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Certain employers say it’s important to them that their workers exhibit good grammar. But is bad grammar a valid reason to bar someone from a job?

Recently, in the Harvard Business Review, Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit and founder of Dozuki, wrote an article called “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar.” In the article, Wiens argues that it is important to take into account an applicant’s grammatical abilities, regardless of the job they are applying for. Wiens says, “I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing—like stocking shelves or labeling parts.”

In other words, Wiens believes that people who are diligent about their grammar tend to be diligent about everything they do. But is good grammar really an indicator of concentration and care?

In an essay for the New York Times, John McWhorter argued against Wiens’ claim that grammar is essential in the workplace. McWhorter said that grammar is not indicative of intelligence or attention to detail but rather a product of one’s education and upbringing. As a result, McWhorter says, those from disadvantaged communities are disproportionately excluded from jobs because of grammar: “Anyone concerned about applicants’ grammar is probably dismayed at the state of public education today, and understands that the people most poorly served by this system find it increasingly challenging to find work providing a living wage or upward mobility, much less satisfaction.” In other words, very intelligent people may be barred from jobs because they grew up in a community that did not provide them with the resources to learn traditional grammar as well as those who grew up in more privileged communities.

Beyond this, McWhorter argues that, for many professions, grammar is not an essential skill. For example, does a computer programmer need to know the difference between “discreet” and “discrete?” Does an X-ray technician need worry about split infinitives? Obviously grammar is important for jobs where one is writing prose, but McWhorter suggests, it may not be that important for every job.

So, which is it: is grammar really necessary for every profession, or is it an irrelevant measurement of one’s efficacy in the workplace?

168 Comments

  1. Doug -  April 4, 2014 - 1:50 pm

    While most of the philosophies and perspectives regarding the importance on grammar are strong, and hold their own truth, I am acquainted with many linguistic folks, who enjoy conversation with others who are also grammatically inclined, however, some of these folks use exquisite profanity, nonetheless. Such profanity users – disliked by me greatly – who are such grammatical wizards, are the real “people” who are out there. And, while their use of profanity can be compared to those who are “less intelligent” is equally as inaccurate as saying that those who utter poor grammar are not equipped, cognitively, to handle repairing an engine, or create and repair corporate databases, called Database Administrators and developers. There are folks who are simply fabulous at what they do, and either speak English poorly, or use profanity…or both. It is truly an Elitist attitude who ignores a person’s wizardry in certain areas, because of the fact that they don’ wanna be like dem otha folks around ‘em.

    Reply
    • Doug -  April 4, 2014 - 2:01 pm

      In addition to my most recent post, I am replying to it, to add that I am a business owner. I own four businesses. One of them is lawn care, and another is website development. I will hire someone if they can do the job well, and perhaps exceed my expectations within their capacity’s responsibilities. If they use improper grammar, they are still fantastic employees, because they complete their tasks ahead of schedule, they are always on time, and they are fun to be around. They are wizards in their positions with my companies. If they prefer less than “pure grammatical and textual excellence, they might be the wizards who build your next website or mow your lawn! No complaints from any customers of mine in 15 years!

      Reply
  2. Robert -  April 2, 2014 - 11:37 am

    I look up quotes, Alexander Pope, probably one of the best essayist of all time. Abraham Lincoln the Gettysburg address 2 mins. long is so elegant it is like prose. He was a simple man from dirt roots a family that never came to any worth. A wife who was to say at “best” his worst enemy and even some called her a embezzler. Longfellow a fellow Mainer, Keats, and many luminaries’ are only used a few times.
    The Oxford dictionary the first time I seen it in a library I fell in love what a wonderful book. I would like to see a Quotes using Greek , scholars. Hebrew orator.
    .

    Reply
  3. c'mon! -  March 31, 2014 - 8:08 pm

    Many people aren’t aware that they may have grammar issues. If no one ever correct students in school, then how will they know that they are wrong?

    Reply
  4. Lon -  March 20, 2014 - 7:54 am

    I agree that grammar should be taken into account by employers but employers should also take into account that not everyone is born to be a grammarian. There are people who are very fluent in grammar but in terms of dexterity in practical works, they are worthless.

    There are people, though very poor in grammar but send them to practical works, they would astonish you.

    I think, employees should not be denied employments based on their grammar level because our present society should not count on who can speak well rather on who can do it well.

    Reply
  5. plain and simple -  March 17, 2014 - 4:54 am

    I would rather hire someone who has an honest heart, filled with integrity; humble, meek and have the love of god is their hearts, mind and soul: The love for their neighbors: Who can build relationships and see peoples’ divine essence in their souls. We are coming a global community with various cultural; We have one essence in common, we are all God’s Children..
    Thus:
    !st Book of Samuel: But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.

    Matthew: 5: 3-9
    Beatitudes

    3 Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who bcome unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    4 And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

    5 And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the bearth.

    6 And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be dfilled with the Holy Ghost.

    7 And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

    8 And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

    9 And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

    Matthew 7:1-2

    1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

    Reply
  6. Jim -  March 15, 2014 - 8:44 pm

    The liberals strongly pushed for equal, integrated schools so all children would receive the same education and now they can’t accept the fact that those opportunities to learn are not appreciated by all students — hence the use of poor grammar in oral and written communication, can’t determine the net cost of a 20% discount in their head, historical facts and the timeline of events, etc. Schools, even rural schools, have the programs for all children with different and diverse learning abilities; so there really is no excuse for not accepting the challenge of a good education for success on the job when it is offered.

