The sentence containing "...were left with STRWTR" is perfectly correct English.

As long as the meaning of the words can be understood unambiguously, I do not have a problem with imperfections in spelling or grammar.  What I particularly dislike is the psuedo-techno-jargon used by 'Consultants' to prove their worth.  Although our Industry has a myriad of jargon, it is generally well-defined.

Being in an Industry dominated by US Companies, I have to spell incorrectly many times every day just to do my job!  I like the fact that Microsoft offer a 'British English' (sic) language option for Office otherwise I would have spelling mistakes throughout all of my documentation.

April 4, 2008 6:43 PM

James Luetkehoelter said:

To think spelling and grammer are extremely important in any communication or written work, whether it is personal communication or professional.

Forget just a spellchecker - it will never hit all of the grammer and spelling problems possible (it can be fun to see how easily any spellchecker/grammer-checker can be mislead). I totally agree with you Kalen - in an initial letter to a potential client, a grammer slip or spelling slip usually leads to a horrible first impression. Personally I'm mortified whenever I make those mistakes (which I do - my mother was a grammer teacher in high school so I have no excuse), whether the recipient catches them or not. When receiving emails or letters and such, spelling/grammer issues immediately affect my perception of the writer.

There is one thing to keep in mind though - business worldwide is increasingly done in English. There are variations on spelling, or a hand-written email can have grammer problems when coming from a non-native English writer. Ironically though, I find the most common mistakes are made by native speakers...

I think as a generation we've gotten very lazy with our communication, our choice of words and the mastery of our own language. When I read the work of the statesmen of the past, I'm almost embarrassed for our own generation. Eloquence and mastery of the English language seem hard to find these days...


April 4, 2008 10:02 PM

RickHeiges said:

Kalen - I agree.  I always notice poor grammar/spelling when someone sends me an important message (email/doc/etc).  It puts the thought in the back of my mind that this person is not smart enough to realize how to spot grammar errors or to use the tools at hand.  My mother was an English teacher and she always corrected my grammar/spelling; I am now doing this to my kids as well.

When I am IMing with folks, I tend to not focus on these issues and tend to try to just get the point across.

BTW, fonix werkd fir mii!


April 5, 2008 4:26 AM

BlackWasp said:

Everyone makes mistakes when creating articles, blogs or written correspondence.  However, it is important to minimise these mistakes.

I recall recently reading an article on the BBC web site about spelling.  The article appeared as a debate where one person was arguing the merits of English spellings and one was arguing for phonetic spelling (or as they would write, "Fonetik Speling".)

Interestingly, the phonetic part of the article was very difficult to read.  Mainly this was because the brain recognises the shapes of words as units rather than as individual letters or sounds.  For the writer, this means that the flow of reading can be broken by poor spelling, lowering the enjoyment of the reader.

April 5, 2008 4:48 AM

Paul Nielsen said:

Hi Kalen, I too care about correct spelling and grammar, and for the times you’ve discreetly pointed out typos on my web pages, I thank you. –Paul

April 5, 2008 11:18 PM

Steve Dassin said:

James Luetkehoelter said:

>I think as a generation we've gotten very lazy with our communication, our choice of words and the mastery of our own language.

Oh yeah!

The general acceptance of the irrelevancy of grammar/spelling is just the tip of the burg that has already ruptured the fabric of the industry. An industry that accepts code and at the same time accepts it as a self evident form of explanation is in deep dodo. This is the idea of geekness gone wild. The industry marches toward communicating with each other like machines do. It's an industry that only recognizes the question of 'how', the code, at the expense of 'why' and so can dispense with expressing thinking in words. The industry has great coders but does it really have great explainers? Presentations are often indistinguishable from training sessions. What is written is too often ambiguous by what is left unsaid. It's as if the idea of a document, when it comes to concepts in words, is based on less is more. The requirement to explain code has been removed as has the requirement to read about code. Databases do

not come with a document, they come with what is essentially a codeument (or in some cases what is worse, a con-diment). But the brain is a funny thing. It needs to fill in the big hole between code and understanding. This is the emergence of IT crazy glue, something, anything, that will hold a mass together. Is it any wonder there are so my myths and half truths? One wonders how many sql experts would remain so if they were forced to explain their solutions. But no, the code rises to the level of a constitutional right, it's held as a self evident truth. And there is obviously something wrong with your 'self' if you don't assimilate it:) Look at computer science in universities. They have picked up the cue from industry. Most graduates have not encountered any course in any form of communication. They have turned it into C(an't) S(peak) let alone can't write. LINQ is a good example of this and why I put it in the readers face in these parts:). Blogs are of 'how' does I code as opposed to the 'why' does I do it in the first place. Some sql folks find my explanations of the relational nature of Dataphor 'strange' and 'weird'. Perhaps these folks have forgotten that words do matter and have to reacquaint themselves with an old exercise:)

