Business English – Common Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

The business world is a competitive one where flawless English can be a real advantage. Despite your wealth of business experience, your language skills are often the key to fighting off the competition for your dream job.

With perfect English being so important to English-speaking businesses, it helps to recognize common grammatical errors in business English. We’ve taken a look at some common mistakes – and what you can do to avoid them and to correct them in your future use of business English.

Avoid using double negatives

The best way to examine this error is to look at a simple example:

This Account Agreement expires if no money is not credited to the Account by 31 April.

What this appears to mean to the English speaker is:

This Account Agreement expires if money is credited to the Account by 31 April.

This grammatical concept relates to something called ‘negative concord,’ and it can cause some confusion. Some languages, such as Spanish, Polish and Hungarian, have negative concords, which means that when the double negative is used it intensifies the negation.

However, in languages like English and German that do not have negative concord, a double negative is understood to resolve into a positive. If your own native language is one with negative concord then this is one mistake you might have to look out for more often.

So the above example should be corrected as follows:

This Account Agreement expires if no money is credited to the Account by 31 April.

‘In future’ or ‘In the future’?

Businesses are always planning for the future, so it’s a word that constantly crops up business communications. When you’re talking about the future, however, you need to be careful how you go about it, avoiding mixing up these two commonly confused terms. Let’s take a look at some simple examples to help you determine which one to use.

In the future we plan to make significant investments in Romania and Bulgaria.

‘In future’ means ‘from now on and always.’ You’ll regularly find it used in the context of bosses or colleagues expressing a wish for changing behaviour or habits from employees or colleagues and often as part of a reprimand. For example:

We’d like you to be more punctual in future.

‘In the future,’ on the other hand, means ‘at/from some future point in time.’ An example here might be:

The company plans to make major changes to the customer service division in the future.

Using the word ‘also’

In English, the word ‘also’ should go between the subject and the verb, not after the verb. This is one of the most common mistakes found in email communications, but is easily fixed by remembering to put also before the verb. Let’s take a look at some examples:

WRONG

We included also the invoice for your records.

RIGHT

We also included the invoice for your records.

WRONG

The information above applies also to the shipping department.

RIGHT

The information above also applies to the shipping department.

Lack of feedback

No matter what stage you are at in your learning of business English you always have room for improvement – and you can’t learn if you don’t have feedback. Never be afraid to ask for constructive feedback from tutors, peers, or employers, the feedback should be helpful and supportive, and genuinely help you learn about areas in which you might be making mistakes and in which you can improve.

Communication breakdown

As well as learning the English language itself, don’t forget to focus on building effective communication skills too. Simple ways to do this include:

Making eye contact and listening carefully when communicating with colleagues.

Making the effort to take part in conference calls and meeting when you can, so that you can practice your communication skills.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward for presentations, or to at least attend them. This way you’ll learn to stand tall and speak directly and clearly. The more practice the better.

Have you spotted yourself or any of your colleagues making any of these common mistakes? What have been the mistakes you’ve found yourself making most commonly with your business English, and what have you done to avoid making them in future? Let us and our readers know if you have any more tips!

 

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