Business English Tip of the Week

business-english-tipsEvery week we publish a business English tip concerning different aspects of business English. Topic areas include writing, speaking, listening, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, exams as well as general English. To receive 'Business English Tip of the Week' by email, just subscribe to our newsletter. You can choose whether to receive the newsletter weekly or monthly. Simply click on the link on the right to subscribe. It's free!

Usage of Commas


27 July 2014

 

1)

to separate independent clauses

The following conjunctions are used in such cases:

and, but, for, nor, or, so & yet¹

The workers demanded extra pay, but the management refused to give it.

 

2)

after introductory

a) sub-clauses

b) phrases
c) words

a) If you don't finish it tonight, you'll be late.
b) As a matter of fact, I'm going on vacation to Singapore next week.
c) Unfortunately, we aren't able to agree to all your demands.

3)

when

a) sub-clauses

b) phrases
c) words

appear in the middle of the sentence.

a) Jill, who was sitting behind her desk, gave Tim a smile.
b) We, as a matter of course, will contact your former employer.
c) We have, however, found a number of errors.

 

4)

to set off three or more words, phrases or main clauses in a series.


She went into the office, sat down at her desk, and started surfing the Net.
He's lived in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York.

5)

to set off two or more coordinate adjectives if the meaning does not change when the order is altered.

We had to travel over several narrow, winding, dangerous roads.

6)

at the end of a sentence in order to indicate a pause.

He was just ignorant, not stupid.

7)

to set off a nonrestrictive (also non-defining) relative clause².

Unitech, which was established in 1992, employs over 750 workers.

8)

when someone is addressed directly.

Richard, can you do me a big favour?

9)

to show an appositive³.

Chris Patton, former governor of Hong Kong, is still very popular in Hong Kong.

10)

in dates.

Yes, May 11, 20xx, was the date of the last AGM.

11)

in front of tag questions.

You've met this client before, haven't you?

12)

after digits indicating thousands.


10,000
9,999,999

¹ Note that 'but' and 'and' do not take a comma when both clauses are relatively short.
²
restrictive relative clauses = they tell us which person or thing, or which kind of person or thing, is meant;
non-restrictive relative clauses = they tell us more about a person or thing that is already identified.
³
When an appositive is only one word, no comma is needed.

 

General Tips to Improve your English


20 July 2014

Techniques

1) Some people like to learn by studying English grammar and then using it in sentences. Other people like to learn by listening to spoken English and then repeating it the best way they can. Actually, the best way to learn is to use both of these techniques together.

New Words

2) When you learn a new word, write it down in your notebook. Write the definition in English, not in your own language. Below the meaning, write down the sentence or phrase where you found the word.

3) Many verbs, nouns and adjectives are used with certain prepositions. For example: afraid + of or apply + for. Make sure that you learn the words together with their prepositions.

4) Out of the four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening, the best way to learn new words is through reading.

Reading

5) Read the day's newspaper in your own language and then read one in English. This way, you already know the context and main ideas of the main stories. It will be easier for you to guess the meaning of new words.

6) Read graded readers. These provide excellent reading practice for elementary to advanced level learners.

7) Read something that you are interested in. If you like sports, read about sports. If you like fashion, read about fashion.

Writing

8) Find a penpal, the traditional way, or an epal from the Internet.

9) Try reading and leaving messages on an online message board.

Speaking

10) Speak as much and as often as you can in English. Don't worry too much about your grammar when you speak. It's ok to make mistakes.
 

Introducing Yourself at Work Part 2


20 July 2014

There are a number of ways of making a self introduction. It usually needs to be on a case-by-case basis; however, here's some more basic advice and sample dialogues to get someone's attention and finally make an acquaintance.

Making a Comment

Make a comment to someone about the situation you're in or the environment. Once they've responded, introduce yourself.


A: You wouldn't have any change on you for the coffee machine, would you?
B: I might have. Let me just check.
A: Can you change a $10 bill?
B: Sure. Here you go.
A: Thanks a lot. I'm Ken Carlson by the way. I work in the IT Department just down the corridor.
B: I'm Sheila Thomas. Nice to meet you, Ken. (shakes hands)
A: Nice to meet you too, Sheila.

