Are you a user of the grocer’s apostrophe, do you write ‘your’ when you mean ‘you’re’, ‘could of’ instead of ‘could have’, and do you construct entire emails without commas, full stops or capital letters?
If so, you may be damaging your career prospects. Criticism of literacy standards comes from educational bodies, literacy experts and business employers, who believe that bad grammar, spelling and punctuation, mean bad business.
Why? They believe that if you can’t spell accurately, punctuate correctly or construct a sentence grammatically, if you can’t communicate information effectively or produce business-like correspondence, you are not properly equipped with the skills required to be employable, particularly for post-graduate jobs.
Bad grammar is either anathema or a matter of disinterest, so faux pas like the ones below may go unnoticed, or, they could make a boss weep:
The most frequently seen punctuation gaffe is the grocer’s apostrophe which pops up routinely in bog-standard plurals – orange’s, apple’s, onion’s etc, or ‘pine range’s, table set’s, sofa’s, bed’s’, and even, ‘lot’s more’.
In 2014, Tesco, the supermarket giant, won The Idler Academy Bad Grammar Awards with the double superlative gem, ‘most tastiest’, when describing its own-brand orange juice, while a council road sign warning ‘slow children crossing’ left some drivers on the look-out for uncharacteristically slow-moving children and others looking for the much-needed comma.
There are plenty of people who don’t mind these howlers; as Charlie Higson, comedian and author, says in The Guardian newspaper:
“People all round the world, and for thousands upon thousands of years, have been using language to communicate perfectly well without needing to be told how to do it by a bunch of grammar Nazis who think that the way they talk and write is the correct, unchanging way.”
Newspaper columnist and sketch writer for the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts, disagrees:
“Grammar is the coat hanger on which language can hang.”
“Grammar is not just about grammar: it is also about logic and intellectual rigour. We need those skills if our country is to compete with the likes of China, India, Russia and Brazil.”
Bad language in the workplace
Business leaders argue that badly written correspondence, reports and other communications in the workplace can affect the credibility not only of the writer, but of the company as well. These blunders can also detract from the message and in the worst cases, can change the meaning. In short, bad grammar damages productivity, the remedial training required costs money, and both put a dent in profits.
2012 figures from a CBI survey (Confederation of British Industry), which involved 542 employers who collectively employ about 1.6 million people, and a 2015 UKCES (UK Commission for Employment and Skills) survey, indicate how discontent employers are with the spelling, punctuation and grammar of school, college and university leavers.
John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:
“It’s alarming that a significant number of employers have concerns about the basic skills of school and college leavers. Companies do not expect them to produce ‘job-ready’ young people, but having a solid foundation in basic skills, such as literacy and numeracy, is fundamental for work.”
Those accused of being ‘lefties’ or simply lazy, counter-attack the guardians of grammar, complaining that they are elitist pedants. Both sides, however, would no doubt agree that the English language is evolving all the time, especially with the prevalence of texting, emailing and tweeting, so Americanisms creep in, spellings change, new words emerge, shortened word formations are used and punctuation is abandoned. The trouble is that, all too often, youngsters who are used to writing social media-speak, are left with depleted literacy skills and struggling to write formally.
Horrified by a suggestion made by a private school teacher that English lessons should be scrapped because they are damaging pupils’ language skills, Chris McGovern, a former private school head teacher and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper:
“It is nonsense. Stuff like this has had a seductive appeal to trendy teachers for decades and it simply doesn’t work.
“We don’t give children the building blocks of the English language by doing less of it and hoping they learn by osmosis. It needs to be taught in a systematic way.”
Being too strict over grammar can stifle creativity and not all jobs require experts at written communication, nor does bad grammar necessarily indicate sloppiness, lack of education or poor intelligence, but few people would argue that the English language should be respected and, if written well, is beautiful.