In IT stringing together words has been subtracted from scholarship. Shame has also been subtracted as a motivation for how we express ourselves to others. Spelling, grammar and writing are only for those who are hardly relevant or who have attained their relevancy by other means. Perhaps we need some publicity in the form of public humiliation to make the point. But I can hardly do this by myself:) And reintroduce the concept of pride in the same things. If I were still a manager I would make my posse pick up the NYT or WSJ and read the columnists who can craft thoughts grammatically correct and with their own artistic style that jumps at you with a certain pizzazz. Writers should not block readers as in boring them to death. And nitwits should not block good writers from continuing with their efforts. IT should simply reintroduce at least 2 of the 3 R's. Of course this too may be a problem since it may not be so easy to outsource such an endeavor.:)

April 5, 2008 11:50 PM

dan.english said:

I also care about grammar and spelling mistakes.  I see too many emails from colleagues and clients that have spelling mistakes or grammar issues and it drives me crazy.  I always try to read important emails, especially ones going to clients two or three times.  If it is a quick email to a friend or family member I might not care as much and possibly incorporate some IM language, but for the most part I cannot stand these types of mistakes and I am always try to catch them in my own emails, but sometimes the built-in tools cannot catch everything.

April 6, 2008 8:31 AM

dan.english said:

Perfect example, I couldn't even post a comment without a mistake in it.  I read it twice and I missed it at the end.  Sorry:(

April 6, 2008 8:35 AM

Kalen Delaney said:

Hi Dan

I would put comments on blog posts in the same category as email to friends. It's nice to not make a mistake, but everybody does it, and there is no way to go back and correct it after you catch it.

To make you feel better, I'll tell you I have caught and fixed three errors in this post, so far, but I've been able to correct them. The first one was a grammar error in the title itself! (Singular vs plural verb). Fortunately, I caught it as soon as I reread the published post, before anyone else  had a chance to read it. :-)

Thanks for your feedback!


April 6, 2008 12:38 PM

Paul Nielsen said:

there - their - they're

April 6, 2008 2:04 PM

Kalen Delaney said:

Thanks Paul. Yes, this one bugs me too, but it's not in the top 3.

As soon as my kids starting spelling, we would have games to see if they could make a sentence with both your and you're, or one with its and it's, and for bonus points, one sentence with their, there and they're. Actually, extra bonus for one sentence with all 7 words!

April 6, 2008 2:13 PM

j said:

Must have been a fun times growing up in the Delaney household.

April 6, 2008 3:59 PM

Kalen Delaney said:

Hi J

You'll have to ask my kids. None of them ran away from home, so I have to think it wasn't too bad. I taught them all a song that named all the States in the US, and on their own they memorized a couple of Animaniacs songs that named almost all the countries in the world, and the capitals of all the states. One of my sons then memorized the Tom Lehrer song that names all the chemical elements. (At least all that were known at the time the song was written.)

I thought it was fun, but I am definitely biased!

April 6, 2008 5:07 PM

Paul Nielsen said:

well vs. good. That's the one I constantly bug my kids about.

April 6, 2008 9:25 PM

Lee Everest said:

I say - it depends. I lean more towards correct grammar and punctuation because I teach community college courses and tend to look for it probably more so than the next person. However, I don't believe that "shooting" someone an email dictates complete sentences along with an overabundance of multiple-syllabus words simply to invite someone to lunch. On the one hand, what you write and how you write it represents you; it's your signature for all of the world to judge and base their opinions about your relative ability to convey a message in a punctual and meaninful format. On the other hand, certain overkill is not cool either; being labeled the "grammar police" on internet boards is not exactly a lofty accomplishment.

Having said this, it does make me cringe somewhat when I see incorrect usage of affect/effect, assure/ensure/insure, continuous/continual, disinterested/uninterested, which/that, etc. And this isn't limited strictly to jr college students studing database concepts - I'm talking about database administrators, consultants, programmers, who make 100K+/annually.


April 6, 2008 11:13 PM

Lee said:

Oops. I made a spelling error ^^^


April 6, 2008 11:26 PM

RichB said:

Yes it matters.  But does it matter enough to merit a SQL blog getting more comments for it than for on topic topics?  

Another thing that gets me is smileys.  At what point did people become so inept at written communication that shorthand hints at meaning became required - and why have they not percolated through to print medium..?  

