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.


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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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.

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