Great grammar is so past tense

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October 03, 2014

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Here at Moneypenny we are on something of a mission to promote the English language and the proper use of punctuation. We are on the lookout for spelling and grammatical howlers, and every month will be sharing a new finding. Here, Debbie Barton, head of PR for Moneypenny, shares her thoughts on the importance of grammar:

I know – I’m off again, banging on about the poor old English language and its flagrant misuse and abuse. Believe me I’m far from perfect and we’re not grammar experts by a long chalk, but some basic mistakes have crept in to everyday parlance that drive me crazy and now threaten to become the norm.

I have two main culprits in mind this time: the double negative and the apparent loss of the past tense. There are huge regional differences admittedly, so for some this may not be a big deal, but to take the double negative first, we only have to turn the radio on for one example after another and they aren’t recent additions:

The Rolling Stones: ‘I can’t get no satisfaction,’ Pink Floyd: ‘We don’t need no education,’ Bill Withers: ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, Marvin Gaye: ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough.’ I am sure you will think of others. It’s a long list.

In everyday conversation we understand what people mean when they say they ‘don’t know nothing’ about this or that they’re ‘not going nowhere’ on holiday, they ‘haven’t got no’ whatever it is, but surely it’s so much easier to say it the right way round. If I say ‘two negatives make a positive’ one more time I am in danger of boring myself, let alone those around me, and agreed, the songs just wouldn’t be the same if they were grammatically correct!

And so to the past tense – where did it go? Everyday statements of activities that have already happened can become a confusing mixture of entangled statements, tied in with present tense commands, for example, ‘Mary come out of school’ on its own sounds like a request, whether it is meant that way or not. ‘Mary come out of school on time yesterday, she done well in her maths test’ is where the problems start.

I’m not suggesting that we all need to suddenly dive into the Oxford Dictionary or the A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation, but many employers these days simply won’t hire people with poor grammar skills; even insisting on a language test in some instances, for applicants to make the grade.

As businesses we have to try hard to get things right grammatically, while recognising and accepting that we don’t know everything and will inevitably make mistakes. The way we speak, write and communicate in general says a lot about us as individuals and as businesses; shaping how others perceive us. So while we need to be mindful in our day-to-day spoken and written vernacular, we also need to take the time to check we have our business communications right.

Research conducted by a global translation and transcription company polled 1,029 UK adults to ask them about their online purchasing and browsing habits. Those taking part were asked whether or not they tended to notice the quality of spelling or grammar on a company’s website – 74 per cent said yes.

When asked whether bad grammar or obvious spelling errors would stop them buying from the website, 59 per cent said it would, with the majority claiming that they ‘wouldn’t trust’ the company to provide a good quality service. Others said they would be put off as it showed a lack of care, or would consider the company to be unprofessional.

So, on every level, good grammar makes sense.

If you spot any grammar gaffes we’d love to see them. Tweet us @Moneypenny with the hashtag #grammargaffes