What is a Grammar Nazi?

Do you have a friend who’s constantly correcting your grammar, either in person or online? In this article, we explain what is a grammar nazi?

Grammar nazis are quick to point out improper use of the words their, they’re and there.

They’re fast to comment on a misplaced modifier. They’ll even criticize your use (or lack thereof) of a problematic comma or semi-colon.

So as you strive to become a better writer, should you take the advice of the grammar nazi or ignore it?

Understanding where the term came from and just what a grammar nazi really is will help you decide the best way to deal with these well-meaning, self-proclaimed grammar gurus.

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What Is a Grammar Nazi?

A grammar nazi is someone who loves pointing out other people’s grammar errors, in an attempt to “preserve the English language.” They take delight in finding grammatical mistakes and acting like a pedant.

Are they simply a kind of english teacher with too much time on their hands?

First you must understand the origin of the term “Nazi.”

Historically speaking, Nazis were members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a socialist dictatorship led by Adolph Hitler during World War II.

Clearly, the original Nazis were not something to get excited about, so why do people who are passionate about grammar like to call themselves “grammar nazis?”

Over time, the word “nazi” with a lower-case “n” has morphed into meaning someone who is overly passionate about rules, regulations and mistakes.

Someone who takes a strong authoritarian stance can be referred to as a nazi.

Thus, a grammar nazi is someone who is authoritarian about grammar rules.

Where Did the Term Grammar Nazi Come From?

It may not be possible to determine who first used the term “grammar nazi.” Sadly, archiving pages created in the earliest days of the Internet didn’t happen with much regularity.

The oldest proven use of the term occurred in 1991 when the Usenet page comp.sys.apple2 had a thread on “Extended graphics on the IIg.” While that has little to do with grammar, one reply, intended to correct someone’s spelling, said:

“I am a card-carrying member of the Spelling and Grammar Nazis of America.”

In January of 1995, alt.gothic had a thread entitled “Grammar Nazis on the Rampage!” This entire thread was dedicated to correcting the spelling and grammar of other posters.

It didn’t take long for the term to catch on. The rise of texting and social media in the new millennium made it easier for grammar nazis to call out supposed grammar mistakes, and the term became part of everyday life.

How Should You Deal with a Grammar Nazi

If you spend any time writing and publishing that writing for others to see, you will come across grammar nazis. There are some people out there on the Internet that just can’t help correcting grammatical errors they see in other people.

So how should you respond?

First, evaluate whether or not the individual’s statement is correct. Did you make a grammatical error?

If you did, then change it and move on. They’re helping you become a better writer.

However, just because someone points out an error, doesn’t mean you actually made one. Often, grammar nazis like to impose rules on individuals that aren’t hard-and-fast rules.

For instance, splitting an infinitive is no longer completely taboo in writing. It’s just as acceptable to say “To boldly go” as it is to say “to go boldly,” and the first statement makes more sense based on the way we converse.

How to Avoid Grammar Nazi Confrontations

Of course, it’s usually better to avoid a confrontation with a grammar nazi in the first place. One way to do so is to avoid common grammar errors.

These 30 grammar lessons are a good place to start.

Another post that can help is this one on 20 Common Mistakes You Must Avoid. By avoiding these common errors, you won’t give the grammar nazis in your life any fuel for their flame.

No writer is going to write perfectly every time. Using grammar tools, like Grammarly, can help you avoid common grammar errors and give the grammar nazis less fuel to use against you.

Publishing clean, engaging writing will keep the grammar nazis from turning you into their next project. With the right tools and the right knowledge, you can do this regularly.

How to Drive a Grammar Nazi Nuts

Maybe you’re a bit more sarcastic and want to egg the grammar nazis on a bit. Here are some common grammar mistakes that will them nuts:

  • Use homophones incorrectly. Complement vs. compliment, effect vs. affect, these homophones are a pet peeve of a grammar nazi. Use them incorrectly on purpose, and you’ll make the grammar nazis go insane.
  • Split those infinitives. Split infinitives were once considered grammatically incorrect, and grammar nazis love to point them out. They’re becoming increasingly acceptable, so use them with abandon to make your critics cringe.
  • Type in text. We all know texting takes on its own spelling and grammar. Make the grammar sticklers in your life insane by using texting lingo in your writing.
  • Double up on your negatives. If you “don’t got none,” then say it proud. The grammar nazis who read your page will cringe.
  • Spelling mistakes. Spelling words wrong deliberately and slipping in typos will easily annoy eagle-eyed readers.
  • Mis-use the apostrophe. Did you follow the grammar nazi’s advice, the grammar nazis’ advice or the grammar nazis advice 😉

OK, OK, intentionally irritating grammar nazis is probably not the best choice. Instead, focus on improving your writing, and take the grammar nazi’s advice with a grain of salt.

The grammar nazi in your life might be a stickler, but you don’t have to listen to everything they say, particularly if you’re writing a tweet or texting.

Remember, language is constantly evolving. What was once a grammatical error may now be acceptable. Thus, grammar nazis are often misinformed when it comes to good grammar.

Your goal as a writer should be to create clear, concise, and engaging writing. If your writing is accomplishing those three goals, then you don’t need to worry about the grammar police and their opinions about correcting grammar.

If you write professionally, you can’t avoid occasional run-ins with the grammar police. Knowing how to deal with them will help you move forward after these confrontations.

If you need an antidote to the grammar nazi in your life, check out Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.