To say 'grammatically correct', there are various phrases in use, including 'proper grammar', 'right grammar', 'correct grammar' and perhaps, others.

All or most of them may be correct and permitted. However,

Q: if one were to follow a preferred terminology, what would be the right expression?

supplementary: Do we have a phrase adopted/ recommended on ELU?

  • I think the part about ELU is better suited for meta, while the rest has been basically answered elsewhere. There is no such thing as "right grammar" or "wrong grammar". So "grammatically correct" is the way to go.
    – RegDwigнt
    Feb 15, 2012 at 12:27
  • @RegDwightѬſ道 Your comment (not the elsewhere part) answers OP-1 and sets the tone for OP-2. Thanks.
    – Kris
    Feb 15, 2012 at 13:33
  • 2
    Many issues of "grammar" raised on ELU are marginal/contentious anyway, so I'm not even keen on "grammatically correct" as generic terminology. Standard grammar seems safest to me. Feb 15, 2012 at 14:21
  • 2
    I propose mere "grammatical," poor grammar being "ungrammatical." Feb 15, 2012 at 15:58
  • @Pete Wilson: Plain "grammatical" strongly implies constructions are either conformant to a single universally-recognised set of grammatical rules, or they're not. Effectively, an open invitation to start endless debates about exactly which rules of grammar, on whose authority, in which dialect, etc. Feb 15, 2012 at 17:54
  • @FumbleFingers -- Acknowledging, not arguing: I claim (and hope) that there exists such a collection of rules for English grammar. These rules change, to be sure, but glacially, like the rule to never split an infinitive. Feb 15, 2012 at 19:02
  • @Pete Wilson: haha I must respectfully decline to be drawn into that debate here! Feb 15, 2012 at 19:08

3 Answers 3


The term Grammatical has a fairly specific linguistic sense, but the terms Correct, Proper, and Right don't; they're just opinions. I try not to use them, except in scare quotes. As P. J. O'Rourke put it, "Opinions about language are about as interesting as opinions about arithmetic."

Of course, what most of our questioners really do want is authoritative opinions or explanations that agree with something their teachers (or their teachers' teachers' teachers) once said that they didn't understand. It's too bad there isn't any available for them; but it seems to be a fact of linguistic life.

  • Entirely agree with you.
    – Kris
    Feb 23, 2012 at 4:15
  • 1
    I don't want to come all "Wittgenstein" on you, but if we accept that thought is at least to some degree constrained by language (and I certainly do), then it's probably no bad thing that English doesn't have a single fixed rule book telling us what we can say (and by implication, think). As with philosophers, moralists, politicians, and other preachers, there are plenty of people trying to tell us what "correct language" is, but luckily people are able and willing to ignore them as the occasion demands! Feb 23, 2012 at 17:16
  • For some people, thought is undoubtedly constrained by language. For others, not. For still others, sometimes. It varies a lot, and making a generic assumption that everybody has the same thought processes is a recipe for ... well, anything, as the history of philosophy and religion shows too well. Feb 23, 2012 at 18:26

"Standard grammar" seems to be the usual term in places like this.

  • Good if we can adopt a term and place it on record.
    – Kris
    Feb 21, 2012 at 5:16
  • 2
    Only if we can specify the standard and its source. Feb 22, 2012 at 22:33
  • Agree with John Lawler. If there's no consensus as to what is 'standard', calling it standard is misleading. At best, it's 'common'.
    – Lynn
    Feb 25, 2012 at 23:52

@PeteWilson put in a comment:

I claim (and hope) that there exists such a collection of rules for English grammar. These rules change, to be sure, but glacially, like the rule to never split an infinitive.

One thing I've learned since coming here is that there is much less agreement that I had expected on a single "standard" collection of rules. Style guides disagree; textbooks disagree; dictionaries disagree; EL&U enthusiasts disagree.

So the question of whether to call it correct/right/proper/standard/etc. is a bit moot if there's no such thing as correct.

  • What you say is true, but there's normally less disagreement about what's "standard" (i.e. - what most people use), because in principle it's possible to establish the facts about what usage is most common. Arguments about what's "correct" are imho totally pointless in many cases - we don't want to be forever discussing whether "an orange" should really be "a norange", do we? Feb 22, 2012 at 4:13
  • There are some things that most people can agree on, but those don't seem to be the 'norm' for questions on this site, so I'm still not convinced that standard is any more meaningful than correct in the cases I've seen. But it does seem to be less objectionable a term to folks.
    – Lynn
    Feb 22, 2012 at 5:26
  • +1 "Average = normal"; "Popular = Standard" -- may not be very serious definitions. Every time we need a canonical answer, we need a definitive standard. Where to look?
    – Kris
    Feb 22, 2012 at 6:08
  • For different things, different places. What passes for "grammar" here, for instance, is rarely what a grammarian would call "grammar". Arnold Zwicky posted about that today. Feb 22, 2012 at 22:35
  • @JohnLawler Thanks for the reference.
    – Kris
    Feb 23, 2012 at 4:24

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