April 7, 2008 9:29 AM

Kalen Delaney said:

Hi RichB

I don't think it's a question of 'merit' at all. A blog is a blog, and people respond if they feel like it. For this post, I actually asked a question about people's opinions, and I find that many people are willing to share their opinion.

Many other blog posts are just technical information, that don't involve opinion and don't ask any questions of the readers. I hardly think that the number of comments they get reflects in any way on their quality or worth.

The fact that you mentioned 'merit' makes me think that you think this is some sort of competition. But maybe you didn't mean that at all. It's hard to read a lot of meaning into comments on blogs. (I'll forego the smiley for you.)


April 7, 2008 10:14 AM

RichB said:

Ah,  haha no... I think we use merit in a slightly different way on this side of the pond.

April 7, 2008 11:28 AM

RichB said:

On the subject of international divides - the UK newspapers over the last few years have become more and more slack with their proofreading.  Even front pages of the more upmarket papers are not immune.  Have you seen the same thing happening elsewhere?

April 7, 2008 11:30 AM

JClark said:

I don't care about the spelling and grammer, I just want the information that the person is trying to blog about. Most people are doing this because they love something not because they are getting paid.  Just tell me what I need to know.. I will be happy to forgive that your forgot about "i before e except after c".  

April 7, 2008 11:46 AM

Steve Dassin said:

Hi JClark,

The stock of the IT industry will rise if it can be proven that it acts as a filter for those who would have otherwise chosen medicine:)

April 7, 2008 8:38 PM

Scott R. said:

Just don't get me started on the synthetic word "functionality" when in most cases the real word "capabilities" (or something similar) will do just fine!

Mom was big on words (crossword puzzles and Scrabble).  She would make us look up a word in the dictionary rather than spelling it for us when we asked, so we could learn to fish versus being thrown a fish.

Scott R.

April 8, 2008 8:26 PM

Jerry U said:

I am plagued by the use of "the data is put on the disk"...subject/verb agreement is pretty basic when it comes to grammar; data is a plural noun.

April 10, 2008 8:12 PM

CosmicTrickster said:

Spelling should be a no-brainer.  Most programs have some sort of spellchecker these days, so there's not really any excuse for it.  The only gotchas there are US/UK spelling differences.  Failing that, look it up.  There are any number of dictionaries available, be they online, offline or other people.

Grammar I'm not so fussed on.  As long as it is clear what you are trying to say, then who cares about ending sentences on prepositions and all that.  I don't remember learning grammar to that extent in school and I must say that I haven't missed not knowing about it.  Except for discussions such as this perhaps.

Punctuation is another annoyance.  Apostrophes and commas, the common ones (as always).  It's not hard!  If you can't figure it out, use a workaround.  I had someone pondering whether she should write "PC's" or "PCs'" for something.  I suggested ducking the whole issue and writing "personal computers".  I'd like to think that my punctuation is fine, but it could probably do with improvement.  At least I know when to use "your", "you're", "its" and "it's".  Not to mention "their" and "they're".

No doubt my grammar in this posting could do with improvement.  I don't care - the spelling is OK (that's UK English) and I believe people can understand what my opinion is.  That's all that matters.

April 10, 2008 11:44 PM

Paul Nielsen said:

Data is plural only is datum is also a regular part of your speech. But for me, and everyone with whom I discuss data, it is used as a singular word referring to all the data as a set. So, yes, "the data is put on the disk", sounds correct. "The data are placed on the disk," sounds wooden, stiff, academic and wrong –like actually saying indices instead of indexes.

Btw, Encarta lists Data as "taking a singular or plural verb"

Merriam-Webster says about Data, Function: noun plural but singular or plural in construction says, "Note: Data is the plural form of the Latin datum, although data is used conversationally to represent both singular and plural." And, in examples of the word data used in sentences, uses the singular verb.

April 13, 2008 8:57 PM

Estelle H Chapman said:

Absolutely first on my disapproval list is O'Bama's press secretary, who cannot utter a sentence without putting an 'uh' between every second or third word.  Wish he'd try a moment of silence between words. This was our very first lesson in public speaking in year 11 high school in 1941! He would have failed the class. I'm a confirmed O'Bama supporter, but really!

Second worst is the phrase 'a ways to go', used it seems by almost everyone, despite clear disagreement between singular "a" and plural "ways".

August 7, 2009 3:39 PM

jgkkdfjgkldfjgkldf said:

it doesn't really matter you know just get over it and live your life

June 10, 2010 7:20 PM

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