“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.
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.
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.
“. . .don’t pop as vibrantly as I wish they would’ve.“
“. . .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
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.”
What are your grammar pet peeves? Which rules do you think are important to follow?
Written by Melissa Fragiadaki
Melissa is WiseStamp’s blog administrator and loves delving into topics of interest to small businesses. She’s an audiobook fiend, podcast connoisseur, and adventurous traveler who enjoys writing lines of code as much as she enjoys writing pages of fiction.