Being an English language learner for about 30 years, I still make mistakes.
In a written language, when I have misspelled and noticed it in a timely manner, I simply navigate to a wrong word and edit it.

However, in a spoken conversation, when I use a wrong word, I must stop and correct myself by saying a correct one. I've seen many ways to do that, but I'm still not sure which one to use:

He's going to school...

  • ...er... she's going;
  • ...sorry, I mean, she's going;
  • ...oops, she's going;
  • ...I'm sorry, let me restate it from the beginning, she's going;

What is the grammatical and polite way to correct myself in a spoken conversation?
Let's stick to a formal/business context if it matters.

Also, what part of a sentence should I repeat to make it clear?

  • I wouldn't use the last one, except perhaps in an oral English exam. It's too wordy for pretty much any conversational sense.
    – mcalex
    Feb 7, 2013 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


They're all fine, as is simply restating without comment:

He’s going to school— she’s going to school at Princeton.

On this site it may be worth observing that nobody expects spoken English to be perfectly expressed, from native speakers or anybody else. Speech is improvised: people start a sentence with only a general idea of where it’s going, change their minds in the middle, have second thoughts, find new ideas or expressions suddenly occurring. So if you listen closely to conversations, or if you read a literal transcript, you will find that errors are abundant. On the page, excited speech may be almost incomprehensible.

Consequently, most errors in speech are ignored, by both speakers and hearers. It’s taken for granted that errors will occur, and for the most part hearers make the necessary corrections automatically, from context.

Back when I was active in theatre I always told my actors to play through errors as if they hadn’t happened—“The audience’ll never know you screwed up unless you tell them.” The same principle operates in ordinary conversation: don’t make a correction at all unless there’s a real danger that what you said will be misunderstood. In your example, for instance, there's no need to back up unless two people, one male and one female, are under discussion.

  • 4
    It is also true that, in theatre, making a mistake, and trying to correct it would have a worse effect. I can imagine the effect of an actor saying "To me… to be, or not to be; this is the query… the question." :)
    – apaderno
    Feb 7, 2013 at 14:50
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    If it is important to stress that it is her and not him going to school, one might also use a pronounced "she", followed by a short pause and "is going..." instead of "she's".
    – Stephen
    Feb 7, 2013 at 19:55
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    Yeah sometimes it's important to stress that you're "cancelling" the previous statement. I don't necessarily agree with this answer that you can just throw it aside and restate it with corrections applied. Mar 6, 2015 at 21:05
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I spend a large portion of my professional life editing talking-head video recordings, an exercise which requires paying very close attention to what people say rather than what people hear them say. I can assure you that changing (or finding) your syntax in the middle of a sentence is the rule rather than the exception even among very highly educated speakers. It is so common that, as I said, nobody notices. Mar 6, 2015 at 22:17
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    @StoneyB: Maybe in your country! :) Mar 7, 2015 at 3:20

In contexts where it is necessary that only the correct message is transmitted, there can be a specific word used to indicate that something was a mistake. In air traffic control that word is correction:

ATC: November One-Two-Three Alpha-Bravo, turn right heading zero-eight, correction, heading zero-seven-zero.

In the military check is sometimes used, though I don't know if that is true to life or just something from Hollywood:

Major Kong: Fused airburst at ten, check, twelve thousand feet.

But as StoneyB says, in casual or even formal conversation, any of your suggestions are fine (except perhaps the last one)—as is simply proceeding on without drawing attention to your mistake.

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