Education

Six grammar and punctuation mistakes you might not know you're making

How you speak and write matters a lot, especially in your career. Here are some grammatical and punctuation mistakes that you might not even know you're committing.

How you speak and write matters a lot, especially in your career. Here are some grammatical and punctuation mistakes that you might not even know you're committing.

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How grammatically correct you are doesn't matter in all aspects of life. For example, your insurance rep doesn't care if your verb/noun agreements are off. (If he does, it'd probably be a good idea to get another agent.)

But the fact is, how you speak matters in some of the most important ways. Here are a few times when poor grammar could seriously work against you:

  1. You're meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time, and they happen to be hyper-judgmental English scholars.
  2. You're writing an op-ed piece for the paper in which you decry the practice of taxing to support education.
  3. You're a blogger whose audience includes a few faceless haters who live to point out your typos. (At least that's what I've heard.)
  4. You're applying or interviewing for a job.
  5. You're interacting with people whose perception of you will make a difference in your career.

With all due respect to your obnoxious in-laws, I'll talk about only the last two instances in this blog since they pertain to career. The good news is that the grammatical mistakes I'll discuss are so commonly committed that other people might not know they're mistakes either. (You may never know since most people are unlikely to set you straight. Even though I'm pointing them out here, I would never correct you during a conversation or reply to your e-mail by bringing them to your attention. I'm not that much of a jerk.) But let's roll everything out here in a general way and in the privacy of this blog. Nobody will ever know.

Here are some of the mistakes that, if you commit them during an interview or on your resume, you could be in trouble. (Note to haters waiting breathlessly with your hands on the keyboard -- I wouldn't be writing this if these kinds of errors weren't extremely prevalent. I'm glad you yourself know better and all that, but bear with us.)

1. Incorrect use of I instead of me in an objective case. This is another very common error. For example, people will often say, "She gave the money to him and I." when it should be "She gave the money to him and me." They think the first version sounds more correct. A simple way to remember the rule is to take out the first object and see if the sentence makes sense without it, i.e., "She gave the money to him and I." "She gave the money to I" doesn't sound right, does it? That's because it's not.

2. Another incorrect use of language that occurs because people think it sounds more correct or more polite is the use of myself or yourself when you really should say me or you. The word myself is really only used to emphasize a point of view, e.g., "I, myself, liked the movie." But it should be neither the subject nor the object (unless the object is the subject -- "I am giving myself a pat on the back"), and it's not a substitute for me or I. You would be incorrect in saying, "I have enough for you and myself." The sentence should be "I have enough for you and me."

The four last pertain to written communications:

3. Reckless use of the apostrophe. An apostrophe is supposed to be used to denote a missing letter as in a contraction or to indicate a possessive. It is not to be used indiscriminately for pluralizing words. For example, let's say you buy a CD. The next day you buy another CD. Now you have two CDs not two CD's. I've seen the apostrophe used incorrectly like this more times than I've seen it used correctly. It still doesn't make it right.

4. For your resume, cover letter, or any other type of written correspondence, watch how you use it's and its. It's is a contraction, not a possessive. You would say, "It's going to be a long day" but you wouldn't say, "The dog hurt it's foot."

5. As an editor, I probably see this one more than anything else: the confusion of they're, there, and their. They're is a contraction meaning they are; their is a possessive as in their books (the books that belong to them); there is an adverb indicating a place or point of action (the game happened there).

6. This one is my pet peeve and, in the grand scheme of things, is probably the most unimportant: the misplacement of quotation marks. (I will quantify this by saying that I don't think the British standard is the same as it is in the U.S.) But here in the U.S., quotation marks always go outside of the punctuation at the end of a sentence. "Like this." Not "Like this".

