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Bad Grammar Limits Careers

Bad grammarA few weeks ago I received an email from a candidate for a job I recently filled. His grammar, in the email, wasn’t great. The job requires writing, so I asked for a writing sample. The writing sample I received was riddled with spelling and grammar errors.

When I rejected the candidate, because of his bad grammar and spelling, some of my friends defended the candidate saying that spelling didn’t predict how successful someone would be and that poor writing is incredibly common in this country.

Their comments reminded me of the graduate level leadership class I taught a few years ago. Many of my master’s level students’ grammar was so poor, when I handed back my students’ first papers, I gave them a grammar lesson. Some class members were so offended and annoyed by this, they reported me to the dean, telling her that they did not pay $1500 for a grammar lesson. My stand remains the same.

I don’t care how great a leader you are. If you discredit yourself in every email you send by using bad grammar, your career will be limited.

Here are some common examples of bad grammar in both written and spoken communication:

  1. “A lot” is two words.
  2. Incentify is not a word. Incent is.
  3. Too means also. To does not.
  4. There is no B in supposedly.
  5. Your crazy aunt can only visit once a year without you wanting to change your address, and this does not mean that you’re a bad person.
  6. You accept advice. You advise others.
  7. There is no X in especially.
  8. You lose your marbles when you don’t get enough sleep.  Your jeans become loose when you stop eating Snickers bars.
  9. You accept advice, except when you think the other person isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.
  10. Irregardless is not a word. Regardless is.
  11. “Where you at?” “Where are you,” will do.
  12. Please put your contact information on the bottom of your initial and reply emails. This is not a grammar thing, it would just be helpful.

Call me picky or old school. But I suspect that when you hear these errors made in conversation or see them in writing, you judge the other person. I know most hiring managers do. Hiring managers want to know employees can write reports and email clients without embarrassing the company.

You will be eliminated as a job candidate if your resume has typos. People will judge you when you use incorrect English. They won’t tell you they’re judging your bad grammar. They’ll do it quietly or talk about you when you’re not there.

I spoke at a conference a few weeks ago where an attendee asked how to tell an employee she was going to be fired because her writing was so poor. She maintained client files and wrote client correspondence. Clients’ names were often wrong, in her written notes, as was spelling and grammar. The typos and grammar errors were a deal breaker. And they may be in your job as well.

Have someone proofread a few of your emails and reports, and ask for feedback on your writing. Ask the coworkers you’re close to to tell you when you make grammar errors in meetings. Of course you want them to tell you privately, after the meeting.

I write a bi-monthly column for the Denver Business Journal. I’m grateful that my editor reads this blog and emails me the typos and errors I make. I am not exempt.

Clean up your bad grammar and your writing, and accelerate your career. I promise it will work.





Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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16 Responses to “Bad Grammar Limits Careers”

  1. Thank you. What a great article. Proper grammar when representing your business is so important!

  2. Jacquie says:

    I love this Shari! Grammatical errors often drive me insane as well! I am often surprised at the number of professional people who are unaware of simple rules such as: your and you’re or to, two and too!!

  3. Donna LaGosh says:

    THANK YOU for writing this! I am very old school as well on this point. However, this is one area in which I don’t plan to transition to “new school”. I immediately eliminate a candidate for a position if they can’t write because I don’t have the time or inclination to check everything he/she sends out of behalf of the company. And poor grammar does negatively affect one’s impression of a company. So it is too damaging to employ such a person if writing is part of the job description.

  4. Glenda Bramlet says:

    Is it possible to use this in a newsletter for a professional organization? Of course, with credit given- do you prefer a specific tag line or verbiage at the end to identify your work?

  5. Bravo, Shari! Raised by a school teacher who often gave us spelling and grammar lessons during dinner conversation, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    This statement is a sad testament to our culture of accepting everything: “and that poor writing is incredibly common in this country”.

    Thank you for the affirmation that grammar and spelling really do count.


  6. Gina DeWitt says:

    Thank you for this excellent refresher course. I plan to pass it around to my support staff. Some of the errors outlined are pet peeves. Don’t even get me started on apostrophes!

  7. Leslie says:

    How timely your response was! I just responded to an email from a writer who misspelled several words in the email she sent me explaining why she couldn’t meet my deadlines. My thought was that it was probably best that she not work with me since she couldn’t even spell check her email. I see this so many times in resumes, and I often discard them. If you cannot take the time to write correct English, you don’t have a place on a business development team where accurate communication is vital to winning work.

  8. I agree with your comments Shari and feel schools are doing a great disservice to their students by not emphasizing the importance of proper grammar and spelling. With today’s tools in Word and Outlook, there really should be no excuse for misspelling. Asking your peers to review an important document is a small price to pay when your “product” is a position paper, letter, technical study, or any other written document.

  9. Deb says:

    Thank you for sharing these grammar points. I especially appreciate you noting that there is no X in especially and that irregardless is not a word. I cringe when I see typos and hear mispronunciations.

  10. Julie says:

    This is a great article. Thank you very much. Please include double negatives too. It grates against my nerves to hear, “I ain’t got no… or I didn’t do nothing… or I’m not telling you nothing.” Ugh!

    Also, “supposed to do something” not “suppose to do something.”

    I’m in a graduate program too and cannot believe the bad grammar I read online from other students.

  11. Amy says:

    Thanks for the great article, Shari! I am a technical writer by trade, and it peeves me to no end when I see typos in customer facing content or email communications from senior management.

    My stepdaughter wants to be an editor and is currently a sophomore in college. What I have seen of her writing is atrocious, so your experience in grading those papers is very concerning to me! Where are the students of today getting their grammar lessons if not in school?

    I worry that we have become too lazy about and reliant upon spellcheck and grammar tools in our word processing programs. Yet when I read an article on a national news website, I am absolutely appalled by the numerous errors! There is no excuse!!

    By the way, my biggest pet peeve is a tie between the incorrect usages of “assure vs. ensure vs. insure” and “complement vs. compliment”. I cannot believe how many people get those wrong!

  12. Anita says:

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I believe that you should publish more on this subject matter, it may not be a
    taboo matter but typically people don’t discuss such issues.

    To the next! Cheers!!

    • Shari Harley says:

      Anita, thanks for your comment. Check the blog regularly and you’ll see more discussions like this one. It’s good to have you here!

    • Shari Harley says:

      Hi Anita, Thanks for your comment. I’m so sorry for my delayed reply. We just interviewed for an open job and had trouble finding candidates who could write well. It was very disconcerting!

  13. Nereida says:

    Your style is so unique in comparison to other people
    I have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity,
    Guess I will just book mark this blog.

  14. […] and ideas can be doubted if your emails are flooded with poor grammar and typos. It could discredit you as a source of knowledge and even cause a misunderstanding (you meant to mention your college […]

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