“Grammar signifies more than just a person’s ability to remember high school English. I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing — like stocking shelves or labeling parts.”
Though your chances of being faced with a formal grammar test are slim to none, you’re not off the hook.
In a professional environment, especially during a job search, every email you send, every phone call you make, and every post on your social media platforms may be a mini-grammar test.
It’s very true that there are some grammar rules that are outdated. If you don’t need to show up at work in a ball gown or tuxedo, it’s probably okay to ignore them. There’s no need to sound pretentious.
But there are some rules you definitely want to pay attention to.
Breaking them in professional communication, without understanding them and being aware of your audience, is the verbal or written equivalent of showing up to the office in your pajamas.
Using standard conventions of grammar doesn’t mean you’re a grammar nazi (a horrible term, in my opinion), or make you sound like a school marm. Rather, good grammar helps you sound educated and put together instead of sloppy.
Grammarly’s study of LinkedIn profiles proves that. After analyzing the grammar and spelling of one thousand profiles, they linked good communication with job stability and promotions.
Luckily, there’s no reason grammar should stress you out or get you down.
Here are some explanations of basic grammar rules that will help you appear professional.
1. Sorry, Less and Fewer are Not Interchangeable.
Ah, English. You’ve struck again.
Okay. So here we have two words that sound completely different but basically mean the same thing. It happens.
Don’t be fooled, though. “Less” and “fewer” are not interchangeable.
I understand if thinking about this makes you crave an aspirin. But there’s no need to bang your head against your desk.
There’s a rule to help you.
Less is used when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted.
Fewer is used when you’re referring to something that can be counted.
“The new conference room has less space than the old one. Maybe we should invite fewer people to the next meeting.”
Let’s let The Comma Queen explain the rest:
You can find a more in-depth explanation, and see how money, weight and time fit into this equation (yeah, sorry, there’s more to this rule) here.
2. Capital Letters Do Not Make Words More Interesting.
One of the most beautiful aspects of language is how easy it is to emphasize a thought.
In spoken language, we can yell, shout, whisper and slow our speech. In written language, we have bold, italic, underline (and if we really find it necessary, larger font and bright colors).
With all of these tools at our fingertips, there is no reason to use a capital letter to emphasize words that aren’t proper nouns.
We learned in elementary school that we capitalize the first letter of a sentence and the first letter of a name. We also capitalize the pronoun “I.” In both cases, I beg you to not ignore the shift key (and please never send a professional email written completely in lowercase letters).
(Find an in-depth explanation with multiple business related scenarios here.)
Not always. Sometimes, the line isn’t so clear.
Let’s take an example from Star Wars:
Then again, even I will admit that there is an exception to this.
Sometimes, especially on social media, it may sometimes be considered acceptable to break this rule for the sake of snark or humor.
I sometimes refer to my dog as The Creature. Or, if my sink is full of dishes, I may tweet that it’s time to wash all The Dishes.
My reasoning is that I’m turning “creature” and “dishes” into proper nouns.
That said, you still need to be careful, especially in professional situations.
3. Me, Myself or I? You Can Stop Wondering.
Cookie Monster can get away with saying, “Me want cookie.”
But he’s a monster.
Humans who are native English speakers cannot.
Which is why we can’t get away saying, “Me and my friend want a cookie.”
Erase the “and my friend,” and see what happens.
and my friendwant a cookie.”
For the same reason, we can’t say, “Cookie Monster made a batch of cookies for my friend and I.”
“Cookie Monster made a batch of cookies for
my friend andI.”
(Not that he’d share, but that’s a whole other issue.)
Here’s an easy way to help us remember the rule.
Thanks, Lady Gaga!
Where does “myself’ fit into this equation? If you must know, read this.
4. I Should
Of Have. . .
Coulda, woulda, shoulda. . .
Ugh, such confusion.
What’s the difference between “should of” and “should have?”
The answer is simple. “Should have” is correct. “Should of” (ouch, it hurts to even type that) is what the correct form sounds like when spoken.
The same goes for “could have” and “would have.”
Take it away, Grammar Girl:
5. Superheroes Do Good. We Do Well.
It’s time to talk about adjectives and adverbs.
Don’t run away. It won’t be as tedious as it sounds.
