Grammar has always been a prickly subject: some of us are religiously devoted to the rules while others feel it’s a complete waste of time. It is important to highlight that grammar is a significant part of a language and communication, and not something only needed in the classroom. It is well known that grammatical errors on a job application can be the sole reason for the swift and unguilty deletion of your cover letter and CV. According to Business Insider, ‘Human Resources and Management have shown that 45% of employers plan to increase training for grammar and other language skills (meaning they’re unhappy with the levels now)’.
So if you thought all those hours spent at school pondering over the use of an apostrophe or the mystical semi-colon are behind you, you are unfortunately mistaken. [Even now, I am rewriting sentences and anxiously checking over my punctuation marks for fear of writing a rather hypocritical blog piece.] Here are some of the most common grammatical errors found in the workplace:
* ‘Who’ versus ‘Whom’
What is the difference? You always use ‘who’ instead of the subject of the verb and ‘whom’ instead of the object of the verb. In the sentence, ‘Lucy ate Shirley’, Lucy is the subject (she is doing the action) and Shirley is the object (she is having the action done to her). So, we would say: ‘Who ate Shirley?’ (‘who’ is standing in for ‘Lucy’, the subject of the verb); or indeed, ‘Lucy ate whom?’ (where ‘whom’ is standing in for ‘Shirley’, the object of the verb). If you are ever stuck, take a step back and consider who is doing what to whom.
* ‘It’s’ versus ‘Its’
Apostrophes often symbolize possession: “I took Holly’s book” meaning I took the book which belongs to Holly.
Apostrophes can also represent contractions of words (making them smaller): “I don’t like it” meaning “I do not like it”. “It’s Maciej’s computer”: the ‘s is the contraction of the verb ‘is’.
However the word ‘its’ in its entirety (without the apostrophe) is a possessive pronoun just like ‘his’ or ‘her’ but for neutral things or objects. For example: ‘This is an expensive camera but its lens is very good.” (‘its’ stands for ‘of the camera’) or again ‘The dog was wagging its tail’ (the tail belongs to the dog).
* ‘Me’, ‘Myself’ and ‘I’
So, when do you use ‘me’, ‘myself’ and ‘I’?
‘I’ will always be the subject of a sentence, and ‘me’ will always be the object of a sentence. For example ‘I am really good at maths’ and ‘Are you talking to me?’ It is very common to hear people say ‘Kate and me went to the party’, but as ‘me’ is the subject (along with Kate), it should be ‘I’.
‘Myself’ should only be used when you do an action to yourself – for example, ‘I hit myself on the corner of the table’. Don’t make the same mistake as the Apprentice candidates: when Lord Sugar asks who was the Project Manager and they respond, ‘It was myself, Lord Sugar’, they should be fired! They should say ‘It was I, Lord Sugar’.
* ‘Fewer’ versus ‘Less’
The word ‘fewer’ should only be used when you are discussing objects that you can count, for example, ‘Nicole ate fewer biscuits than Maciej’ (biscuits are countable).
‘Less’, however, should be used when talking about nouns that you can’t divide or count such as time, light, money, value, character…For example, ‘Our office is less luminous today’ or ‘Lucy, those biscuits are horrible, you need less sugar and fewer raisins.’
* ‘Either’ versus ‘Neither’
‘Either’ is always paired with ‘or’ and is seen in affirmative sentences whilst ‘neither’ is always paired with ‘nor’ and is part of negative sentences.
For example: ‘It could be either Nicole or Holly who answers the phone’ but ‘Neither Maciej nor Shirley will do the shopping’.
How important do you think grammar is outside the classroom?