Do English-language speakers care about grammar so much? For example when someone makes errors concerning mixed tenses does that bother readers so much?

  • 3
    It absolutely does. I don't know anyone who wouldn't prefer an error-free draft to a grammatically incorrect one.
    – Nai45
    Feb 21 at 23:26

Some readers won't be particularly bothered but others will be seriously put off. You may well slide a substantial number of mistakes past the average reader without them even noticing. But it's doubtful that you've gained anything in the process, and if for every ten readers who doesn't notice there's one who bad mouths your work to others because they did notice then you're at a net loss. That's not to say that you must adhere rigidly to grammar at all times - there can be valid narrative and stylistic reasons to bend or even break the "rules", but what it always comes back to is whether it's adding value to the story.

Deliberate deviations aside there's no reason not to strive to have the grammar as "correct" as possible, and if anything wanting to use those deliberate deviations makes it all the more important in the rest of the text. For example if you wanted to subtly hint at a character having English as a second language this would be one way to do it - but you lose that utility if the reader is unable to tell whether the "mistake" belongs to the character or the author.

  • 1
    "you lose that utility if the reader is unable to tell whether the "mistake" belongs to the character or the author." This is the key point, I think. Feb 22 at 16:55

Assuming you are talking about prose and not actually speaking, as long as the meaning of the sentence is absolutely clear, then grammar and syntax are less important.

But, grammar rules around tense and pronouns exists to make communication clear. So, specifically tensing, it is pretty important to get it right when writing, because there are patterns of language and sentence construction in English where the writer could be talking about future perceptions of things in the past. If the tensing was incorrect the message could likely be confusing.

Pronouns like he, she, they, them, etc., are also really important. It is not hard when writing in English about a group of more than two individuals and create pronoun confusion about whom a they, she, he in a sentence involving 3 or more people is referring to. The only what to avoid it by using proper grammar.

Given those statements, English is very flexible and doesn't some much have fixed rigid rules, but has patterns and guidelines of usage that can be ignored or twisted to produce terrific and meaningful sentences.


The meaning of this sentence, in the context of the novella, is crystal clear, even though it has a big logical problem and a grammatical error, namely the modifier on equal. But Orwell the writer was speaking a higher truth, about how language is manipulated for political purposes to manipulate ideas.

But, if you are concerned about your command of English grammar and syntax, don't let it hold you back from writing. The rules of languages are small matters, and inconsequential, compared to the craft of writing and the art of story telling. As you learn the latter two, and the most important skills, the other will come of its own accord, and you can always hire an editor to clean it up when you are done.

  • 2
    It should be pointed out that "All animals are equal..." is spoken dialog in the context of the story. Gramatical errors in dialog are permissible as people don't usually speak gramatically perfect english 100% of the time.
    – hszmv
    Feb 22 at 14:12
  • @hszmv, in the story, the phrase is written on an outer wall of the barn for all animals to see.
    – EDL
    Feb 22 at 14:27
  • 1
    @EDL The point still stands. Something written on a wall within the novel can be whatever you please, including utter gibberish. There's a difference between errors made by characters and those made by authors. Feb 22 at 16:53
  • (That said, I'm not claiming grammar must be perfect in narrative either. It's not an error if you do it on purpose.) Feb 22 at 16:54
  • A quibble: there's no grammar error in "more equal than others." The phrase gives an unusual meaning to equal (something like deserving of rights), but with that nonstandard meaning, the grammar is perfectly normal. It's syntactically identical to all animals are intelligent, but some animals are more intelligent than others.
    – Juhasz
    Feb 22 at 18:57

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