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

334 comments
jbeery
jbeery

Thanks for the comment on the 's. I've been seeing 's used for pluralization so often that I was starting to doubt myself!

brian
brian

Someone made that error - on the cover page.

markmcd1
markmcd1

Poor grammar and punctuation - something up with which I will not put. *grins* Did you mean 'qualify' instead of 'quantify'? And it's mouses - there was actually a conversation years back between Oxford & (I think) Yale about this - they decided on mouses because mice is a group name & computer mouses can't form groups. LOL

bjhyde
bjhyde

Re: "your one pet peeve". Take a look at where I have placed the period in the first line. Consider these examples: He stated that misplaced quotation marks and periods are "his one pet peeve". "You must show your passport before you are allowed to enter the country". (This is a direct extract from a novel). In the first example, the words in quotes are an extract from another source and are PART of the sentence as a whole. The period (full stop) is placed outside of those quotes since it indicates the end of that sentence. That sentence could be re-written as follows: He stated that, "his one pet peeve", is misplaced quotation marks and periods. The period is outside of the quotes. The second example is an extract from a recorded dialogue between two individuals. In that case, the period is placed within the quotes because it is part of the recorded speech as well as indicating the end of the sentence. As George Bernard Shaw stated, "England and America are two countries separated by the same language".

msanger
msanger

"We found a number of defects in the code." A big number? A little number? Good we be any more vague?

tesseract7
tesseract7

Oh! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! The English language has become splintered into a number of almost ethnic dialects, each based on a major continent. The English speak English, the Americans speak American, and I am proud to speak Australian. Then there are the translational dialects such as Japanese English, Indian English, and even German English. You can probably name many more.

imicon
imicon

"I" before "E" except after "C."

kelly_actually
kelly_actually

Good post Tony! Thank you! #3 and #4 are the most common - I see them used so often even by very accomplished marketing gurus. Clearly, they didn't get a second read from another marketer friend or copywriter!

qbit9
qbit9

1. What I can't stand is the widespread use of "than" with "different" as in "This thing is different than that." The correct preposition to use is "from" or perhaps "to." 2. What's up with the use of "less" with countable nouns? Every time I see that ad to promote pap smears where the women chant, "one less, one less." It's "ONE FEWER!" 3. How about decimal fractions and plural nouns? Why do people say, "half a mile," but "0.55 miles"? 4. Why do people need to "enhance" superlative adjectives with "very" or "most." The classic example is "most excellent," which has come into common usage more as a tongue-in-cheek "cultural" reference. But I also find the expression "very unique" used in serious conversation, and this bothers me to no end. 5. "In my opinion," "IMO," or "IMHO" are completely superfluous. Unless you specify that you are expressing someone else's opinion, why would I assume that you are expressing any opinion other than your own?

tobefrank
tobefrank

It is good to see this subject raised as it often offends to find incorrect and therefore indistinct meaning written. I do however, with regard to the use of quotaition marks in conjunction with the fullstop place the fullstop inside only if the quote is the complete statement and therefore was originally terminated at that point by the speaker. Also the quotation must not in these circumstances, be part of a separate sentence. The full stop should then be outside the quotation markes as tha is where the complete sentence finishes.

JeremyBoden
JeremyBoden

But here in the U.S., quotation marks always go outside of the punctuation at the end of a sentence. "Like this." Not "Like this". Wrong. U.S. is incorrect - surely it's U.S.A.? Where is the end of the sentence in "...Like this."? Obviously at the full stop - so the correct way to write this is as "'Like this.'". (single quotes are used in quotations of quotations).

SaintGeorge
SaintGeorge

My first language is Spanish, not English, so I make this kind of mistakes all the time. And only now I understand why my last interview didn't go so well. The interviewer asked me about my hobbies, and I answered "I like to touch me a lot". I should have said "I like to touch myself a lot". No wonder she looked flustered!

Histrion2
Histrion2

I???ve seen the apostrophe used incorrectly like this more times than I???ve seen it used correctly. It still doesn???t make it right. Actually, isn't the preponderance of use exactly what does make it right? ;-)

asherida
asherida

1. Affect vs. Effect - I see in printed books both words used incorrectly. 2. Loose vs. Lose - people seem to have forgotten the difference between the two. 3. Since, Sense, and (merciful heavens) Sence - people are using since/sense inappropriately, and in some cases blending the two words and using "sence" for both when it isn't a word at all.

