Seven more grammar (& spelling) mistakes that make you look dumb

Management Small Business man working on laptop typing with one finger

I’m not a stickler for spelling and grammar in everyday life.

Yes, I work in editorial, so if I were hiring, I would pay close attention to an applicant’s spelling and grammar. But in day-to-day communication, picking on people for errors in word usage, spelling, punctuation and grammar is just running interference. If I can understand what someone is trying to say, I see no need to correct them – even if they’ve (gasp!) misused a comma. It’s rude, embarrassing for the correctee, and more often than not, makes you look like a pedantic, superior know it all. Also, it derails the discussion at hand. How many times have you seen a Facebook comment thread hijacked because someone just had to point out a typo?

That being said, others are watching, and they are sticklers. They’re checking your blogs, emails and social media posts for typos and grammatical errors, so they can jump in and set you straight, demonstrating their superior knowledge.

And when it comes to resumes and cover letters, we’ve discussed many times the fact that typos and grammatical errors are among the first things that will get yours tossed in the slush pile, even if the position doesn’t require excellent grammar skills. I think this is sometimes unfair, but I’m not in charge.

We recently posted a list of seven grammar mistakes to avoid making on your application materials – lest employers think you’re dumb. Among them we covered misplaced apostrophes, the use of “there,” “they’re” and “their,” and the confusion of “its” and “it’s,” “your” and “you’re,” and “then” and “than.”

Here are five more mistakes to avoid in all your (particularly work-related) writings and communications, lest you give the impression of being less intelligent than you actually are. And two bonus errors that you probably make but that nobody notices.

    1. Using “of” when you mean “have,” as in “I could of gotten that promotion,” or “he should of given me that promotion.”

    What you mean is that you “could have gotten that promotion,” and perhaps you would have, if your grammar were better.

    2. Using “loose” when you mean “lose.”

    “The company was loosing money, and was a million dollars in the hole, until I came along and turned things around, putting them in the black in three weeks.”

    Unfortunately, even with a story like this, your spelling mistake will overshadow your incredible accomplishment and your application will still wind up in the garbage.

    3. Spelling “definitely” with an “a.”

    As in, “I definately see your point.”

    I don’t really understand how this happens, since everything has spellcheck these days. Blog software has spellcheck. Even Facebook has spellcheck. But perhaps we’re starting to ignore spellcheck. Regardless, it happens all the time. I see this all over the place.

    One day in the fairly near future, “definately” will probably become an acceptable spelling of “definitely.” Many seem to think English spelling is set in stone, when in fact it didn’t become standardized until a few hundred years ago and will likely always be fluid. And this one is so pervasive it will inevitably stick. But that time has not yet arrived, and until then, there is no “a” in “definitely.”

    4. Using “affect” when you mean “effect,” and vice versa.

    Affect is a verb, effect is a noun.

    Employee well-being “affects” the bottom line. Or, employee well-being has an “effect” on the bottom line.

    Got it? Good.

    5. Using “literally” when you mean “figuratively.”

    As in, “Bob, we literally have to take the bull by the horns on this one.”

    Literally means “in a literal,” not figurative or metaphorical, sense – true to fact.

    Unless you plan on actually grabbing a bull’s horns, leave out the word “literally.”

And now, here are two errors you probably make that don’t make most people think you’re dumb because they make these same mistakes.

    1. Using “and I” when you mean “and me.”

    Many people just assume that “and I” is always correct. It’s not.

    “Mathieu came to the meeting with Peter and I,” is wrong. “Mathieu came to the meeting with Peter and me” is right.

    “Peter and me,” however, did not go to the meeting with Mathieu. “Peter and I went to the meeting with Mathieu.”

    Not sure how this works? Simply remove the two words before the personal pronoun and see if the sentence makes sense.

    So, if we remove “Peter and,” we are left with, “Mathieu came to the meeting with I.”
    And that’s not right, is it? Therefore, you know to use “me.”

    For the second example, we remove “Peter and” from the “me” version, and we are left with “Me went to the meeting with Mathieu.”

    And, since I am not Tarzan, we know that I should change “me” to “I.”

    How easy is that?

    2. Saying you feel “badly” when you mean that you feel “bad.”

    “Badly” is an adverb, and describes the manner in which something is done, while “bad” is an adjective that describes the noun itself. So, if you’re feeling “badly” it means that you aren’t very good at feeling.

    You feel “bad” because you lost the account. You feel “badly” because you lost your fingers.

Probably when you were literally grabbing the bull by the horns.