Use a Third Person to Get an Introduction

If the person you want to introduce yourself to is speaking to someone you already know, then take it as a chance to get acquainted. Walk towards them and say hello to your friend or the person you know. An introduction can then follow naturally. This isn't strictly a self-introduction.


A: Hi, Warren. How are things?
B: Fine, Jeff. And you?
A: Great!
B: This is my colleague, Veronica. Veronica, this is Jeff. Jeff works in the Design Department.
A: Pleased to meet you, Veronica. (shakes hands)
C: Pleased to meet you too, Jeff.

When You Know the Person's Name

If you want to introduce yourself to a person you only know by name, you can start a conversation by confirming their name - "Mr Reynolds?' Once you get their attention, continue by stating how you know about them and then introduce yourself.


A: Henry Warne. Hello. I saw you speaking at the conference last week. That's how I recognized you.
B: Oh, I hope you found it interesting!
A: I certainly did. You gave an excellent presentation. I'm Karen Booth from Production.
B: Pleased to meet you, Karen. (shakes hands)
A: Pleased to meet you too, Henry.

 

How to Address Someone in English


16 July 2014

English learners often feel confused about how to address people properly. Many feel uncomfortable asking the question, "What should I call you?" Even native English people find this question awkward. For example, many women don't know how to address their boyfriend's mother. On the other hand, some parents don't know what to call their children's teacher.

Why is "What should I call you?" such a difficult question to ask? Perhaps it's because you are asking the other person to provide their status or position in the world in relationship to yours. This position may involve age, job, education, religion and even marital status.

Since English is a language, rather than a culture, it is difficult to teach English learners exactly how to address people. There will always be some people and some professions that require more formality than others. Addressing people in writing has different rules and formalities than in speaking.

Asking the Question

If you are unsure of what to call someone, it's best to use a formal address or simply ask one of these questions:

What should I call you?
What should I call your mother?
What should I call you manager?
Can I call you Richard
Is it okay if I call you Deano? [the nickname you've heard others use]
What's your name? (use in a casual situation like a party or classroom where first names are used)

Answering the Question

Please, call me Jane. [first name].
You can call me Wedgy. [nickname].
Call me Dan if you like. [short form]

 

Adjective + Preposition Combinations


13 July 2014

Many adjectives are followed by a particular preposition. Below is a list of adjectives + preposition combinations that are commonly used in business.

Some of these adjectives can be followed by either of two or more prepositions, sometimes resulting in a slight change of meaning. In other cases, the preposition which follows the adjective is determined by whether a person or a thing follows.

Now read through the following list of combinations and example sentences. Then try completing the exercise that follows by clicking the 'Next' button at the bottom of the page.

affiliated to / with

Are you affiliated to / with the other company with the same name?

angry about something

She was angry about the new rules at work.

angry with someone

They were angry with their suppliers for not delivering on time.

associated with

We have been associated with them for the last twenty years.

aware of

He is aware of the company's problems.

bad / good at something

He's bad at seeing the overall picture.

concerned / worried / anxious about

We are concerned about the rise in staff turnover.

concerned with (= involved with)

They are concerned with renewable energy sources.

confident of


They are confident of the product's success.

different from / to something / someone

This model is different from the previous one in two major respects.

disappointed in a person / by something

We were disappointed by the recent decision.

He was disappointed in the Board and their handling of the situation.

familiar with

The market is not yet familiar with our products.

happy / pleased / satisfied with someone / something

We are happy with the service we have received.

interested in something

I am interested in your range of office furniture.

involved in / with

They are closely involved in chemical research.

open to

I am open to any suggestions you might have.

ready for something / someone

The accounts will be ready for inspection by the end of the week.

related to

This problem is closely related to one we encountered last year.

responsible for something / someone

As warehouse manager, you will be responsible for co-ordinating delivery times.

sensitive to

She is a little sensitive to criticism.

specialised in

He is specialised in flash programming.

suitable for

Being light and transportable, these laptops are suitable for people who travel frequently.

typical of someone

It's typical of her to do that for you - she always offers to help.
 

Knowing When to Use the Passive Voice


10 July 2014

If you use a grammar-check feature, your sentences probably get flagged at times for a fault called “Passive Voice.” This flag is typically accompanied by advice to “Consider rewriting with an active voice verb.”

