Correcting others' mistakes

In polyglot community etiquette, what are your thoughts on being corrected, and correcting others? I usually don’t correct others, but instead I’ll ask for a clarification what they mean.

For example, to tell to a beginner or intermediate "I think you mean ‘parolacce’, not ‘parole cattive’ " might be okay. But if you correct a native speaker and say, "You mean ‘to whom’, not ‘to who’ ", you are likely to get the response “who cares?”.

Other scenarios where I would not want to be corrected: Using the slang term in Italian for parents “i miei” instead of “i miei genitori”, or “danke viel mal” in Swiss German rather than “vielen danke” in High German.

A usage that is common in the last few years in English is to use nouns as verbs. For example, “I can’t English today”, means I can’t speak English correctly, in an ironic sense.

What are people’s thoughts on correcting grammar?

Edit: I am perfectly okay if someone corrects me if I say something offensive, or if I’m about to cause harm or insult someone, or to clarify something that is unclear. But I would not want to be constantly interrupted to have my mistakes pointed out and I lose my train of thought.


I enjoy being corrected, in a gentle way, especially if what I’m saying may be offensive or what I’ve said isn’t correct and therefore the meaning of my sentence changes. However, I don’t see the point of being pedantic if the meaning is clear. E.g. who vs. whom. I, usually, will only correct someone in conversation when I see the :confused: kind of look on their face. That sort of “I’m not sure if I’m correct” expression. I make it quite often when speaking other languages.


With a teacher, I am happy to get corrected if she repeats what I say but uses the word in the correct manner. That’s what I pay her for.

But I recently had someone ‘correct’ my English on a youtube comment. They turned what was a correct phrase into broken English. I didn’t bother to explain myself, so I left it as is.

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If I am more comfortable/knowledgeable in a language than someone else I will normally reformulate what they said in an unobtrusive way that doesn’t make them feel back and doesn’t interrupt the flow of conversation. That’s what parents do intuitively:

“I goed to the park yesterday.”
“Oh, really? You went to the park? Was it fun.”

“There is no such word as ‘goed’ The past of ‘go’ is ‘went’.

As for correcting native speakers, it is not something I would recommend. “Whom” is going the way of all the other case endings in English – into the dustbin of history. No pedantry on the part of prescriptivists can save it.


I used to have to help international students get their haircuts. Given that I worked very near the local university campus, there were a number of students with English as a second, or third, language. I know that no class teaches how to get your hair cut in your target language. I would gently give them the vocabulary when I was doing the consult for the cut. I learned that many of them would refer to the clippers as “the machine”. Once I figured out that the clippers are translated, in many languages, as the machine for cutting hair, it made a lot of sense. I also learned that the response of " 's okay(it’s okay)" means perfectly reasonable and no further work needs done, after which I felt much better about things. It was a fun challenge to help the students figure out how to get a haircut in the US.


I say correction is good if it is done in a meaningful and helpful way. For instance, if I said haBLO INGles instead of HAblo ingLES (bold syllables for stress), I would want to be corrected by having it stressed correctly. I also would want other mistakes like that to be corrected in a similar manner and I would do likewise. However, I would not want someone to be just correcting me to make me look bad. I try to take note of whether or not the learner actually does not know something (like if they repeat the same mistake over and over) or if they made a simple mistake once. In the former, I would correct them because it would be worth correcting, whereas in the second, it would not be worth it. This is what I think.


I agree you guys are on the right track. I think I heard Steve Kaufmann say in one of his videos regarding correcting people that you want to be encouraging, not discouraging when it comes to correcting people. A lot also has to do with how the person reacts. Personally, I get discouraged speaking to others if I have to think if someone is going to constantly correct me (again, outside the classroom, not inside).

Merci, arigato, kamsa hamnida, danke viel mal. :wink:


In a situation where the focus is on my language learning, then yes, happy to be corrected if you’re kind about it.
If I am trying to communicate something, I’d rather not have my meaning hijacked by the listener focusing on my grammar, and especially my pronunciation, of which I’m already self conscious. If the listener wants to help me out of a tight verbal spot, then I’m often downright grateful.


I wouldn’t correct a native speaker even when I know what he said is grammatically incorrect. That’s his language, he is its creator (along with all the other native speakers of it). I have no right to say to a native English speaker that it’s “they are”, not “they is”, because if someday a large majority of native English speakers should switch to “they is” then it would become correct English.

However, when I speak or write in a foreign language and the native speakers don’t point out my mistakes, it leaves me with the impression that what I said or wrote is correct. That’s a really bad thing to do to a language learner. If they make a mistake in every second word, then you mustn’t overwhelm them with corrections, but do give them a chance to develop by using a word or expression correctly in your reply as demonstrated above by Mr. Huxtable, or say something like “you said so-and-so, but that actually means so-and-so; if you mean so-and-so, you should say it so-and-so”.

There is one typical situation I particularly hated when I lived in Germany. I would say something in German and get stuck on the last word of a sentence, and even though it was obvious form the context what I was trying to say, the native speakers just wouldn’t say the last word on my behalf. Seconds that seemed like hours, they waited patiently until I remembered it myself. Apparently someone had taught them that completing other people’s sentences is somehow impolite. In fact, it’s mean to leave a foreigner fretting and embarrassed when you actually know the word he’s trying to recall and it would be the easiest thing in the world for you to help him, but you just stand there silently and wait.


I only correct others only when I think either the meaning of their message is not the same as what they are trying to convey or if the mistakes actually hinder understanding. If the meaning is conveyed and I understand it then I don’t see a reason to correct them unless they ask me