The top 5 grammar errors that make you (and your company) look bad

What are the most embarrassing workplace mishaps? Not being fully dressed on Zoom? Unexpected cameos from family members? Forgetting a colleague’s name? When it comes to employee reputation, nothing is as damaging as a glaring grammatical error in a work email or memo.

What’s the worst grammar mistake you can make at work?

Recently, researchers at TIDIO polled 1,839 participants to determine which errors have the potential to leave the worst impression on colleagues.

“In the digital space, where written text dominates, common grammar mistakes can profoundly influence your image,” the authors wrote in the survey. “People perceive those making grammar mistakes as ‘lazy’ or ‘uneducated,’ especially in the professional setting.”

Just over 95% of all the respondents polled agreed that grammar mistakes can heavily influence the perception of a person and 97.2% said the same about the image of a company.

Yet only 2.8% of the 1,700 participants who claimed to be attentive to grammar rules were actually able to identify grammar errors provided by the researchers. That’s a major disconnect.

The majority of respondents simultaneously suggest that bad grammar is an indictment of one’s intellect but also demonstrate poor grammar skills themselves.

Which generation has the worst grammar?

Millennials and Gen Zers appeared to boast the most confidence in their grammatical prowess compared to the rest of the survey group. Funnily enough, the word “Millennial” was one of the most common misspellings.

Below are the top five grammatical errors that the survey pool found to be the most damning.

  1. Their vs. They’re
  2. Your vs. You’re
  3. Less vs. Fewer
  4. Then vs. Than
  5. ie vs. ei as in weird

Double consonants, misplaced commas, and clunky phrasing were some of the others errors in TIDIO’s research.

What poor grammar says about you

Broadly speaking, the respondents viewed a colleague who used poor grammar as less intelligent than their peers. However, there were nuances associated with the kind of errors made.

For instance, those who used “their” instead of “there,” were more commonly viewed as careless (53.1%), uneducated (22.4%), and or incompetent (20.7%). While the incorrect use of “you’re” was associated with clumsiness.

Respondents were more charitable about the remaining grammatical errors that rounded out the top five.

Infographic showing stats on which aspects of a person's image are most influenced by grammar usage
Source: TIDIO

Many of the respondents agree that saying less sometimes is more phonetically pleasing than saying fewer—even in instances where fewer is the correct word. A majority were more likely to view a person who incorrectly used than instead of then as someone in a rush as opposed to someone of low intelligence.

Similarly, only 10% of the study sample were willing to identify a colleague who misspelled weird as incompetent. This stands to reason considering it’s one of the most frequently misspelled words in the English language.

An additional 51.8% of respondents said that grammar mistakes can ruin a company’s professional image.

“A visit to your company’s landing page is usually the first interaction a prospective customer will have with your brand,” the authors added. “If the landing page they are visiting is full of grammar and spelling errors, they may simply doubt whether you are to be trusted.”

Grammar complainers may be the worst

So who displays low intelligence? Data suggests that people who routinely point out grammatical errors are more often of low intelligence.

In a recently published PLoS one study, participants who said that grammatical errors really bother them were more likely to make them on assessments administered by the researchers.

The Dunning-Kruger effect, which defines intellectually arrogant individuals who are unaware of their own blind spots, could be at play here.

Having said that, proficient grammar does appear to advertise competence and discipline to your colleagues. Even respondents in TIDIO’s report who took grammar very seriously preferred adjectives like “careless” and “clumsy” for most of the featured grammatical mistakes over words like “stupid” or “uneducated.”

“It’s doubtful that correct usage of grammar directly correlates with a person’s level of intelligence. However, this bias is still present, especially in the professional world,” the authors concluded.