should I correct my boss’s awful grammar?

A reader writes:

I have a senior manager who has dreadful grammar. He mispronounces well-known company names that are also clients. He rarely enunciates the plural of words (which makes his usual team greeting “hey you guy!” irritating and confusing). He sends emails with multiple and repetitious grammatical errors. I’m itching to correct him but fear the feedback will not be received well because my colleagues have tolerated it for so long. On the other hand, I struggle to take him seriously when I need to decipher what he’s saying.

Should I say anything or should I learn to live with it?

Without knowing anything else about your manager, I’d say you shouldn’t say anything. Presumably he also does this around his manager, and it’s that person’s job to address it. For your own sake, I’d skip creating the awkwardness that could result if you tackle this yourself.

You could probably address the issue of mispronouncing company names, though, by posing it as a question. For instance: “Oh, is it pronounced ‘ama-zone’? I’ve always pronounced it ‘amazon.'”

Other than that, I suppose you could suggest that your group start proofreading each other’s work, but then you’ll be making everyone else jump through a hoop that only he needs.

Overall, I’d just resign yourself to it. I love grammar like little else, but he appears to have been able to advance despite this, so this isn’t the worst thing in the world.

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Hank Hill*

    Your boss is probably a horrible pain in the ass. My boss uses archaic jargon, creates acronyms that no one understands, and regularly mispronounces things.

    Yet somehow poor communication is our (my?) problem. I sympathize.

  2. Anonymous*

    Thanks for the advice Alison. You have placed things into perspective!

    I don't feel so bad about the poor grammar now but yes Hank Hill, he is a pain as you've said!

  3. class-factotum*

    A few times, I corrected errors in my boss' memos. I stopped after we got in a huge fight that resulted in our both slamming dictionaries on each other's desks.

    I also realized that most of the people around us probably wouldn't have caught the errors, including upper management, which has run the company almost into the ground, killing thousands of jobs in the process but still collecting big bonuses. They're dumb in one way but not so dumb in another.

  4. Anonymous*

    ^^Yes he is non-native but he's lived in this English speaking country for over 30 years.

    You'd think he'd pick something up! Goes to show how much he listens to people…

  5. Anonymous*

    In my case the technical copy for team projects was suppose to be provided by the manager, who apparently had the background knowledge.

    During group "project review" meetings for this copy the lower lever team members make grammar corrections or rewrote the copy while receiving comments along the lines of "so, how do YOU think that should be worded?", "Are you REALLY sure that makes sense" and "yeah, yeah (wanting to give a high-five, giggling with excitement then SMACK and hang on to your hand for a couple of seconds), you GOT IT!" from the manager. Unfortunately the extra time spend having these "meetings" always caused the final stages of the projects to be done in a "RUSH, RUSH" to meet the department deadlines.

    If you ever find yourself in a similar position get away as quickly as possible, it is not worth it to hang in there and hope that it will get better. In this case, as I have learned, you are only helping the the manager provide a false sense of accomplishment for upper management to see. Meanwhile you get no reward for your extra efforts – except, of course, for those "high-fives".

  6. Anonymous*

    A non-native speaker might appreciate some polite pointers. I have a Dutch-speaking friend, for instance, who went around for years using the word "ain't" as the standard contract for "am not" even in sort of formal situations. I never wanted to correct her, fearing it'd seem rude, but when another friend of ours mentioned it, she appreciated it. She'd learned her conversational English from TV and thanked our mutual friend for helping her to sound more natural and professional. Even though she was a smart girl, around English speakers every day who didn't use the word "ain't", it just didn't rub off. Since we've realized she's open to these suggestions, her language has improved dramatically. (We also got her to stop using the words "he" and "his" to refer to inanimate objects, like, "I didn't want to sit at that table because he was dirty," which is how Dutch works. Despite the fact that no one around her used it, she just needed to be gently told that's not how it works in English.)

  7. Anonymous*

    I have the same problem… spelling errors/abbreviations, weird punctuation – how hard is to press F7 in a Word document?

    My boss owns our business, and therefore there's no one to correct her. And somehow the business has run successfully for the 8 years before I joined.

    So in the past one year of being here, I have simply gently hinted not to send any documents out to clients before someone does a quality check/final edit, and have taken to correcting the errors myself before it goes out.

  8. trezure2*

    I work for a professional defense company with 2 ladies in the office that must have a third grade education. The “lead” has the worst grammar I have ever heard. It’s painful to listen to. The other day on the phone she actually said “Where you be at?” It’s ruthless. I have never corrected her, but she actually corrected my pronunciation of the name “Saucony” once and I almost died! The other one has trouble with any word over three syllables. Just a nightmare. I just left to go work somewhere else and am so glad.

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