Misspellings and bad grammar

September 16, 2011

In business, excellence is indeed worth striving for. Make sure all of your communications hold to high standards, because misspellings and bad grammar can hold you back in your career.
First, there were style complaints.

Some felt I should have said “7 Grammatical Errors” instead of “7 Grammar Errors,” and one person even suggested that it was such a bad choice that it should be on David Letterman. Here’s the deal: I chose the shorter word because it reads better in a headline, and it communicates just as clearly. I also knew it would draw comments. It worked.

Next, there were complaints that just because you make a grammar mistake, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid.

A few thought it was just mean and unfair to say someone is “dumb” or “stupid” because they make an error in grammar or spelling. I understand this, and think I was pretty clear that some brilliant people make some stupid mistakes, but the article is about grammatical errors in business writing that “make you look dumb.” Whether you are actually stupid is not for me to judge.

And there were complaints that anything goes because language is fluid.

Yes, language constantly changes, but written business communication has higher standards than spoken communication. You can say whatever you want when you’re speaking, but if you write for the corporate market, there often is a right way to say it.

Always remember context matters.

Remember, please, I am a career expert, not a schoolteacher. The context of this article is written business communication that might get someone to wondering if you communicate well enough to represent their business.

That said, here are more audience-choice mistakes that seem to drive a lot of people crazy.

•That / who
I regretted not including this in the first blog, as it really is one of my biggest pet peeves. We want to hire someone who is great at grammar, and we will buy books that we can use for reference. Use the word “who” when you are talking about people, and “that” when you’re talking about objects.

•Me, myself and I
This one got a lot of enthusiastic complaints about people using the word “myself” in sentences like “You will have a meeting with Bob and myself.” Myself is a reflexive pronoun, and it’s a bit confusing, so I will turn to my favorite source, Grammar Girl, who gives a great explanation about when to use I, me or myself, and when myself can be used to add emphasis, as in “I painted it myself.” But the short answer? Please, never say “You’ll be meeting with Bob and myself.”

•Should have / should of
I think the problem here is that the words “should have” and “could have” were contracted in spoken English to “should’ve” and “could’ve” and some people now think that means “should of” and “could of.” The correct expression is “should have,” “could have,” or “would have” and that is how you write it out.

•Pluralizing with apostrophes
The way we make words plural in the English language is usually by adding the letter ‘s’ to the word. So egg becomes eggs and CEO becomes CEOs. Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. Ever.

•Less / fewer
Fewer is used when you’re talking about something you can count, and less is used for things you can’t specifically quantify. So if you want to weigh less, you will want to eat fewer candy bars.

•Then / than
This pair got a lot of mention in the other article’s comments section. If you’re confused on this one, “then” refers to the passing of time, and “than” indicates a comparison. First you need to be better than she is, and then you can win.

•Loan / lend / borrow
This one is kind of tricky. Traditionally, “lend” is a verb and “loan” is a noun. In American English, you go to the bank and ask for a loan, and they lend you money. Or they loan you money, and then you can tell people that they lent you money. Or loaned you money. And now you have a loan to pay off. I told you it was tricky. Our faithful source Grammar Girl has a tip to remember: “loan” and “noun” both have an “o” in them, and “lend” and “verb” both have an “e.”

•To / too
I didn’t include this because I rarely see it in cover letters, resumes or business correspondence. But apparently others see it a lot, so here you go. “To” means in the direction of, as in They went to the movies. “Too” means in addition to, as in Our daughter came along, too, or to an excessive degree, as in, We left early because it was too hot in the theater. Of course, none of these are the same as the number two. Duh.

By the way, a simple grammar check caught most of the mistakes here. When in doubt, let your software tell you when you’ve got it wrong.