Is this fault serious? No! In fact, our grammar-checker has already flagged three of our sentences at the beginning of this Business Writing Tip, and we aren’t worried a bit.

We aren’t worried, but we do pay attention. That’s because there is a lot of good advice about limiting the use of passive verbs. For instance, we are told to change:

“The surface should be primed” (passive) to “Prime the surface” (active). This change makes sense. Readers need precise instructions.

“Your gift is appreciated” (passive) to “We appreciate your gift” (active). This is another fine suggestion. “Is appreciated” sounds impersonal, whereas “We appreciate” feels warm.

When we make these changes, we are replacing wordy, vague phrases with concise, direct words. That’s excellent.

But there are four places where passive verbs fit just right:


1. When you don’t know who performed the action.

Passive:

Her car was stolen twice.

Not:

Someone stole her car twice.

2. When it doesn’t matter who performs the action.

Passive:

The boards are pre-cut.

Not:

A worker pre-cuts the boards.

3. When we want to avoid blaming someone.

Passive:

The drawings were lost.

Not:

Andy lost the drawings.

4. When we want to soften a directive.

Passive:

This paragraph could be shortened.

Not:

Shorten this paragraph.

Passive verbs are perfect in these four instances. Likewise, the passive verbs in our opening sentences also work well (“get flagged” and “is typically accompanied”).

Know where passives verbs belong, and you won’t be intimidated by your grammar-check software again. Our grammar-checker just flagged the previous sentence, but we know the passive verb there suits our purpose and sounds just right!

 

Introducing Yourself at Work Part 1


06 July 2014

There are a number of ways of making a self introduction. It usually needs to be on a case-by-case basis; however, here's some basic advice and sample dialogues to get someone's attention and finally make an acquaintance.

Direct Introduction

The direct approach works for most people who have the confidence to do so. Simply go up to the person whom you want to introduce yourself to. Say "hello,' offer a handshake, and tell them your name.


A: Hi. I'm Peter Holden. I'm from Accounts. How do you do? (shake hands)
B: Hello. Nice to meet you, Peter. I'm Jason Warrick.

If, however, it is a group you are approaching, politely ask if you can join them.


A: Hello. Is it alright if I join you?
B: Sure, no problem.
A: My name's Gordon Brand. I'm new here.
B: Pleased to meet you Gordon. I'm Tom Bevan. (shakes hands)
A: Pleased to meet you, Tom.
C: And you too, Gordon.
B: And this is Benjamin Pratt.
A: Pleased to meet you, Benjamin. (shakes hands)

Giving a Compliment

Giving a compliment is also a good tactic. Remember to give a compliment that you really mean. Sincerity is the key here. You can start the conversation with a statement like, "I like your shirt' or "You have a nice watch'. The other party can reply with a "Thank you'. From that point, be prepared to talk about the object you are complimenting on to prove that you really admire it. After a minute or two, or when appropriate, start introducing yourself.


A: I love your shoes. Where did you get them?
B: Oh. Thanks. I got them from Harvey's just yesterday.
A: What kind of leather are they made of? It's got a really nice pattern.
B: Aligator, actually.
A: I don't dare to ask you how much they cost. But they look so expensive.
B: Not as much as you'd think. I got them in a closing down sale.
A: Really? I'm Francesca Tomlins by the way.
B: I'm Robert Downing. Pleased to meet you, Francesca.
A: Pleased to meet you too, Robert. (shakes hands)

 

Professional Adjectives to Describe Personality


29 June 2014

Whether you're describing yourself during an interview, writing a resume/CV, or talking about the personality of a subordinate or colleague being considered for promotion, you'll find it useful to familiarize yourself with the 20 common adjectives below. All these adjectives describe specific aspects of someone's personality, specifically the areas of someone's personality that determines their suitability for a particular job or type of work.

Some of the adjectives below have similar meanings. It's important, therefore, that you learn the minor differences in meaning if you are to use them accurately. If you are unclear about the differences, consult a good monolingual advanced learner's dictionary.

