How using proper grammar increases your chances of success
During one of his weekly radio shows, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested that “Kids have to learn to speak grammar.” An ironic slip of the tongue, no doubt, but Bloomberg’s grammar gaffe requires us to make an important distinction. We can all “speak grammar”—that is, almost all of us begin to put sentences together starting at an early age. But what we don’t all do, and what is becoming increasingly important, is speak using proper grammar. Let’s look at why speaking with proper grammar is important and when not doing so can hurt you. Then we’ll review common grammar mistakes and how to fix them.
Why is it important to speak grammatically?
Knowing the rules of English grammar helps us to comprehend what makes words interesting and understandable to our audience, whether you’re talking to a friend at school or to a hiring manager through your cover letter. When you speak with proper grammar, not only will others be interested in and able to understand what you have to say, but they also will be much more likely to see you as intelligent, logical, and educated. Fair and accurate or not, people make snap judgments about others for all kinds of reasons, from their hairstyles to their clothing to the way they speak. If you do not speak using proper grammar, others may judge you negatively or fail to take you seriously.
Of course, there is a time and place for casual or colloquial language. The way you talk to your family or close friends, for example, is often quite different from the way you speak to the rest of the world. This is okay, even perfectly normal. Speaking with proper grammar is always a good choice, but it is especially important in these specific situations:
- First impressions
- Dealing with authority
- Whenever you may be misunderstood
When can poor grammar hurt you?
Not only will poor grammar earn you a less than desirable grade in your education, but it can also affect your job opportunities. Hiring managers across the country cite poor grammar as a reason for not considering a prospective job applicant. For example, people who repeatedly confuse “they’re,” “there,” and “their” may not have the attention to detail required to complete a specific task. Learning English grammar is extremely important to help ensure you land that next gig.
Additionally, while your work responsibilities may be unrelated to writing, it is almost impossible to avoid written communication while on the job. Email is a medium in which poor grammar skills may affect your professional reputation and even your credibility.
To assess your level of language proficiency, ask yourself whether you can communicate your instructions clearly, particularly in writing. Would people feel comfortable following your lead? Would they complete each step accurately? Is there a potential for missing important details?
Unfortunately, the use of poor grammar is very common, so common that even teachers are often unfamiliar with proper English-language construction. It is important for everyone to understand proper grammar because it is the foundation of language and ensures clear communication.
Common Grammar Mistakes
Below are some of the most widely abused grammar errors and some tips on how to avoid them:
“Your” is a possessive pronoun, as in, “Your dog is big.”
“You’re” is a contraction meaning “you are,” as in “I think you’re correct.”
“There” is an adverb indicating location, as in “Look over there.”
“They’re” is a contraction meaning “they are,” as in “They’re not coming.”
“Their” indicates plural possession, as in “Their new car is red.”
The trick to choosing the proper word is in employing “that” when dealing with a restrictive clause (which restricts the meaning of the subject and does not take a comma) and using “which” when dealing with a nonrestrictive clause (takes a comma).
“The family went to the park that was near their home.” (Restrictive)
“The family went to the park, which was near their home.” (Nonrestrictive)
In the above cases, the restrictive sentence indicates the family went to the only park that was near their home. In the nonrestrictive sentence, the family went to a park that happened to be near their home.
“It’s” is a conjunction meaning “it is,” as in “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
“Its” is a possessive pronoun, as in “The ferry is on its way across the river.”
This error is easily avoidable by following one rule: “affect” takes the form of the verb, while “effect” most often takes the form of the noun, as in “The negative effects of the storm have affected my health.”
There are only two reasons to use an apostrophe: (1) to indicate possession and (2) to form a conjunction.
(1) That dog is Sarah’s new pet.
(2) We’re not done yet.
A participle is a verb used as an adjective. Present participles end in “-ing,” and past participles end in “-ed.” A dangling participle is a participle or participial phrase that does not have a clear referent.
“Flying through the sky, I saw a flock of seagulls.”
In the above case, the sentence is incorrect because the subject (I) was not modified by the participle (flying). A better sentence would say, “Flying through the sky, a flock of seagulls caught my eye.”
Often, multiple verbs in a sentence can cause confusion, even for native English speakers. Be sure to keep consistency in terms of your verb tenses. Instead of “The boy caught the ball and then throws it to second base,” write, “The boy caught the ball and then threw it to second base.”
In grammar, parallelism is when similar words, phrases, or clauses are balanced. For example, when making comparisons using “than” or “as,” be sure to compare them logically. Instead of “The students from Harvard are much smarter than Yale,” write, “The students from Harvard are much smarter than the students from Yale.”
These tips will undoubtedly help you with your written and spoken English, but you may benefit from additional online grammar courses to help you learn English grammar in more detail.