On National Grammar Day, millennials show promise

Story highlights

  • A Harris Poll found that 74 percent of millennials dislike seeing grammar errors on social media
  • An Emory professor says millennials are "codeswitchers"

(CNN)Regardless of their age, people care a lot about grammar.

In a Harris Poll for Dictionary.com, 59 percent of respondents said improper grammar is their biggest annoyance when it comes to the English language. Millennials, the 18- to 34-year-old generation that grew up using AutoCorrect and acronyms like BRB, are no exception.
    They're surprising sticklers about proper grammar use, with 74 percent of them getting ticked off if they see errors on social media, according to the poll.
    In the runup to National Grammar Day, today, young people have been firing off tweets about how much they despise bad grammar.
    "What I've seen over 20 years, regardless of students' backgrounds and competencies, is that they are eager to be correct," Emory University administrator Helen Julien said.
    Julien, director of the school's Domain of One's Own Initiative, which allows students to administer their own websites, says millennials are expert "codeswitchers" who can seamlessly transition from "textspeak" to academic writing.
    That might be a surprise to those who blame the downfall of proper English on the rise of texting and the Internet.
    However, Mark Bauerlein, an Emory professor who wrote "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)," says millennials should step away from their computer screens to improve their "terrible" grammar.
    "Their stylistic tics are nonsensical fluff: 'Like ... Like ... Like ...,' sentences punctuated with 'N Stuff,' mindless clichés such as 'Omigod!' and 'Awesome.' In their writing, they aren't much better. Let's be clear about every standardized test score and every survey of teachers and employers: the writing of students and younger workers is a mess," Bauerlein said in an email.
    Verbal tics aside, they might spend more time on grammar than Gen X; a study by the Pew Research Center found that millennials were more likely to have read a book in the past year than their elders.
    Stephen Dobranski, a professor in Georgia State University's English department, says social media has made millennials more aware of the different way language can be used across platforms.
    "Perhaps some millennials have thus become more attentive to such details as punctuation and grammar, whether they are hashtags or semicolons or sentence fragments. The details that millennials find most important, though, might differ from the rules that earlier writers emphasized," he said.
    Malinda Snow, associate professor of English at Georgia State, says the millennial generation has its share of grammar nerds. However, while teaching, she's noticed that some millennials have been misinformed about grammar.
    "I do find that many students have acquired a good deal of misinformation from well-meaning instructors who give advice like 'never begin a sentence with "because." ' Students are alert to advice received, but they aren't always able to sift that advice and recognize the best," she said.
    Millennial and Georgia State University student Jennifer Harris values proper grammar but thinks this skill needs to be strengthened among some in her generation. She says some people's lack of grammar knowledge is due to how school curricula are structured.
    "The last time I remember learning about grammar, like actual grammar, was in middle school. And then I went to high school, and it was just all about reading stuff like 'The Great Gatsby' and 'Lord of the Flies,' " Harris said. "They didn't care how you wrote, like sentence structure. It was all about interpreting the works."
    Jamear Jackson, a Georgia State junior, also thinks grammar has been "lost in the sauce" among millennials.
    "We learn it in elementary, middle school, and then after then, it's straight interpretation," Jackson said. "If (the school system) stressed the importance of proper grammar even on social media, it would be better."
    Dobranski recommends that millennials who want to improve their grammar do so by reading a variety of works, books and articles.
    "The more great writing a person reads, the more sensitive she will become to how words work. And millennials have to pay attention," he said. "Multitasking often means that a person is not working with the requisite care and precision, two essential things for effective reading and writing."