Hillwalker
Hillwalker

Hot topic. It looks like there are some preciously held opinions out there!

briantw
briantw

Normally I wouldn't do this (I'm also not that much of a jerk :=D ), but I'll point out another pet peeve of mine - when people won't, or don't know how to, use foreign characters in borrowed words. "R??sum??" without the acute accent on the Es would be pronounced "reezoom." Yeah, just like the word "resume." Similarly, being in the movie business, I'm always correcting "premiere" to "premi??re" (grave accent), "prive" to "priv??" and so on. Since this is a tech blog, I can mention that there are at least three ways of producing, for example, an acute accent on an 'E.' At least on a Windows box: The first is charmap (Start -> Run -> charmap.exe). Use this if you very, very infrequently need the odd accented character. A quicker way, but one that requires some memorisation [.za spelling], is to hold down the 'Alt' key while hitting 0-2-3-5 on the numeric keypad. I got by that way for a few years, but, since I use those foreign characters so much lately, I'll recommend another option: Tell Windows that your keyboard is "US-International." That way, you can type '??' by simply hitting apostrophe, then 'E.' Similarly, you can type '??' by hitting colon, then 'O.' If you really wanted an apostrophe or a colon, you have to hit space immediately after the symbol, which is a minor inconvenience, to be sure, but it makes up for all that Alt-numeric keypad nonsense if you use accented characters a lot.

charles.homsy
charles.homsy

insurance rep = lazy unnecessary shortening of someone's profession that should also have been capitalized. ???The dog hurt it???s foot.??? - Is possessive and should be apostrophized, unless the dog hurt more than one of its feet.

ecwinslow
ecwinslow

What is wrong with this? "1. Incorrect use of I instead of me in an objective case. This is another very common error." Another refers to a previous instance, which there can't be for number one. Oooh well...

mahlon
mahlon

It's a bit sad in an article on the correct use of language to use the word "quantify" when "qualify" is more appropriate.

theguru
theguru

Toni: Did you notice that you shouldn't be QUANTIFYING your statement at the end but QUALIFYING it? There's a big difference and substituting 'NT' for 'L' doesn't work. Hey, get it? 'L' for Linux and 'NT' for Microsoft. 'L' is the right one to use...

Zenith545
Zenith545

Seems to me the current trend of requiring a bachelor degree for almost any job does nothing to elevate the level of education in the workplace. I see many examples of incorrect spelling and grammar from so called "educated" people. The state of education in America is atrocious. MY pet peeve is about America's news media. There, where accurate reporting is supposed to be alive and well, people who are paid six figure annual incomes hack and slash the English language quite frequently. Also, newspapers and news websites frequently look like they have been composed by someone who is still in grade school. The all-present spelling and grammar checkers seem non-existent in these areas. Copy, paste and publish, without ever reading what one just composed, seems the norm. Since when has it been permissible to start a sentence with "and" or "but"? I recently read a book by two well known and popular authors where the authors notated a list like so: "item and item and item and item". That would have never been permitted by my grade school teachers.

riggy001
riggy001

I guess I have homophonophobia -- not really, but they count as misspelling if the wrong one is used. Anyone who reads a lot will instantly spot a misused one, and it is very annoying. I consider it tantamount to a lack of education, and look down upon it. It is a different situation in an IM or text message, but not so for email, blogs or forums (IMHO). ;) Just four an example, how irritating do u find allot of misspellings? Its to annoying too me, and most will pass a spell checker two! If one reads any books at all, these discrepancies will be glaringly obvious. While Thomas Jefferson said, "it is a damned poor mind who cannot think of at least two ways of spelling any one word," it is an even poorer mind that can not understand the differences between or among different spellings. Yes, in case you were wondering, I, too, occasionally misspell without it being a typo. Once I discover the error, I look the word up and add the correction to my already extensive memory, thus avoiding the mistake in the future.

