Business English Tip of the Week

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Using Capital Letters in Your Writing

09 Aug 2020

International business suffers from a serious overuse and incorrect use of capital (uppercase) letters. Here are examples of incorrect capitalization.

incorrect Be sure to visit our Web Site.
incorrect All the Company Employees are to attend the meeting.
incorrect We are the largest Province in the country.
incorrect Our Bookkeeper paid the invoice.
incorrect She went to University in Japan.

Here are some guidelines for the use of capital letters:

Names of People

Ms Jennifer Karen Montgomery
Mrs Lisa Veronica Mallory
Mr Ming-Wa Nguyen

Family Title as Part of the Name

I wonder where Aunt Susan is. ("Aunt" is used as part of her name.)
I wonder where your aunt is. ("aunt" is NOT used as part of her name.)

Family Title Instead of the Name

I wonder why Mother is late today. ("Mother" is used as her name.)
I wonder why your mother is late today. ("mother" is NOT used as her name.)

Days of the Week

Monday, Wednesday, Saturday

Months of the Year

April, September, December

Holidays

Valentine's Day, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Divali, Tet

Note: the names of the seasons are NOT capitalized.

tick1 My favourite season is autumn.
incorrect My favourite season is Autumn.

Cities

Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, London, Paris

States / Provinces

Florida, California, Guangdong, Shenzhen

Buildings, Parks, Zoos

I visited the San Francisco Zoo on my vacation. ("Zoo" is used as part of the name.)
I visited the zoo on my vacation. ("zoo" is NOT used as part of the name.)

Languages, Countries, Nationalities

Spanish, English, Chinese
South Korea, the United States
German, French, Japanese

CAPITALIZED: We went to South Korea on vacation. ("South" is used as part of the name.)
LOWER CASE: We drove south on Harbour Drive. ("south" is NOT used as part of the name.)

Job Titles and Company Departments

Chief Executive Officer
Sales Manager
Administrative Assistant
the Accounts Department
the Research and Development Department

 

 

Having an Awareness of Tone

02 Aug 2020

When speaking or writing in a business context, it is very important to be aware of tone. Tone has to do with not the meaning of words but how they are said or written. For example, if you invited three close friends over to watch a football game, the language you might use with them would be very different than the language you might use if you met the Queen of England or a very well-known politician. The difference in the way you'd say things to the Queen and your friends is called tone.

Think for a minute about your native language. How might you say these sentences (in your native language) differently, depending on who you were with:

Give me that pen.
Stop talking and listen.
Sit down right now.

We make things more formal, of course, by adding words like "please" and "kindly". We also make it more formal by adding phrases such as "Could you....", " Would you mind...," "I was wondering if you could..." etc.

Sometimes tone has to do, then, with being more polite. Sometimes, though, it's not a matter of politeness, but of formality. Some words are just more formal than others. Consider the following list of words, for example, which are rather informal. On the right are words that are similar in meaning but reflect a more formal tone.

informal formal
really very
better improved
go depart
at first initially
lucky fortunate
empty depleted
ask enquire
next following
help assistance
need require
in the end finally
whole entire
wrong incorrect
chance opportunity
cheap inexpensive
not as good inferior
over and over again repeatedly
get obtain

Keep in mind that this is certainly not a complete list. While it's incorrect to say that the words on the left are impolite, they are less formal. That means you would almost never use these words in a formal business letter, but you wouldn't use the formal words on the right if you were spending time with your friends at home. Also note that in North American and British/Australian/South African business circles, it is usually fine to be somewhat informal when speaking; this is not the case when it comes to writing, however.

 
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