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Grammar – Overrated or The Ultimate Business Dealbreaker?

Having grown up with an English teacher as a father, I’ve had the classic “it’s ‘my friends and I went to the cinema, not ‘me and my friends’” drilled into me from an early age. And now, after teaching English myself for four years in St Petersburg, I find that I have to bite my tongue around friends and family in the UK when they tell me that they are “literally melting” in the heat or that despite being as red as a lobster, they “definitely don’t need no sun cream”.

So, you may have already guessed that I’m not going to put forward a case for grammar being overrated. Because it isn’t. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, no one likes a pedant, and even though Tesco used to have a ‘10 items or less’ rather than a ‘10 items or fewer’ sign at the check-out for many years, let’s face it, we didn’t have any problems understanding what the sign actually meant…

What’s the big deal then? – you might be thinking. As long as people get what I mean, surely the odd grammar mistake isn’t going to hurt anyone?

However, in a professional setting, if your super-creative, awe-inspiring cover letter or blog post is littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, you run the risk of rejection: your job application may be thrown to the bottom of the pile or people might stop reading the content on your website or social media page. In fact, according to a survey by TopResume in 2018, 79% of recruiters and HR managers pinpointed spelling and/or grammatical mistakes in a CV as a real dealbreaker. We can see that the advantages to having good grammar, especially in a professional context, go much further than simply being understood. For instance:

  • You can create a good impression when sending a business email or presenting something to a potential client.
  • You demand more respect: you are taken seriously when putting forward ideas, requesting information or complaining.
  • Good presentation implies a certain level of professionalism and good business conduct, thereby increasing your chances of securing new clients or sales.
  • Your words can have more impact. Your ideas and content might be great, but if they are full of typos and grammatical mistakes you lose your street cred.

At the end of the day, language is about effective communication and being understood correctly, whether that’s in the workplace – in your company’s advertising and marketing campaigns – or when speaking to someone in a foreign language. And arguably, grammar is a big part of what enables you to do this.

So, don’t underestimate the power of good grammar, punctuation and spelling to shape meaning and create good content. Just take a look at how a simple comma or the right choice of word can drastically change the meaning of a sentence, or even save a life!

  • I’m sorry I love you.
  • I’m sorry, I love you.
 
  • A woman, without her man, is nothing.
  • A woman: without her, man is nothing.
 
  • Let’s eat Grandma!
  • Let’s eat, Grandma!
 
  • I saw lots of horses on holiday in Spain.
  • I saw lots of horses while on holiday in Spain.
 
  • Your dinner vs you’re dinner – one leaves you nourished, the other, well…

Besides, by getting it right, you can avoid these silly mix-ups in meaning, or worse, being laughed at on national news. Only the other day, a bus stop sign was put up with an ironic typo outside Lancaster Royal Grammar School:

Bus stop sign

SOURCE: BBC

Although we can all see the funny side of it, in other contexts, some people may not be all that forgiving. It’s a cruel world out there and as The Guardian columnist, Simon Jenkins, puts it, ‘Protesting that bad grammar should not hold someone back will not stop it from doing so.’ According to a recent survey in America, 97% of people say that grammar mistakes influence their perceptions of companies and individuals.

Of course, the context matters; grammar isn’t everyone’s forte. Amusingly, out of 1,700 people who claimed to be attentive to online grammar mistakes in a test conducted by Tidio in March 2022, only 2.8% spotted all of the spelling and grammar mistakes in the texts they were shown. The reality is, that having perfect grammar 100% of the time is a really tough ask – if not impossible – especially given the peculiarities and inconsistencies of the English language. Besides, we must also bear in mind the importance of maintaining regional dialects, or the difficulties of learning English as a second language.

There are many creative entrepreneurs, directors and writers out there who have dyslexia, such as Richard Branson or Steven Spielberg – proof that grammar, spelling and punctuation are not the be-all and end-all in life. So, when we consider the importance of grammar in a business context, we are not talking about nit-picking your work to iron out split infinitives, we’re talking about avoiding those blundering grammar mistakes that distract from your creative content. If you find English grammar pretty damn confusing (trust me, you’re not on your own), that’s okay! But it is not an excuse to be lazy or think bad grammar doesn’t matter. If you are aware that grammar often trips you up in your writing and presentation, there’s no shame in that, that’s where teamwork comes in – get someone to check your work. That way, collectively, you get it right, avoid embarrassment and show that you care.

Do you want to ‘perfect’ your own grammar? Why not check out our English language library, Kudos? 

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