Q&A with Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast network, the creator of of the Grammar Girl website (one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2012, 2013, and 2014), and the creator and host of the Grammar Girl podcast (Best Education Podcast in the 2012 and 2013 Podcast Awards). 

The Grammarly team recently chatted with Mignon about grammar, language, and National Grammar Day (March 4).

Grammarly: How did you become such a recognized grammar expert?

Grammar Girl: I’m not certain how it happened. My first Grammar Girl project was the podcast, but when it launched, it was just a hobby and I was working full time, so I wasn’t watching the traffic closely. Within a few weeks it was #2 in all of podcasting at iTunes and the success took me by surprise. Four months after the podcast launched, the Wall Street Journal picked the Grammar Girl website as their pick of the day, and I started getting book-deal offers and eventually partnered with Macmillan to write Grammar Girl books and to manage and expand the Quick and Dirty Tips network, of which Grammar Girl is a part.

Since the beginning, my readers and listeners have been wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive. The success of Grammar Girl is all because of them. Early on, I got a lot of e-mail messages from listeners telling me how much they loved the show and that they had shared it with all of their friends.

I also like to think that I’m recognized as an expert because I thoroughly research every topic I cover. I see a lot of people commenting online about what they think are grammar rules, but they’re going on their memory or what they learned in grade school, and they’re often incorrect. Readers and listeners learn that they can trust that I have looked up the rules and history of a topic and that I’m not just spouting my own opinions. In fact, I so diligently avoid inserting my opinion that at times my book editors have had to remind me that sometimes people actually do want to know what I think.

Grammarly: What is your biggest grammar pet peeve?

Grammar Girl: After years of answering people’s questions about grammar, seeing how they struggle, and writing about it, I don’t really have any pet peeves. The more research I do, the more I discover that many hard-and-fast rules are just consensus opinions or suggestions, such as the “rules” about splitting infinitives or that using passive voice is always wrong. I guess it mildly annoys me when I see words capitalized that shouldn’t be, but I don’t get too worked up about it.

Grammarly: Is there a grammar rule you don’t mind bending/breaking?

Grammar Girl: I can’t think of any hard-and-fast rules that I would break, but because the articles on my website are also the scripts to my audio podcasts, I write them in an informal, conversational style. For example, I often start sentences with conjunctions and use contractions. Those things aren’t wrong, but sometimes people think they are, and it is definitely a casual writing style.

Grammarly: Oxford Comma, yes or no?

Grammar Girl: My Twitter fan @ravishlydotcom asked me this question in December. I tend to favor the Oxford comma because it makes things more clear and avoids the rare potential ambiguities.

Grammarly: Why is good grammar important? Isn’t it enough that we all “kind of” understand each other?

Grammar Girl: Good grammar has become even more important today than it was ten or fifteen years ago. It’s common to meet people online now, so the quality of your writing has a huge influence on the first impression you make on people. I like to say that instead of “dressing for success,” you need to “write for success.” I have an article that my friend Martha Brockenbrough (who founded National Grammar Day in 2008) wrote about the importance of good grammar and how it can help you stay out of jail, keep your job, and even find love.

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Mignon Fogarty is the author of the New York Times best-seller Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and six other books on writing. She was recently appointed to be the Donald W. Reynolds Chair of Media Entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism and Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Thanks, Mignon, for your time!

Curious to know what kind of grammar nerd you are? Take Grammarly’s quiz in honor of National Grammar Day.

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