We use “good” to describe a noun:
Sabrina is a good cook.
(Good is the adjective that describes the cook, Sabrina.)
We use “well” to describe a verb.
Sabrina cooks well.
(Well is the adverb that describes how Sabrina cooks.)
See? That wasn’t so bad.
Let’s keep going.
I don’t agree with everything in this video, but I like the explanation:
6. Please Don’t Wish You “Would’ve Done” Something.
Although Waylynn Lucas is a rising Food Network star and clearly a savvy business woman, there’s something that constantly occurs during almost every episode of Cake Wars that makes it extremely difficult for me to take her seriously.
That’s right. She misuses the word “would.”
“. . .don’t pop as vibrantly as I wish they
“. . .don’t pop as vibrantly as I wish they had.”
Why was she wrong?
You can probably feel it in your bones, but you can find the answer here.
7. You, Like, Literally Don’t Have to Use Sort of Super Awesome Words All the Time?
“It is very useful, when one is young, to learn the difference between ‘literally’ and ‘figuratively.’ If something happens literally, it actually happens; if something happens figuratively, it feels like it is happening. If you are literally jumping for joy, for instance, it means you are leaping in the air because you are very happy. If you are figuratively jumping for joy, it means you are so happy that you could jump for joy, but are saving your energy for other matters.”
~ Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
To be fair about this one, I’ll start by reiterating that language is constantly evolving, which is why the words, “awesome,” “super,” and “literally” are used the way they are today.
I have no problem with these words, and have been known to use them myself. They are also useful and common in the world of marketing.
Just be careful. You don’t want to use them so often they become a tic.
It’s also important to be aware of your audience, especially when communicating with professional contacts. In some cases, people might react like this:
I didn’t know the world was thirsty. Did he literally spoonfeed it too? “Bernanke Literally Buying the World a Coke” http://bit.ly/aiHNMS
— Literally Wrong (@literallywrong) October 21, 2010
And while we’re on the subject of overused words, let’s keep an eye on how much we use “kind of” and “sort of.” Okay?
What do you think is wrong with these sentences?
We’re going to Paris to sort of see the sights.
Then we’re going to the coast to kind of relax and get away.
(Really? What are these people going to do? Partially block their eyes so they only “sort of” see the Eiffel Tower? Make sure they bring work to the beach so they only “kind of” relax?)
One last thing.
I wouldn’t bring this up if I weren’t guilty of this myself, but, when we’re at work, can we all vow to try to leave the valley girl “like” back in the 80’s where it belongs?
There are tips for that.
I promise. It’ll be good for your career.
If all of this fussy talk about rules makes you angry, you are not alone.
Here’s something to make you feel better:
Mona Chalabi is right in that language changes.
But many of the rules that she mentions, like the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition, aren’t the basis of how English is built.
Houses have always had, and will always have, walls, ceilings, and floors. These days, it’s hard to find a house with a little box for the milkman to leave the milk.
The milk box is a detail. Get rid of it, and the house still stands.
Get rid of the walls, and you don’t have a house.
Same with English.
There are parts of grammar that are like walls and form the structure of our language. Good will always be an adjective. Fewer and less will never be interchangeable.
Still anxious to break the rules?
To use the house analogy again, most houses in this world are built the same way. A house in San Francisco and a house in Seoul both have a foundation, windows, walls, and doors.
But the two look completely different.
The same goes for grammar. You can use proper grammar and still have your own distinct voice and writing style.
Just keep this advice in mind:
“There are some people out there who can get a job despite bad grammar and the lack of a shift key, but you are not one of them. Those people are the geniuses who have such unique skill sets that it is a job seekers’ market for them.
This is not you. You are normal. You need all the help you can get. And when you reach out to someone in the business world — be it an advice columnist, a recruiter or an expert whose brain you’d like to pick — you need to use standard writing techniques.”
Nobody speaks or writes perfectly.
In fact, I’m sure there are mistakes in this post.
But with all of the solid proof that proper use of language is an asset in the professional world, there’s no reason not to do our very best.
Meanwhile, I leave you with this:
— Rose Craig (@roseacea) April 3, 2014
What are your grammar pet peeves? Which rules do you think are important to follow?