Grammar Rules: CEO Stands Up For Grammar (& Why That’s Important)

Over the past couple of decades, I believe grammar has taken a beating–and not just in an “LOL” kind of way, but in a “I’m too lazy to learn the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too'” kind of way. So when the CEO of stood up for grammar in a recent piece he wrote for the Harvard Business Review (“I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.“), I started applauding from my desk.

Grammar isn’t just something you learn just to appease your high school English teachers; it’s a valuable skill that more people should take seriously. And Kyle Wiens (iFixit’s CEO) really does an excellent job of explaining why:

But grammar is relevant for all companies. Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.

Good grammar makes good business sense — and not just when it comes to hiring writers. Writing isn’t in the official job description of most people in our office. Still, we give our grammar test to everybody, including our salespeople, our operations staff, and our programmers.

On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?

Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.

Read Wiens’ full article on why he won’t hire people who use poor grammar here.

I believe that if more people in places of power speak out in support of strong grammar skills–and define it in these terms–then more folks will start to recognize how valuable good writers (who pay close attention to these kinds of details) really are.

It’s nice to know that this CEO gets it. And I applaud him for that.

More on Grammar: Looking to beef up on your grammar knowledge and set yourself apart from the many who don’t? Check out Grammar Girl’s article on The 13 Trickiest Grammar Hang Ups (& How to Get Them Right).


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8 thoughts on “Grammar Rules: CEO Stands Up For Grammar (& Why That’s Important)

  1. jotokai

    People get far too wound up about this. Witness gerleman, above, who became so upset that he forgot to think about the meaning of irony. Bad grammar from a person who decries the usefulness of grammar, that’s expected, rather than ironic. Also witness the ten-page poster gerleman was chiding.

    As for the CEO who wrote the article, we all have our superstitions. I once read about one arrogant buffoon of an executive who allegedly fired anybody who referred to the ownership and management as “they.” He felt it meant that, in his heart, such a man- this was a very old article- had already decided he’s not really working for the company. I will warrant that grammar is evidence of the behavior of Broca’s region, in the brain; a person who is deficient in it might well be hindered in other skills involving ordered activity. I wonder, however, is it really that shrewd to use grammar in lieu of an intelligence test?

    Of course, as writers, speechcraft- now more commonly called grammar- is our stock in trade. To break the rules may be divine, but to ignore them is the province of the fraud, the dullard, and the ignoramus.

  2. JWLaviguer

    I think you missed the point of the article. You’re right about people talking and writing informally, especially in today’s digital society, but poor grammar and word usage, at least in my mind, affects one’s credibility. Language certainly has “shades of gray” (if I may use that extremely popular term), but it’s black and white when using it’s, its, their, there, they’re, etc. If one can’t get those right, I kind of tune out the rest of their message.


    Hmmmm. First of all you can tear any writing apart because grammar rules are not written in stone as shown by the many manuals out there. Secondly, dialogue would become extremely boring if one followed the grammar rules because oral language only does the majority of the time. People do not talk that way and when writing dialogue you break the rules. I would expect a Harvard graduate to know that even in college mechanics in writing only counts for at the most 25% if you are being fair to students because content is King or Queen. High quality ideas put together in an interesting voice is what gives writing its flavor. Any good English professor worth his salt will tell you all the great ones broke certain rules of grammar. Language comes in different registers. I doubt in intimate situations very few are talking or writing correct grammar since relationship and reader/listening understanding of what is about to happen is of the utmost importance. If you are writing certain scenes a writer needs to mimic that. By the way there are 5 to 6 language registers, and which one you use determines the grammar that is appropriate. Like any other creative product it is a balance of all the elements, and how a creative person emphasizes or not determines its voice and use of grammar. Some where I have a piece of writing that is entirely grammatically correct, and it is the most boring thing you would ever care to read. Over emphasis on mechanics leads to poor writing as well. I would think as a Harvard graduate that is the last thing you would want since the foundation of writing is communicating thoughts and ideas. I am a writer, but I am also an educator. State standards put grammar in its proper place. It is a foundational element, but perfect grammar will not give you a passing grade on a state writing assessment. Great content will pass you every time as long as it is readable and can convey the message.(Taught it to children who had few English grammar and writing skills). Writing even in the classroom is not a solitary activity. At some point after creation other writers or editors come in, make suggestions, and correct some mechanics. Breaking all the rules when texting is fine because of the register, having wordplay in advertising serves its purpose in conveying the message in an interesting way, and dotting all the I’s and T’s in academic papers is fine. What is not FINE is limiting the ways people or creative people put language together. Oh I think I will occasionally will intentionally make a few grammar mistakes for jobs in other wise high quality writing pieces, and see if I get a job anyway. Oops, did it and got one of the best jobs I ever had because the person hiring had foresight to know what he/she could not teach, and what he/she could easily fix. 🙂 Do not forget the issue of some people have disabilities, illnesses or were not born mainstream, and their brains are wired differently. We are not allowed to leave them out over things that can be modified and amended. That is my dissertation today. I like to let people know about the other side of it. I expect highly educated people who have university degrees to have a broad understanding of the diversity and complexity in our world. It is the whole point of getting a degree at an university so one does not become fixated on minor issues, and has a broad view for solutions in whatever area they chose to specialize in. That should be especially true of the Ivy League college graduates. Don’t you think?

    1. CMcGowan

      I have to agree with another poster on here – I think the point of the article may have gotten lost somewhere in the reply above. I teach HS English (which I know prompts people to pick apart everything I write, including this post) and the atrocities of grammar are outrageous. I think the CEO made an excellent point. I’m glad he’s sticking up for grammar. I wish more people would.

    2. gerleman

      Well I hate to be “that guy” but I must point out that your response “” has so many grammatical errors that I stopped reading it after your ironic explanation: “People do not talk that way”. You are indeed correct, people don’t TALK that way, they SPEAK that way. Not to mention your inconsistency in comma use and the horrid sentence construction in sentence three (if we count Hmmmm. as a sentence). In fact, your inability to communicate in this response in so subordinate, I must assume you are not a native speaker of English. However, since it was nearly unintelligible from the start and I was thwarted from continuing to read, perhaps the latter 90% was better than what I regretfully tried to ingest.

      Hope that isn’t too harsh, just pointing out the irony.



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