Determined

wanting to do something very much, and not letting anyone stop you

Hard-working

doing a job seriously and with a lot of effort

Diligent

working hard with care and effort

Trustworthy

describes someone who is good and honest and won't harm you

Motivated

enthusiastic about doing something

Reliable

able to be trusted or believed

Loyal

always liking and supporting someone or something, sometimes when other people do not

Attentive

listening or watching carefully and showing that you are interested

Conscientious

always doing your work with a lot of care

Persistent

describes someone who keeps pushing for something and does not give up easily

Dynamic

having a lot of ideas and enthusiasm; energetic and forceful

Energetic

having or involving a lot of energy

Enterprising

good at thinking of and doing new and difficult things, especially things that will make money

Enthusiastic

showing a great deal of interest in something and a willingness to get involved

Aggressive

determined to win or succeed and using forceful action to achieve victory or success

Consistent

always behaving or happening in a similar, especially positive, way

Organized

describes someone who is able to plan things carefully and keep things tidy:

Proactive

describes someone who takes action by causing change and not only reacting to change when it happens

Methodical

describes people who do things in a very ordered, careful way

Passionate

having very strong feelings or emotions

Note: When attending a job interview or writing a resume/CV, make sure you choose the adjectives that best suit your potential position. "Aggressive" might catch the eye of a law firm, but would likely scare an employer in the customer service field.

Useful Phrases:

Below are some useful phrases in which the above adjectives could be used:

Do you consider yourself to be .......?
How can you become more .......?
How is being ........... useful in your job?  
Who is the most ........... person that you know?
Would you describe yourself as being .........?
In your CV you describe yourself as being ........... Give me an example of how you showed this.
I would describe myself as being .........
I believe this position requires someone who is ..........
We are looking for someone who is .........
If you are not .........., please don't apply.
Paul has shown himself to be .............
 

A Six-Step Strategy for Customer Service


22 June 2014

1. Listen Positively and Empathise

Don't try to defend yourself or the company. Allow the customer to let off steam. Show understanding.

What seems to be the problem?
Can you elaborate?
Could you give me the details?
That must have been very irritating.
I understand how you must feel.

2. Admit the Mistake and Apologise

Don't put the customer on the defensive or question his judgement. Admit mistakes immediately.

I really am sorry.
It seems something has gone wrong here.
There's definitely a problem here we need to deal with.
I'm very sorry about this.
I must apologise on behalf of the company for this.

3. Accept Personal Responsibility

For customers, you are the company. They don't care whose fault it is. You have to deal with it. If the problem can be dealt with only by someone higher in the hierarchy, stay with the customer until it is clear that the problem is being resolved.

I'll make sure this is dealt with.
Let me see what I can do.

4. Act Immediately

Show customers that you are taking their complaints seriously.

I'll get on to it right away.
Let me see what we can do to help you immediately.
I'll deal with this straight away.

5. Offer Compensation (if possible)

Demonstrate your concern practically if you are able to. Often, the form of compensation is less important than the thought.

Please accept this to make up for some of the inconvenience.
Would you like a cup of coffee while you're waiting?

6. Thank the Customer

We should be grateful for complaints. It's one way we can find out how to improve our service. Remember, too, that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as to keep an old one.

Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention.
Thank you. This will help us to improve our service in the future.

 

Spelling Differences between US and UK English


15 June 2014
1) -or and -our
British English tends to use -our in adjectives,whereas American English uses -or:

For example: colour (GB) and color (US); neighbour (GB) and neighbor (US)

 
2) -er and -re
Some noun endings are -re in British English, but -er in American English:

For example: centre (GB) and center (US)
 
3) -ice and -ise
Some words have -ice ending for the noun and -ise ending for the verb in British English. For example: practice (noun) and to practise (verb). However, in American English both noun and verb are spelled practice.
4) -l and -ll
In British English, when a word ends in a single consonant, it is doubled when we add a suffix beginning with a vowel:

For example: traveller; levelled

However, in American English the 'l' is not doubled:

For example: traveler, leveled

 
5) Other common words
British English and American English have different spellings for certain words:

For example: cheque (GB) - check (US); programme (GB) - program (US)
 

Making Polite Requests


10 June 2014

When you are asking someone to do something for you or trying to influence their actions, you can often show that you want to be polite by saying things in an indirect way:

