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!

Accepting and Refusing Business Invitations


14 September 2014

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful when accepting and refusing business invitations. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

MAKING INFORMAL INVITATIONS
Would you like to have dinner with us?
How about having a drink with me?
Let's go out for a meal.
Would you like to . . . ?
We're going to . . . . Would you like to come along?
There's a . . . . (tonight). Would you like to go?
I wonder if you'd like to . . .
I was wondering if you'd like to . . .
Why don't you join us for ....?
Perhaps you'd like to come to ....?
 
MAKING FORMAL INVITATIONS
I would like to invite you to our grand opening.
If you have time, I would like to invite you to see our new premises.
Would you like to join us for dinner this evening?
We'd be glad to have you accompany us to the ceremony.
We'd be delighted to have you as our guest at the new Chairman's inauguration.
ACCEPTING INVITATIONS
I'd love to.
I'd be delighted/happy/glad to.
Thank you. That would be great!
Yes, I would. That's a great idea.
REFUSING INVITATIONS
I'm sorry, but I'm going out that evening.
I'm afraid I can't make it. I have a prior appointment.
I'm really sorry but I can't - I've got another engagement.
I think I'm going to have to pass on that. I'm feeling rather tired.
I'd better not. I've got an early start tomorrow.
Thanks for asking, but I'm afraid I can't.
I'd love to but my parents are in town at the moment.
 

Avoid Weak Sentence Starts


07 September 2014

The use of "there is" and "there are" signals weak structure and hides the real verb. Often these words are followed by "who" or "that." which indicates the sentence should be rephrased.

Example: There are not many people who can write well.
Revised: Few people write well.

Example: There is no reason that can justify your behaviour to our client.
Revised: No reason justifies your behaviour to our client.

Example: There are several issues we need to discuss.
Revised: We need to discuss several issues.

Example: There is the self-assessment test, which allows clients to identify what they need.
Revised: The self-assessment test allows clients to identify what they need.
Revised: Clients can identify what they need by completing the self-assessment test.

Example: There is a comprehensive listing of studies and reports related to businesses on the website.
Revised: The website provides a comprehensive listing of studies and reports.

 

Interviewing in English


31 August 2014

Interviewing is an important task that shows your ability to ask relevant questions and identify key skills in prospective employees. Conducting an interview efficiently is a critical task, since hiring the wrong person can cost your company a lot of time and money. Often, there are standard interview styles and formats which can be used to conduct interviews, but you should also remember that conversation is spontaneous and can lead in different directions. It is always better to think ahead and to prepare questions for different scenarios.

Some key points to remember are:

  • Keep each interviewee's details in mind and ask questions that are relevant to their backgrounds and qualifications, and that are built around the job description.
  • Remain friendly and alert at all times.
  • Keep your tone pleasant and interested, but impersonal.
  • Use key words and phrases from the interviewee's responses to lead the conversation forward.
  • Remember that body language and visual cues are often as important as what is said.
  • Examine the interviewee's resume carefully to ensure that you ask relevant questions.
  • Take brief notes on the candidate's responses so that you don't forget anything important that they have said.
  • Don't ask leading questions that give away the answers.

A successful interview is one that combines different types of questions to get comprehensive information from the person being interviewed, and that assesses the job applicant's capabilities effectively.

 

Vertical Lists: Using Bullets or Numbers


24 August 2014

Use numbered lists when working with instructions that are to be carried out in sequence. If the sequence of items is not essential, use bullets.

Example of a Numbered List:

Follow these general steps when you plan a database:

  1. Decide on which categories of information you want to work with, and plan a separate database file for each category.
  2. Analyze your current information management system to determine the tasks to perform.
  3. Decide on the data you want the file to contain, and plan the fields to hold the data.
  4. Determine the relationship between your file and other files containing useful data.

Example of a Bulleted List:

Keep these points in mind:

  • Merge fields by typing the field name with symbols.
  • Use a text field to set data in the browser.
  • Add symbols among merged fields on the layout.
  • Format merged fields with the formatting option.
 

Agreeing to and Declining Requests


17 August 2014

When agreeing to a request, agree to it in a positive manner. Don't just say 'Ok' or 'All right.' Use these positive phrases:


Absolutely.
Sure.
Yes, I'd be happy to.
No problem.
That should be OK.

Sometimes, you may be undecided and unable to give a definite answer at that moment. In such cases, use these phrases to buy yourself a little time:


Can I think about that?
I'll get back to you. Let me have a think.
If you don't mind, can I give you an answer this afternoon?
Give me some time to consider it.

At other times, you may agree to a request but with certain conditions. Then you can use these phrases:


OK. But only with the following conditions:
Yes, that's fine. But only if...
Sure, but I'd prefer it if you...

Declining a request is more difficult. Don't decline a request directly. Use one of tentative the phrases below and follow it up with a good reason:


I'm afraid I can't.
That's really not possible, I'm afraid.
I wish I could but...
I'd really love to help you, but...
I'm not sure if that's a good idea.
I don't know about that. You see...

 

Removing Unnecessary Verb-Noun Combinations


10 August 2014

There is something about writing that makes us express ourselves more formally than we would do in speech. For example, you might chat with a co-worker about how you are going to evaluate a marketing campaign. But when you sit down to write a report about it, for some reason you find yourself writing about "the evaluation of the marketing campaign".

This habit, which we call nominalisation, is very common in all areas of government and the business world. What happens is that instead of using a verb, for example, to evaluate, the writer uses the related noun, evaluation.

You're probably thinking that there's nothing wrong with that, but nominalisations appear all over our writing. They lengthen our sentences and make the writing less lively, less human and more official. They prevent our writing being clear as actions are hidden in the nouns.

Here's an example:

Example: The programmer will be a new addition to our staff's expertise.
Revised:
The programmer will add to our staff's expertise.

Example: On this site you will learn how to find solutions to your writing problems.
Revised:
AdminWriting.com helps you solve your writing problems.

Of the verb-noun problems the "made" trap stands out as the most common:

  • made a suggestion (suggested)
  • made a recommendation (recommended)
  • made a choice (chose)
  • made an agreement (agreed)
  • made a presentation (presented)
  • made a proposition (proposed)
  • made a decision (decided)
  • made a revision (revised)

Other common verb-noun problems include:

  • gave an explanation (explained)
  • submitted a resignation (resigned)
  • expressed opposition (opposed)
  • took under consideration (considered)
  • provided maintenance (maintained)
  • reached a conclusion (concluded)
  • provided information (informed)
  • provided a quotation (quoted)
  • came to a realization (realized)
  • conducted an investigation (investigated)
  • put on a performance (performed)
  • led to a reduction (reduced)
  • had a suspicion (suspected)
  • had an expectation (expected)
  • used exaggeration (exaggerated)
  • gave authorization (authorized)

 

 

Making Polite Requests: Different Requests for Different Situations


03 August 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:

Help me file these documents please. (Very Direct - more demand than request)

Please will you help me file these documents? (Less Direct)

Could you help me file these documents please? (Even Less Direct)

Do you think you could possibly help me file these documents? (Indirect)

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.

  1. 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.
  1. How important is the action to the speaker? Usually, the more important the action, the more indirect the expression.
  1. 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.
 
 

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 .............
 
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