Ema.Garcia
Ema.Garcia

How about the classic 'irregardless'? This forms a double negative! From the list of times when bad grammar can work against you, this would be a double negative for me. 'Regardless' fits in place of 'irregardless' in any sentence, spoken or written, so I'd just have to assume that the speaker or writer doesn't know better. No matter how educated, that individual would immediately lose the respect of eloquence from me.

rgodbey
rgodbey

Using the correct form of a pronoun before a gerund will set you apart from the crowd easily. I hear this mistake every day. For example: "Prior to my going to work, I drank two cups of coffee." "My" is the correct form of the pronoun; however, the vast majority of people erroneously say "me".

perry_awm
perry_awm

I completely agree on 2; indeed, I'm told that Tesco are changing their "10 Items Or Less" queue. Unfortunately, they're changing it to "Up To 10 Items", which means you can take as many as nine items there, but at least it's grammatically correct. On three, though, plurals are used for anything that isn't singular. Singular means there's exactly one of something, so you get "half of one mile", but "point five five miles". Incidentally, that very technicality made me mentally correct Stephen Fry, of all people, when I listened to an episode of Just A Minute. He was attempting to correct Tony Hawks, as I recall, on a speech about WMD: "He said 'none were found', but it should have been 'none was found'." The problem is that zero isn't one; zero is, grammatically speaking, generally plural. "There are no cars in the street" is better, grammatically, than "there is no car in the street". They're both correct, FCVO "correct", but the former is more correct. Oh, and as far as 5 is concerned, sometimes an objective answer could in theory exist but you can only give a subjective one. "I'm thinking of buying a Harry Potter book, is it worth it?" Then you might want to clarify that you're expressing an opinion rather than saying "You know, fourteen scientific studies have concluded that Rowling can't write." (Disclaimer, of sorts: I actually enjoyed most of the HP books. But her writing is still mediocre at best.)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I suspect she would have looked flustered no matter how you said it! :p

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

Your r?sum? looks like when using automatic encoding in Opera. It's only when changing to UTF-8 encoding that it appears correctly. I wonder what you're using to create your post before copying and pasting it.

briantw
briantw

Techrepublic doesn't even do accented characters! Aaaarrrghh!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

???The dog hurt it???s foot.??? - Is possessive and should be apostrophized, unless the dog hurt more than one of its feet. Incorrect on all counts. First, possessive pronouns are already possessive—they do not take an apostrophe. See, for example, "his" or "hers." Second, if the dog hurt more than one foot, you would specify "The dog hurt two (or three, or all four) of its feet." If all four were hurt, you could write "The dog hurt its feet" implying that all four feet were hurt.

charles.homsy
charles.homsy

Guess I shouldn't have cut and pasted to quote the article.

tc
tc

Doughn't (az in "Dew knot") ewe hav compeauters to bee werkin on or sumthing. Eye knead to get mea a betterer spell cheker an phix meye rez-oooh-may, sew eye ken get a job like yorz. Gess my hookt on fonics waz ah todal weighst uv meye hard urned muh-knee, mussed bee thatz weye eye am stuc werkin in Mayheeco anne programen awl in Spanesh - Grin - Eye can't beleave Eye just waisted this long righting this [injustice] fooled you, that right was right (ni escribiendo esta anuncio tanpoco) ROFL (But on the bright side, in Spanish - spell it the way it sounds, it will probably be correct) Now gitcher selves bak too werk an kwit laffing four ewe spill coughfee on yur keeboreds

rfreestun
rfreestun

This error is somewhat ironic.. The sentence: "Here are some of the mistakes that, if you commit them during an interview or on your resume, you could be in trouble." has already got the AUTHOR IN Trouble.. It SHOULD READ: "Here are some of the mistakes that, if you commit them during an interview or on your resume, COULD GET YOU in trouble. " BUT - without pedantic peers, where would we be? I wonder if the author ran the article through a grammar checker before submitting it? :)

qbit9
qbit9

The trend in writing is towards a more conversational, and therefore more "accessible" style. In conversation, the use of "and" at the beginning of a sentence has become almost as prolific as "uh" and "um."