  1. Help me file these documents (please). (Very Direct - more demand than request)
  2. (Please) will you help me file these documents? (Less Direct)
  3. Could you help me file these documents (please)? (Neutral)
  4. Do you think you could possibly help me file these documents? (Indirect)
  5. I was wondering if you could possibly help me file these documents? (Very Indirect)
    Generally speaking, the more indirect the expression you use, the more polite you will seem.  If you are too direct you may be considered impolite.  However, the more indirect expressions can sound "too polite".  When deciding which expressions are suitable for which situations it is useful to ask certain questions.
  • What is the relationship between the speaker and the listener? More direct expressions are often used between friends or when the speaker is in a position of authority.

  • How important is the action to the speaker? Usually, the more important the action, the more indirect the expression.

  • How much inconvenience will the action cause for the listener? If, for example, the listener is being asked to make a lot of effort or do something which they do not usually do, the speaker will probably use a more indirect expression.
 

Common Interview Question Types


08 June 2014

The Knowledge Question



Do you consider yourself knowledgeable in your field?
What are two most challenging issues facing your industry today?

Make sure you answer the question clearly and thoroughly. Be concise, clear and organized.

The Human Question

Do you consider yourself a hard-working person?
What personal traits are you most proud of?
What do you do when you're not working?

These questions are asked to get a sense of who you are. Now is not the time to talk about how you are a recovering alcoholic or have been proud of staying out of prison. Something which makes you sound interesting, intelligent and reliable. Remember that if they ask about personal things, keep it brief and always try, if you can, to tie everything back to your professional life.

The "What if" Question

What would you do if your boss asked you to do something you disagreed with?
What might you say if you were told you had to leave town tomorrow for business for three weeks?

The rule of thumb is the boss is always right, always discuss problems with your superiors and that you are always flexible.

The "Tell Me" Game

Tell me about your experience.
Tell me why you are interested in working for this company.
Tell me about your greatest strengths and weaknesses.

Again, be clear, concise and organized.

Your Turn

Do you have any questions for me?

Yes, you always need to ask at least one or two questions. Show that you've done your homework: ask about the company, its structure. Now is not the time to ask about the salary or whether you can have a company car!

Reflective Answering

If you deliver your answers straight, they may not sound completely natural. You don't want the interviewer to think that you've memorised them.

Before answering certain questions, pause for a moment to show that you're thinking, then start your answer with one of the following phrases:

I guess...

I guess the biggest achievement would be my employee of the year award; I'm very proud of that.

I feel...

I feel that I've learned a large amount in this job and I'm glad for the opportunity.

I suppose...

I suppose that when I think about it, the hardest part of my job is dealing with customers.

I would say...

I would say that trust is a very important part of a relationship with a co-worker.

Note: these phrases can also be used in combination:

I guess I would say that morale in Reception could be improved and that I feel our hours are too long.

 

Spelling Rules in English


01 June 2014

There is logic to English spelling and there are also some useful rules to follow.

 Some General Advice

  • One of the best ways to improve your spelling is by reading. Seeing words in print helps fix the spelling in your mind. Read as much as possible and as widely as possible. When you read aloud to yourself, you will also become more aware of how words are spelled and how they look on the page.
     
  • Use a spell checker to help you identify - and correct - the words that cause you problems. Some words are always going to be difficult to spell correctly, whether you are a native speaker of English or not. If you always have spelling doubts about a particular word, make sure that you run the spell checker and that you pay special attention to the "difficult" word.
     
  • Practise writing the words that you have difficulty spelling. Try not to avoid using the word altogether, but use either a spell checker or a dictionary to help you get the spelling right. If you use this word regularly, after a while you will start to write it correctly.
     
  • If you have difficulty with a word that you have to write often, you may want to write the word out on a card and keep the card by your desk for reference.
     
  • Use a dictionary. Good dictionaries will show you how to spell the word in other grammatical forms, as well as giving you an example of the word in context.

 

Spelling Rules in English

1) i before e except after c (when the word rhymes with c)
Examples: believe, niece, piece, achieve.