    Reply
  7. Naomi -  November 18, 2013 - 1:55 am

    Bravo, Mr. Jay.

    I once had an older colleague come to me privately and beg me to explain the difference between “than” and “then.” I can’t imagine how he could clearly formulate a single expression using these two extremely important words without knowing this difference.

    Reply
  8. T Srinivasachari -  April 4, 2013 - 4:20 pm

    Knowledge of minimum Grammar is important as that would tell the Employer what kind of personality he would be hiring for the job.Whatever the job any writer when he writes must be conscious of the fact that he writes error free and make the other people understand the writers mind.

    Reply
  9. Bernie Hughes -  March 17, 2013 - 3:51 pm

    When I was in Teachers College 1956-60 I said something to the instructor. Unfortunately I phrased my sentence improperly. The teacher jumped on me mercilessly and belabored the point. I lost all respect for that teacher and 57 years later I cannot forget.

    Reply
  10. marcelo -  February 1, 2013 - 9:22 am

    Excuse me… but who signs the article? Maybe I’m too old already… in my days it would be expected for the author to sign their articles.
    Who’s “Hot Word”?

    Reply
  11. Firisa -  January 22, 2013 - 6:49 am

    (many) mechanics have bad grammar. But they are very smarticle. They understand some machines that I could not ever dream of understanding. They have bad grammar, but they still get hired.

    Reply
  12. Dr Jay -  January 9, 2013 - 12:00 pm

    Of course, grammar IS important in the workplace! Whether facing clients or walking down the corridor for a client to overhear, and even outside the office, on a business trip, at a conference, or whatever the situation, you represent the company you work for and your abilities and skills (or lack thereof) reflect on your employer.

    Therefore, if an employee is grammatically illiterate…

    (as are most Americans, who ALL make simple errors DAILY which make my ears bleed, such as “different than” (it’s different FROM), “I sing good” (if you said the equivalent in French or Italian, you would sound stupider than a child), “I feel well” (I’m so glad your fingers and sense of touch are in functioning order but is really relevant?), “I wish I knew, then I wouldn’t have done it” (look up CORRECT uses of the conditional tense)…

    then, that grammatically-dysfunctional employee reflects poorly on the company, giving the impression that the entire workforce must be made up of uneducated illiterate morons. In my assumption, such an assumption is at least more valid than the American belief that a social pot smoker who tokes at the weekend somehow impedes upon productivity and harms the company during the week (the notion behind American drug urinalyses, which would be unthinkable in Europe since it is none of your employers’ business what you may be doing in your personal time and if they can’t tell that you’re high AT work, then how much can it really be affecting your performance).

    Sounding like an uneducated goof AT WORK is unacceptable and I would not hire employees who could not express themselves correctly in their own native tongue. It has NOTHING to do with bad education; if anything, it’s bad parenting and an underprivileged home life, since these people are less likely to be learning to speak poorly from their teachers than from their friends, family and neighbours!

    Reply
  13. Jojo -  December 23, 2012 - 1:39 pm

    I am a college student, an engineering student, I was raised in poverty and in a small town of 1,000 people in Louisiana. I really want to get into business in the future and want to know how to get better at grammer, because I speak poorly and am often corrected.

    Reply
  14. SJH -  November 1, 2012 - 10:25 am

    Well of course! Nobody wouldn’t understand you if you didn’t. Someone who is lazy enough to write in txting language is not good enough for a job who requires correct grammar. teenagers text these silly words that aren’t even words like ppl lol brb ttyl g2g bff bf gf etc. Once you get in the habit you start writing it on school work. I know several people who have done that including myself. I just sometimes write that because it saves time, even though it shows that you are lazy. :) I have my moments, but I’m a hard worker. :)

    Reply
  15. Kayla -  October 22, 2012 - 8:11 pm

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I am very particular about grammar and definitely wouldn’t hire someone who inserted “ain’t” into his or her speech regularly.

    Reply
  16. RKZ -  October 19, 2012 - 9:48 am

    I have made a long and excellent living making smart people appear smart on paper–that is, I’m hired to fix their terrible grammar. I have edited theses, court papers, scientific papers, newsletters, marketing copy, press releases and all kinds of other things. It amazes me that engineers and scientists earn PhDs without conquering basic writing skills, but I must say, I have profited from it!

    If some of these people would have taken some basic grammar and writing classes, they would have saved a lot of money, but I’m happy to do their writing for them.

    Reply
  17. Fiona -  October 4, 2012 - 6:48 am

    I would like to think that good grammar is important to employers after spending years in education learning the difference between good and bad grammar!! However, if good grammar were really a prerequisite to obtaining a job, there would be far more unemployed in the world! So, in the interest of reducing the unemployment figure, employers have to take what they can get!

    Reply
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