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

I used Google to find several links stating that it's okay to use a conjunction to start a sentence as long as you don't do it very often.

qbit9
qbit9

Prolly a typo, but u shud'v sed "cannot," not "can not."

bmagley
bmagley

Agreed - here's one that readers of this blog should try to get right. When you "lead" a project and complete it, it goes on your resume as "led" (past tense). That mistake is such a jarring error that it's tough for me to get past.

qbit9
qbit9

I believe the rule of which you are thinking has to do with verb-number agreement when speaking of fractions of collective nouns, as in "a third of the sheep have been sheered" rather than "a third of the sheep has been sheered." However, when speaking of single indivisible objects, plurals are reserved for nouns describing more than one. The key distinction is between one and MORE THAN one rather than one and NOT one. Fractions of one are (!) not considered plural. Therefore, for a fraction of a single object, such as a mile (which as a noun does not signify a collection), one would use the singular of the noun and verb, as in "point five five mile." But one would say "one point five five miles" because 1.55 is more than one and therefore plural. As for 5, if I say, "Rowlings can't write," it doesn't matter whether there are fourteen scientific studies that conclude the same. It is still my opinion. (This is hypothetical, since I haven't read any HP books, and now probably never will.) And even if I choose not to site the studies in defense of it, I find it ridiculous for anyone to suggest that I am trying to express HIS, HER or anyone else's opinion rather than my own. I really don't see how any statement can be anything other than subjective. It's not as if I can speak from your point of view, can I? However accurate my imagination of what it is like to see the world from your point of view, I can't actually do so. Otherwise, I would be you. So every time I get a tart, "That's your opinion" in response to a statement, as if I were somehow capable of performing opinion transplants, I always reply, "of course, who else's opinion would I be expressing?"

david.white
david.white

Sorry, couldn't resist it. (I actually saw one of Tescos stickers with that message on the Gents door in our branch. What were they thinking? A pet hate of mine is when people say "I'm fed up of ..." It's WITH, it's WITH.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In keeping with all things Microsoft, the autocorrect function adds all kinds of meta-junk.

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

I cheat. I just use google to find the word punctuated the way it's supposed to be then simply copy and paste it into a reply. So far it's worked everytime.

qbit9
qbit9

Dogs have paws, not feet.

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

Ok. I'm laughing at myself for replying to something that was so tedious to read. 'Twasn't funny either.

qbit9
qbit9

One should always keep more strongly related sentence fragments together. Thus "Here are some of the mistakes that COULD GET YOU in trouble, if you commit them during an interview or on your résumé." Now, let's see if I managed to get the e-grave encoding correct.

neilb
neilb

And, I would like to add my support for your point. :D

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Great catch. I think I was in caffeine low mode when I posted. :D

perry_awm
perry_awm

...and then writing "homonyms" instead of "homophone". Sorry. Couldn't resist. ;-)

qbit9
qbit9

lol, I stand corrected.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]And even if I choose not to site the studies in defense of it...[/i] site http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/site ?noun ... ?verb (used with object) 4. to place in or provide with a site; locate. 5. to put in position for operation, as artillery: to site a cannon. cite http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cite ?verb (used with object), cit?ed, cit?ing. 1. to quote (a passage, book, author, etc.), esp. as an authority: He cited the Constitution in his defense. 2. to mention in support, proof, or confirmation; refer to as an example: He cited many instances of abuse of power. 3. to summon officially or authoritatively to appear in court. 4. to call to mind; recall: citing my gratitude to him. 5. Military. to mention (a soldier, unit, etc.) in orders, as for gallantry. 6. to commend, as for outstanding service, hard work, or devotion to duty. 7. to summon or call; rouse to action. Nothing like putting forth your own grammar rules and knot getting the homonyms write.

OnTheRopes
OnTheRopes

That's a load off of my mind. Thank you.

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