A Single Grammar Mistake Makes You Instantly Lose All Credibility. Here Are 10 to Avoid
When it comes to landing new business or a job, it’s cool to be a grammar nerd.
President Trump earlier this week blamed poor grammar for comments that had him siding with Russia over U.S. intelligence agencies. Would. Would not. Big difference. Who knew? Um, everyone.
Politics aside, just one little word or punctuation mark (I’m talking about you, apostrophe!) can make a big (not “bigly”) difference in what you think you are saying and what you really are saying. For small-business owners, a small grammar thing can be a big deal. It’s credibility or the lack thereof, which could cost you a gig. I have literally (we’ll get to this word in a bit) been sick to my stomach when I’ve goofed in a proposal letter. I’m a professional writer, after all. But it matters for every small-business owner and entrepreneur. It’s accountability and what you’re on the hook for, too. Take contracts. Does the language in yours suggest you will do just one thing or many, many things?
1. I versus me
Between you and me (not I), this is one of my biggest grammar pet peeves. I (not me) cringe inside every time I hear people say it. I (not me) encounter it everywhere–from business meetings to TV shows, books, and newspapers. Other people tell me (not I) that it drives them nuts, too.
Use “I” when it’s the subject and “me” when it’s the object.
2. Would have, not would of
I (still not me) would have liked to have gone to the movie, but I had to work. There is no such thing as “would of.” It’s what people think they hear, so it’s become ingrained for lots of folks, I think.
3. Try to, not try and
Here’s another case of hearing and repeating the wrong thing:
- Correct: I’m going to try to get a lot of work done today.
- Incorrect: I’m going to try and get a lot of work done today.
For a column I wrote in February, my friend Brian suggested treating “try” as you would “fail.” Don’t say “I know he’ll try and call you” if you wouldn’t say “I know he’ll fail and call you.”
4. Your and you’re
You’re not going to let grammar get in the way of scoring your next job. I can’t believe this is something people still don’t get. Ditto for its and it’s. I blame texting.
5. Misplaced “only”
Only is probably the most often misplaced modifier. I see it everywhere.
As with all modifiers, you want to place it as close as possible to the word it modifies. I’ll use my children as examples, and you can see how “only” changes things in each case.
- Lucy only played with Penny. Lucy didn’t fight with Penny or tease her. (Ha! This would never happen in real life.)
- Only Lucy played with Penny. Nobody else played with Penny.
Here’s an example from a story today on CNN.com. In the lead (the lead!): “The White House has only held three on-camera briefings in the past 30 days, according to the administration’s own records on .” It should be “has held only….”
Speaking of my children, they know this word is practically forbidden in our house, but they literally don’t care. They are not literally starving, dying, or freezing. At times, they feel as if they are figuratively starving, dying, or freezing.
7. Fewer versus less
I’m reminded of this one every time I’m in the “10 items or less” line at the grocery.
Right: There are fewer than 10 items in my cart. I have less cash in my wallet than I’d like. I have fewer 20-dollar bills than 10-dollar bills in my wallet and less time to shop than I’d like.
Use “fewer” for individual items or items that can be counted. Use “less” for collective items or things that can’t be counted, like cash (in general) or time.
8. Entitled versus titled
You are entitled to your opinion. In other words, you have a right to your own thoughts.
I really liked Tina Fey’s memoir titled Bossypants. Tina Fey is entitled to her own opinions.
9. That versus who
Recruiters like job applicants who (not that) have a good grasp of grammar. Grammar is a skill that matters to hiring managers. Similarly, companies are things not people. Bank of America is a company that is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.
Your talents are amazing. Your company is great. The services you provide help people live better lives. Kudos. Tell me all about it. But don’t throw the word “unique” in there.
Merriam-Webster on unique: “being the only one.”
If you don’t use the word “unique,” you really will set yourself apart in the world.