How To Avoid ‘low grades, lost employment opportunities, lost business, titters of amusement at the way you write or speak’

English - letters being held up by various peopleWho determines what passes for standard use of the English language these days? Who determines what constitutes an error?

Paul Brians, Emeritus Professor of English at Washington State University, addresses what he considers Common Errors in English Usage online and in a book by the same name.

As a ruthless editor, I share his attitude about the complexity of English and why we all should care about “proper” use of language and punctuation.

From Prof. Brians:

What is an error in English?
The concept of language errors is a fuzzy one. I’ll leave to linguists the technical definitions. Here we’re concerned only with deviations from the standard use of English as judged by sophisticated users such as professional writers, editors, teachers, and literate executives and personnel officers. The aim of this site is to help you avoid low grades, lost employment opportunities, lost business, and titters of amusement at the way you write or speak.

But isn’t one person’s mistake another’s standard usage?
Often enough, but if your standard usage causes other people to consider you stupid or ignorant, you may want to consider changing it. You have the right to express yourself in any manner you please, but if you wish to communicate effectively, you should use nonstandard English only when you intend to, rather than fall into it because you don’t know any better.

Prof. Brians conveys more directly than I would (“others might consider you stupid or ignorant,” he writes) why standards matter when it comes to language — and punctuation, I might add.

But his approach is valid, and it is why I care about standard usage and why I offer FREE GRAMMAR TIPS in a weekly blog and a monthly column.

I don’t want you to embarrass yourself, to lose out on being considered for a new job or a promotion, to have people think less of you because the way you use language betrays your true intelligence, capabilities and worth.

Yes, grammar still matters.

I invite you to drop by my blog regularly to polish your prose and spiff up your speaking.

And sign up (upper right corner of this page) for my FREE monthly columns. Join others who watch their inbox for a link to a new column, along with a short list of links to recent blogs.

Sign up already! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Like it? Share it!

Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)