What is a Grammar Nerd?

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Do you think of yourself as a Grammar Nerd but others call you a Grammar Nazi?  Is there a difference between the two? This post will help you decide how you should label yourself.

A grammar nerd is someone who enjoys thinking about the rules of language and how grammar affects meaning.  This person nerds out on grammar, knows the rules, and studies how they have changed over time.  A Grammar Nazi knows the rules as they learned them, wants everyone to follow those rules, and gladly points out when a writer broke a grammar rule.

A grammar nerd wouldn’t think twice about the use of the plural they in the sentence above that starts with “A Grammar Nazi.” Keep reading to find out where you fall on the grammar nerd spectrum.

What is a Grammar Nerd?

A grammar nerd needs to purchase Grammarly, at least according to Google. Why else would it be the first result when I googled “grammar nerd”?  Ironic, since one would think this person doesn’t need Grammarly.  Maybe it lands there for the wannabes.

Google the “phrase grammar nerd definition.” My search turned up 15 pages with 149 results. 

An exact word search (where you surround the phrase with quote marks) for the phrase “kangaroo belly button” turned up 1,450 results.  And kangaroos don’t have belly buttons!

You can find several articles that mention the phrase.  For example, there’s this list of 50 Reasons to Date a Grammar Nerd.  You can find a Washington Post article about grammar nerds who “dismantle those arguments for rejecting the new ‘they.'”  There’s a Grammar Nerd blogger whose last post was in 2013.  A Mental Floss article “Anatomy of a Grammar Nerd” looks like an advertisement for Grammarly posing as an article.

If you’re looking for grammar nerd memes, then check out this collection.

Grammar Freak

So how about the Urban Dictionary, which shows up in a search. No grammar nerd there, only the phrase “Grammar Freak.”  According to one definition, a grammar freak is someone

“overly concerned with spoken and/or written grammar in mainly, but not limited to, English, often to the point of obsession.”

That does sound kind of nerdy, right?  But here is the rest of the definition:

“Most often, they also happen to be anal high school English teachers.”

An anal high school teacher can be many things but not a nerd.

What is a Grammar Nazi?

Grammar Nazi nets one million-plus results.  Interestingly, Grammarly is not the first result.  It does not show up on the first page, the second, or tenth.

Apparently, the PR people at Grammarly, a company founded by two Ukrainians— Max Lytvyn and Alex Shevchenko–don’t want to be associated with the term.  Can you blame them?

Some of the “grammar nazi” articles are interesting. According to an article in Sage Journals entitled “I see your garbage?: Participatory practices and literacy privilege on ‘Grammar Nazi’ Facebook pages in different sociolinguistic contexts,” a Grammar Nazi

“is a derogatory term used to label individuals who practice excessive language policing.

People perceive that a Grammar Nazi’s goal is to make sure that everyone is following the rules.   A Grammar Nazi (GN) knows the rules inside and out but not why they exist.  The GN is right in thinking that without rules, communication would break down.  However, a GN ignores these facts:

  • Language is fluid, not fixed.
  • Grammar reflects how people use the language.
  • Ultimately, grammar is a democracy.  Users of the language decide what the rules will be.

Which One Are You?

Maybe you are neither–you just want your paper to be error-free.  Nothing wrong with that.  Both the nerd and the Nazi would approve.   But if you write a sentence where you split an infinitive, the Grammar Nazi would let you know.

But the Grammar Nerd knows the split infinitive rule was developed due to a desire to have English more closely align with Latin, a rule that came to be early in the 1800s. I think it might be time to let that rule go in favor of clarity.

And if you have been correcting this post because I start sentences with the conjunctions and and but, then check out this blog post.

Bottom Line

Congratulations!  By reading this far, I award you a Grammar Nerd award.  You have not stopped reading to pen nasty comments about grammar rules I bent, broke, or ignored.  You have remained curious enough to find out where this post was headed.

Or maybe you wanted to find out what mistake we made in the fourth sentence. Here’s the sentence: I decided to investigate, and am here to report the results.

And the mistake is the comma before the and.

If you want to know why, check out this link.

Now I leave you with a video by singer Reese Lansangan “Grammar Nazi (Official Video).”

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