  • Apricot Jobs

    Nice article about a topic we should pay more attention to!

    • Omer Tamer

      There is also a grammatical rule which says that a sentence should not end with a preposition. So you should have written, ‘Nice article about a topic to which we should pay attention.’

      • PJ

        To most native speakers, that would sound rather stuffy and rigid.

        “The spurious rule about not ending sentences with prepositions is a remnant of Latin grammar, in which a preposition was the one word that a writer could not end a sentence with. But Latin grammar should never straitjacket English grammar.”

        • Respectful

          As Winston Churchill is reputed to have retorted when corrected on this matter, “That is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put!”

          • Brit.Silver.Fox

            … surely ‘errant’ not arrant ?????

      • Brit.Silver.Fox

        I think you’ll find the actual rule is ‘a preposition is something you should never end a sentence with’ …… just saying ….

  • Lupius

    Spelling is very important in a workplace setting such as software where misspellings are set in stone if not caught in time. This is how we ended up with “referer” in the HTTP protocol standard, and also how I have to live with the fact that the product I work on has “supersede” in one place and “supercede” in another.

    • DrCaligari

      Is there absolutely nothing you can do to change it to “referrer” and get rid of all instances of “supercede”? Those things should be fixed, no matter who thinks it’s too late, who couldn’t be bothered, or who gets annoyed by your badgering.

      • Lupius

        For supercede, yes, it can happen with some work because we own the product. “Referer” is stuck though. It’s part of the HTTP specifications, so you must spell it incorrectly if you want your software to communicate correctly with the rest of the Internet.

  • jordan684

    Annoying to me are the misuse of common expressions – in a blog post I read someone wrote “foul swoop”, instead of “fell swoop”. If you don’t know the expression, chances are you don’t know what it means either. Leave it out.

    • Respectful

      Jordan, you are right. But if a person doesn’t know that they don’t know, how then can they be expected not to use the expression?

  • jordan684

    also annoying are smarmy posts with errors – ummm… like “misuse” instead of “misuses” 🙂

    • DrCaligari

      Well, “misuse” is fine there, but it should be “is the misuse” rather than “are the misuse”.

  • tokoloshiman

    does anyone really care about this- i do not think so.


      Most not dislexic people, especially in official context, unless they depend on you:)

      • Veronica Ortiz Rodriguez

        Good one! The individual has also forgotten that the first word of a sentence is always capitalized.

    • Veronica Ortiz Rodriguez

      Are you from Earth?


    Nice, concise article and really helpful for many.

  • Veronica Ortiz Rodriguez

    What about “there” and “their”?
    And typos in a person’s name?
    “Hi Veroncia”. (True story!)

    Word of advice: don’t let your fingers do the thinking. Literally 😉

  • Darcy Hudjik

    If you have trouble with any of these mistakes, or ones mentioned in the previous article Coursera has really good course that really helps with these fundamentals. The course is called Crafting an Effective Writer (I believe they’re running another session at the moment online), and it’s free, if you choose not to get the verified certificate. I took it a year ago, and I was really surprised at some of the mistakes that I was actually making. The rest is just carefully proofreading the material before submitting or printing it.

    • Jen

      Thank you for a comment that is actually helpful.

  • Efrem

    Look at the clickable link below the synopsis of this article on the previous page:
    “What to watch four”.

  • MacKnife

    The description about the difference between “affect” and “effect” is vastly oversimplified. They both can be used either as a noun or a verb, it depends on the usage. See

  • Omer Tamer

    How about ‘drive safe’? It should be ‘drive safely’

  • Kevin Dumcum

    My (figurative) hot buttons are misusing Loose for Lose, I for Me, and That for Who. However, I cannot seem to learn that Definitely does not have an A; I have to rely on spell-check every time.

  • Derek

    One thing I have been seeing with increasing frequency is the misspelling of “definitely” as “defiantly”. Also, “effect” can be a verb meaning to create or to cause something.

    • Brit.Silver.Fox

      ohhh, the irony! – ‘defiantly’ could d)make for a very amusing, if not confusing, statement

      How about the misuse of ‘momentarily’ – which means ‘FOR a moment’, but gets abused in Norf ‘merica (Canada included) to mean ‘IN a moment’ !! gggrrrrrrhhhhh

  • Respectful

    Annoying to me is the use of a plural verb when the subject is singular: as in, for example, “annoying to me are the misuse of common expressions…”. Further annoyance comes from people who don’t know when to use an apostrophe: they think it’s needed to pluralize word’s and they write ‘it’s’ when they mean ‘its’.

  • Derek