After c: receive, perceive, deceive

There are some exceptions to this rule:

Example: seize

Some first name exceptions: Sheila, Keith

You can also see "ei" combinations when the word rhymes with the letter 'i':

Examples: height, heist

Additionally, when the rhyme is with the letter 'a':
 
Examples: freight, weight
2) When you use 'full' at the end of an adjective, drop one 'l'
Examples: wonderful, tasteful, grateful

Note that when you turn the adjective into an adverb by adding -ly, use both 'l'.
 
Examples: careful - carefully; grateful - gratefully
3) The letter 'e'
Words that end with the letter 'e' lose the 'e' before a suffix beginning with a vowel:

Examples: require - requiring; state - stating

But before a suffix that begins with a consonant, they keep the 'e':
 
Examples: state - statement; require - requirement
4) Using -our and -orous
In British English, when a word ends in -our and we add -us, the -our becomes -or:
 
 Examples: humour - humorous; glamour - glamorous
5) Using -y
When a word ends with a consonant and 'y', change the 'y' to 'i' before adding a suffix:

Examples: hungry - hungrier; try - tried; baby - babies

But if the word ends with a vowel and 'y', keep the 'y' before adding a suffix:
 
Examples: lay - layer; pay - payment
6) Single and double consonants
When a word ends in a single consonant, it is doubled when we add a suffix beginning with a vowel:

Examples:

get - getting;

travel - travelled / travelling (In American English, the 'l' is not doubled);

admit -admitted; admit - admittance

ship - shipping

but
 
ship - shipment (the suffix begins with a consonant)
 

Employment Interview Techniques


25 May 2014

In today's high-paced and competitive business environment, good jobs are hard to find. Sharpening your job hunting and, particularly, interviewing skills is a great way to keep yourself in the competition. One of the most important things to keep in mind when being interviewed is that you should try to relax. If you feel nervous and uncomfortable, your interviewer will also feel uncomfortable. So it's important to smile and try to be as natural and friendly as you can.

The good news is that while part of the interview is to test your actual answers, much of it is done to simply get a sense of you as a person. That means that while it is important to answer in a certain way, it's perhaps more important to be friendly, confident and natural.

Here are some tips:

  • Smile as much as you can. Smiling breaks down barriers and will make you and your interviewer feel more relaxed.
  • Be confident - this doesn't mean brag or show off, but an interview is not the time to be humble or downplay your experience or accomplishments. If there is only one time in your life when it's good to tell someone how great you are, the interview is that time!
  • Don't lie but don't sell yourself short: don't talk about what experience you don't have! Always turn these kinds of questions into positives. For example, if an interviewer asks if you have any experience in bookkeeping, you never want to simply say "No."  Instead, think about any connection that might relate: "Well, I don't have any direct bookkeeping experience, but I often helped the bookkeeper so I'm familiar with the terms and I feel I could learn it quite quickly." Or: "I never did any bookkeeping myself but I took two accounting courses in college and feel that I understand the basics of it."
  • Dress the part: there is an old saying that people should dress like the position they want to get. That means a professional appearance is very important. Much of this will depend, of course, on what country you are in, but don't ever worry about being too smart for an interview!
  • Be as detailed as possible: often interviewers will ask you "hypothetical" problem questions (for example, "What would you do if your boss asked you to do something that you didn't know how to do?"); it's important in questions like these to be as detailed as possible.
 

Which vs. That


18 May 2014

Which and that are difficult to learn for anyone studying English as a second language because no one, not even people who should know better, gets it right!

It all has to do with restrictive (or defining) phrases and clauses.

You use that to introduce a restrictive phrase or clause that describes a place or thing. Another term for restrictive is "defining". "Defining" is an easier way to remember the rule. Defining phrases and clauses add ESSENTIAL detail to a sentence. They are never introduced with a comma, because they are essential to the description.

For example:

A: Which briefcase belongs to you?
B: The briefcase that is marked "KF" belongs to me.

Note: "that is marked" describes the briefcase.

Which introduces unrestricted or undefining phrases and clauses. These phrases add EXTRA detail that you can omit without changing the sentence. They are introduced and concluded with commas.

For example:

A: Tell me about the book you read.
B: The book, which I got from the library last week, is a very exciting mystery.

Note: "which I got from the library" is an unnecessary detail.

 
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