In business English, accuracy matters. A small mistake can have a big impact on the meaning of an expression so it’s important to make sure you get it right. Making sure you avoid these six common mistakes will make your English sound great and help you communicate clearly with English-speaking colleagues and clients.
Personal or personnel?
Although these words look similar, there are differences in pronunciation and meaning as below:
Personnel – this is a noun meaning the company’s staff or sometimes an alternative term for human resources. The stress is on the last syllable “per son NEL”. For example “This company’s biggest asset is it’s personnel. They are all so motivated and productive.”
Personal – this adjective means “related to that person”. The stress is on the first syllable “PER so nal”. For example “He had to take some leave for personal reasons.”
Executive – watch your pronunciation!
Another pronunciation tip. An ‘executive’ is someone in company management. If you’re introducing your company’s top executives to visitors or customers, watch your pronunciation! If you place the stress over the ‘u’, then ‘executive’ suddenly sounds more like ‘execute’ – to kill or put to death.
Present – yes, presentation – yes, presentate – NO!
You can ‘give a presentation’. You can ‘present information’. You can’t ‘presentate something’. Why? Because ‘presentate’ isn’t a real word! It’s a common mistake that people make when trying to work out the verb form of the noun “presentation”.
“I look forward to hearing from you.”
Make sure you remember the ‘ing’ on ‘hearing’. English learners frequently write, “I look forward to hear from you.” This isn’t correct and sounds funny to native English speakers. The verb ‘hear’ always has to have the “ing” in this phrase.
Remember the ‘s’ in ‘headquarters’
A company’s ‘headquarters’ is its main office. Even though ‘headquarters’ has an ‘s’ on the end, it is the correct way to refer to this place. For example: “I need to go to our headquarters next week to meet the CEO.”
Don’t add an ‘s’ to uncountable nouns
Never put an ‘s’ on the end of ‘information’, ‘knowledge’, or ‘advice’ – they are all uncountable nouns. If you want to make them singular, use the expression ‘a piece of’. For example “There was a lot of information in that presentation” or “He gave us several pieces of important information”. Don’t put an ‘s’ on the end of ‘experience’ either, unless you are talking about a series of individual occasions.
So, now you know what mistakes to avoid in business English, you can go out and communicate confidently at work. Remember, if there are any other aspects of business English you are unsure about, make a note of them and look them up after work. Add the correct expressions to this list to make sure your business English is always perfect.