3 Ways Bad Grammar Hurts Your Career

Gramatical errors don’t just jar editors and sticklers for the rules. They chip away at your credibility, your ability to communicate effectively and can, ultimately, damage your career. Here are a few reasons to proofread extra carefully at work:

6943661159_b3ba39ae9a_z1. People who use bad grammar are less likely to be hired. A mistake on your resume, letter or even LinkedIn profile cause many employers to believe that you cannot represent yourself well in writing and pay little attention to detail. Employers are very unlikely to trust someone like this, even if the position requires no writing. Check out this HBR article for one employer’s perspective.

2. Your good ideas and hard work become clouded. When readers see that you don’t know the difference between “affected” and “effected,” they are less likely to buy into your new idea or respect the work you put into a project. Small grammatical mistakes weaken your message, no matter how powerful, curtailing your achievements and progress.

3. Poor grammar compromises your professionalism. Using bad grammar in an email or conversation can make your colleagues think that you aren’t serious about your work. It can also cause them to notice or, worse, seek out your other bad habits. Become more self-aware of the language you choose when speaking and writing—it can be friendly and informal, while also grammatically correct and professional.


Common Confusion: Assure, Ensure & Insure


Insurance (Photo credit: Christopher S. Penn)

The verbs assure, ensure and insure have the same general meaning–to make certain or more secure–but but are used in very different contexts.

  • Assure is something you do to a person or people to ease doubt or anxiety. Example: When we left the neighborhood, my wife assured me I closed the garage door.
  • Ensure is something you do to guarantee the security of an event or condition. Example: Our boss wants to continue trimming costs this quarter to ensure we meet our yearly profit projections.
  • Insure can be done to a person or thing to limit financial liability and loss. It’s most commonly used in terms of insurance. Example: The event space requires that we hire a fully-insured catering company.

Common Confusion: All together & Altogether

One common mistake business writers make is confusing all together with altogether.

Altogether (one word) is an adverb, meaning “completely” or “all in all.” On the other hand, all together (two words) is a phrase meaning “in a group” and can refer to people or things. An easy way to keep these straight is to remember that when you use the phrase all together, you can also use the words all and together separately in the sentence.


  • Please send your 2011 reports all together to my assistant. (In this case, all together refers to a group of things and you could use the words all and together separately, such as “Please send all your 2011 reports together to my assistant.”)
  • We are excited to have lunch all together today. (In this case, all together refers to a group of people.)
  • I see this approach as altogether too time-consuming. (In this case, altogether means entirely or completely.)
  • This vendor’s price estimate for all aspects of the project sums to $3,000 altogether. (In this case, altogether means all in all.)

Common Confusion: i.e. & e.g.

With the help of two little Latin abbreviations, business writing can be smoother, clearer and more successful, especially when detailing lists.

I.e. and e.g. are, however, easy to mistake for one another and use incorrectly. Do you know the difference?

  • The abbreviation i.e. derives from the Latin phrase id est, meaning that is or in other words.
  • E.g. derives from exempli gratia, meaning for example.

3 rules to keep in mind: (1) When writing, American English prefers the use of a comma after the abbreviation, while British English does not. (2) These abbreviations are usually enclosed within parentheses, since they denote a secondary clause. (3) Since these Latin abbreviations have become common English phrases, there’s no need to italicize them. Take a look at these examples:

  • The updated filtration system removes more particulate matter (e.g., dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander) than any other model currently available.
  • GreenClean 1900 (i.e., the air filter developed in 2011) removes more particulate matter than any other model currently available.

Now it’s your turn. Determine the right abbreviation for these sentences: 

  • Going beyond the Golden Rule (___, do unto others as you would have them do unto you), inter-cultural competency training teaches employees to learn how the other person wants to be treated, and treat them accordingly.
  • Our department prefers more frequent, informal engagement initiatives (___, lunchtime book discussions, question-and-answer sessions over coffee, afternoon walk club) over weekend retreats.

How do you remember the difference between i.e. and e.g.? What other abbreviations or words do you frequently confuse with one another?

Who, Whom, That & Which

Who, whom, that and which are all relative pronouns — they link one phrase or clause to another. Unfortunately, they are easy to mix up. When you’re unsure, you can often “hear” the correct pronoun by reading the sentence out loud. However, if this doesn’t work, you have to take a closer look at the rules.

Rule 1: Who and whom refer to people. That and which refer to groups of things.

  • Wrong: Karen is the one that finished the report.
  • Right: Karen is the one who finished the report.

Rule 2: Use whom when referring to the object and use who when referring to the subject of a sentence.

  • Wrong: Whom wrote this email?
  • Right: Who wrote this email? (The subject performed this action, so this sentence requires a subject pronoun.)
  • Wrong: Who did you invite to the lunch?
  • Right: Whom did you invite to the lunch? (The object received this action, so the sentence requires an object pronoun.)

Rule 3: That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.

  • Wrong: We do not completely believe his claims which indicate a total economic recovery in three months.
  • Right: We do not completely believe his claims that indicate a total economic recovery in three months. (This is an essential clause.)
  • Right: We do not complete believe his claims, which indicate a total economic recovery will take place in three months. (The second clause is nonessential.)

Rule 4: Whoever, whomever and whichever are compounds, and should follow the same rules as other relative pronouns.

  • Right: I will examine whichever report arrives first.
  • Right: Whoever designed this presentation is very talented.

With practice, it becomes easier to determine the correct pronoun to use, making your writing clearer and more effective.