I want you to Google “common mistakes Americans make in English.” Or, if you are too charmed by this essay’s opening to turn away even for an instant, then I simply ask that you to guess. Most likely you will come up with a good handful of mistakes. Because, like, there are many. Literally.

Now, let’s be honest. If you only intuited the mistakes that others make, without so much as considering the mistakes you yourself make, I understand. You must be native. It is easy to get defensive when it comes to speaking or writing our own language correctly. We think, “In my language,” as if referring to my guns or my property or my life, without recognizing that English is our language. We become so tied up in correcting others, especially learners, that we forget one fundamental principal of communication. This thing we call language is something democratic.

What I mean is, (incorrect coma, where a breath happens in speaking but not in writing) language must be continually negotiated, debated, brought to forum, and finally agreed upon by popular consensus. Any other approach to officiating our language only leads to stultification, petrification, and boring. This means anything goes, unless stated otherwise.

Note, please, that there is a “Standard Way,” as described by experts and taught by professionals. Does it follow that we ignore the alternatives? What if those alternatives grant us nuance or a regional identity? In exploring these questions, we come to learn that it isn’t a matter of “right or wrong,” the black and white debate that troubles only the pedantic among us. Rather this is matter of learning everything: standard usage, appropriate usage based on context, and the many ways to break usage, which may result in something right or wrong or neutral.

Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer to an English grammar question. “Either way,” we reply, when our students ask us: “Is it either or either?” Tomayto, tomahto.

Sometimes both options are correct, but one grants the user a certain shade of meaning. The article “the” appears to take on extra emphasis when the long-e is used, as opposed to the short-e. We say, Thee United States of America, for example. Not thuh other way around.

Sometimes the deviation can be right, even preferred, as when we drop the auxiliary verb at the start of a question. You know what I mean? Normally, the auxiliary verb goes in front, as in: “Kiki, do you love me?” Only by asking correctly may she answer correctly: “I do.”

All in all, let us accept that usage of [insert any language] English depends on where you are, who you are talking to, and why you are communicating your message. If you are selling a product, for example, you mention its value, not its cost. This broad-minded understanding of English helps us to tactfully employ the double-negative, to forgive a barrage of “literally”s, like literally. And—if this essay does one thing—to see the immense benefit of adding the second-person plural to our English grammar charts, yall, with no apostrophe. Yall know what I mean?

Were this essay larger in scope, we would include a paragraph on mistakes that Americans make, which should never ever be made under any circumstance, because their usage always and only causes confusion. After all, many of our readers want to learn to sound more native, or at least to overcome these obstacles in order to sound better than the natives themselves. But this task we must leave to other wise and honest masters.

For now, let us conclude with a quote from the 2006 basketball film, Glory Road. “Bad might be bad,” says one player. “But, with us, bad is good.” And that, my friends, you’re just going to have to talk it out to understand like the rest of us.

by: Iván Brave