My boss is looking to hire another person to help out in my area of work and so he asked me what sort of conditions / criteria will I set for the new staff.  I said I want someone who writes good English and has a good attitude (i.e. willing to learn, not arrogant, etc).  My boss then asked me how was he supposed to carry out an English test during the interview?  I replied that we didn’t need an English test per se as we could just use the candidate’s GCE O Level English and GCE A Level General Paper scores as a gauge.

When I told Azure about this, she felt that a simple English test ought to be conducted and these were her suggested questions:
1) What is the past tense for "quit"?
2) What is the plural for "staff"?
3) What is the meaning of "revert" and use it to form a sentence that you would type in an e-mail.
4) "I is fine with this".  This sentence is grammatically correct – true or false?

While I couldn’t stop laughing at her questions, I noted that they do address some very common mistakes people make.  I have on more than one occasion heard the word "quitted" being uttered in office, and just as the plural for ‘staff’ is still ‘staff’, I have seen the words "equipments", "informations" and "furnitures" bandied about when they don’t exist!

Extending this plural versus singular issue is when people get their singular and plural forms mixed up, saying things like, "some people has all the luck" when it should be "some people have all the luck", or "he have a dog" when it should be "he has a dog".

Another common mistake I’ve observed is the use of tenses.  To denote that something took place in the past, we add an "ed" at the end of the root word.  So when someone says, "I refused to help him", it indicates that speaker refused to lend a hand previously – but it doesn’t automatically mean that speaker will not agree to helping now!

My gripe about writing proper English thus continues.  My boss asked if it is really that important that the new person who joins is able to write well.  I replied with a resounding "yes".  After all, we often cross swords with lawyers over policy wording issues and we wouldn’t want the new staff to be insulted by any lawyers over grammatical mistakes right?

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March 2009