Grammar is not as outdated an institution as you might think. Just because many people might not hold much stock in it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to good grammar. It might just make the difference between getting hired or promoted and being overlooked.
The way you use language is part of your presentation. Make sure you’re making the right impression by avoiding these nine common mistakes:
1. “Fewer” vs. “Less”
You only use less when you’re talking about concepts, rather than countable things. “I want to be under less stress this year,” is fine, but be careful. “I want to take on less clients” is incorrect. You want to take on fewer clients.
SEE ALSO: Ban These 15 Words From Your Writing
2. “It’s” and “its”
The most embarrassing. Remember it’s is a contraction for “it is,” much like “can’t” for is a contraction for “cannot.” The apostrophe is holding the place of the missing letter. Its is a possessive term. The cat ate its dinner.
If you’re having a hard time, try to never use the contraction version it’s and just make a habit of always spelling out “it is” instead.
3. Dangling modifiers
This is a toughie. Just try to remember that what comes after a comma usually describes the clause immediately before it. “Smelling like a wet dog, I removed my sweater.” That’s you smelling like a wet dog, when you meant to say the sweater smelled. Try instead, “I removed my sweater, which smelled like a wet dog.”
4. “Who” vs “Whom”
An easy rule to remember—simply try completing the sentence in your head. “For whom are the flowers?” (“The flowers are for him.”) “Whom did you ask to the prom?” (“I asked her to the prom.”) You wouldn’t say “I asked she to the prom,” would you? But you would say, “Who did that?” (She or he did it.)
5. Me, Myself & I
Myself is a reflexive pronoun. Use it only when you’ve already referred to yourself earlier in the sentence. “I made myself a sandwich” is okay, but “My mom and myself made a cake” is not. That would be “My mom and I made a cake.” And careful with me and I, as well. “My mom and me” did not make a cake, but “My dad is taking my mom and me to the park” works great.
6. “Lie” vs “Lay”
You’re not “going to lay down.” Lay always requires an object. You lay a book on the coffee table, but you lie down. Careful though, because lay is also the past tense of lie. So you “lay down on the couch yesterday” though you will “lie on it” today. The past tense of lay, for reference, is “laid.”
7. Irregular verbs
These sneak in all the time. For example, lended and upseted are not words (it’s left and upset). English is tricky that way. Especially with terminology in your career, be careful to be precise and not make these errors. A quick Google can usually sort you out if you’re in doubt.
8. “Nor” vs “or”
Only use nor when you’re already expressing a negative. “Neither my boss nor I understood the memo.” Or “my boss didn’t understand the memo—nor did I.” Otherwise, use or.
9. “Then” vs “than”
Just assume hiring managers will shred your resume on sight if you commit this sin. Remember, than is comparative: “I would rather be a hammer than a nail.” Then tells time: “We did this, then that.”