Business English Tip of the Week

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Professional Adjectives to Describe Personality

18 Nov 2018

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.


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


doing a job seriously and with a lot of effort


working hard with care and effort


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


enthusiastic about doing something


able to be trusted or believed


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


listening or watching carefully and showing that you are interested


always doing your work with a lot of care


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


having a lot of ideas and enthusiasm; energetic and forceful


having or involving a lot of energy


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

11 Nov 2018

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

04 Nov 2018
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)

Common Interview Question Types

28 Oct 2018

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

21 Oct 2018

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:


get - getting;

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

admit -admitted; admit - admittance

ship - shipping

ship - shipment (the suffix begins with a consonant)

Employment Interview Techniques

14 Oct 2018

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

07 Oct 2018

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.


Enquiring about a Job by Telephone

30 Sep 2018

When you are Telephoning an Employer

Have with you:

  • Paper
  • Pen
  • Diary or Calendar
  • The advert and any reference number for the job
  • The name of the person you want to speak to, or the extension number you require

When the Phone is Answered

It is unlikely you will get through right away to the person you want to speak to. Often, calls are answered by a receptionist who will then transfer your call. So, when phoning you should ask for:

  • A person by name
  • Or a department
  • Or an extension number

Check you are speaking to the person you want. When the receptionist transfers your call, check you've got the right person:

Is that Peter Jenkinson?

Say why you are calling. This part really is worth preparing. Decide what you're going to say before you telephone.

Explain briefly:

  • The vacancy you are interested in
  • How you came to know of it

Be Prepared - with a 'personal telephone check card'. The other person may want to hear something about you. They may only want your name and address in order to send you information, such as an application form, but, be ready to talk about yourself.

In some cases you may have the chance to ask questions. You may want to store these on the back of your Personal Telephone Check Card.

Here are a few examples of questions you might want to ask:

What does the job involve?
When would I be required to start work?
What are the hours of work?
Is weekend work required?
Do you expect staff to work shifts?
What is the starting salary?
Is there any overtime?
What are the prospects of promotion?

Remember, it's most unlikely you would need to ask all of these questions or even get the chance to! What you ask will depend on what information is already in the advertisement and on the way the phone call develops.

Listen Carefully

  • Give the other person time to speak.
  • Listen carefully to what they say and take notes in case you forget e.g. time, place of interview.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the person to repeat something if you don't catch what has been said, or to spell out names which are unusual.

Telephone Problems

Think how you would cope with the following problems. There are some suggestions for you to consider.

  • A bad phone line: "I'm sorry, it's a very bad line. Could you please repeat that?"
  • Getting cut off: Don't be put off - phone back and explain you must have been cut off.
  • The person you want to leave a message with is not there or unavailable: "Could you tell Mr Jenkinson I phoned. My name is William Chiang. I'll phone again. Do you know when he will be free?"
  • Mishearing something: Always check what has been said. By repeating the key points back to the person you are speaking to, anything you've misheard can be clarified and confirmed.
  • Spelling a name: If the line is bad and you are trying to spell a name, use the international alphabet, e.g. A for Alfred; B for Benjamin, C for Charles, etc.

Confirm Details

At the end of the conversation, confirm anything you have agreed. (Read this back to the employer to make sure).

  • Correct address for attendance at interview.
  • Date and time of appointment and directions for location of interview.
  • If you don't already know it, get the name of the person you have spoken to.
  • Thank the person for his or her time.

Punctuation Tip: Colon vs. Semicolon

23 Sep 2018


Both the colon (:) and the semicolon (;) are used quite commonly in business writing; however, there is often a lot of confusion about  which one to use and when to use them. To avoid confusing you further, here we will just look at the main use of each.

A colon is most commonly used to introduce a list (often after 'for example', 'namely', 'i.e'. 'as follows' 'as in the  following' etc.). Look at these examples:

The quotation has been divided into the following sections: course development, tuition and pre/post-course testing.

The Human Resources Department is comprised of two sections, namely: the Personnel Department and the Training Department.

We offer several types of investment opportunities, for example: income bonds, unit trusts and foreign currency.

However, if the items in a list following the colon are long or contain commas, they ought to be separated from each other using  semicolons. This helps to make the sentence clearer and easier to read. For example:

Please send this letter to the following companies: Hon, Wang and Staunton Ltd.; Baxter-Mackenzie; and Zerox Co. Ltd.

The business writing seminar will cover three main areas: clear, concise and modern English; structure, layout and organisation of business texts; and, business writing styles.





Interviewing in English

16 Sep 2018

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.


Study Skills to Improve Your English

09 Sep 2018

Below we suggest some basic study skills to help you improve all aspects of your English.


  • listen for the general idea
  • listen for important details
  • listen for grammatical forms
  • listen to tapes or radio programs about your personal interests
  • check your progress with comprehension questions


  • read quickly for the general idea (skimming)
  • read silently without moving your mouth
  • read carefully for important details
  • notice word order and grammatical patterns while reading
  • find the most important words and highlight only these words
  • read about your personal interests in English
  • check your progress with comprehension questions


  • repeat new words by speaking and writing
  • gesture while repeating a new action verb
  • list new words by topic
  • read dictionary entries thoughtfully
  • check dictionaries for all the meanings of a word
  • check other similar-sounding or similarly-spelled words
  • write hard-to-remember words on cards
  • sort vocabulary cards into topics
  • sort vocabulary cards alphabetically
  • sort vocabulary cards by how well you know the words
  • think about ways you can use a new word in your life
  • make an example sentence to use a new word
  • speak or write your new words in real communication
  • chart words by meanings – with similar and opposite meanings
  • cut apart long compound words and identify prefixes, roots and suffixes
  • study variant forms of prefixes, roots and suffixes


  • test your hearing of similar but distinct English sounds
  • use a mirror to see if your tongue and lips are in the correct position
  • repeat difficult phrases to exercise your mouth muscles
  • copy English speech rhythm with a drum or nonsense syllables
  • check your progress by dictation to a native speaker


  • compare the charts and explanations of one grammar point in different books
  • compare English word order and grammar forms with your language
  • use computer grammar practice for quick feedback
  • listen for grammar
  • practice grammar in speaking
  • check progress with grammar tests


  • rehearse model recorded conversations
  • relax to develop fluency
  • meet people who use English for conversation
  • use English at certain times with friends or family members
  • arrange a conversation practice group
  • give a little speech about something of personal importance


  • study spelling rules
  • learn cursive writing or italic calligraphy
  • write your personal story in English
  • write letters to a pen pal
  • write a letter to a newspaper or politician
  • write stories and practice irregular past tense forms
  • write a report after reading something interesting
  • translate something from your language then compare your English with a native speaker's translation to study word order and communication style.

Taking Telephone Messages

02 Sep 2018

Taking telephone messages well is a skill that saves time for both the caller and the receiver.

If you need to take a message for someone, get as much information as possible. Always include:

  • The date and time of the call.
  • The full name of the person calling (ask for correct spelling).
  • The company the caller is from.
  • The phone number and time available for callback.
  • The purpose of the call.

Give enough information to the caller so they know what to expect, such as when the person they are trying to reach will return.

When taking a message, avoid saying, “I’ll have him call you back when he returns.” It would be better to say, “I’ll make sure he gets your message when he returns.”

Bear the following points in mind when leaving a telephone message

  • Don't speak too fast!
  • Pronounce and spell your name clearly.
  • Slow down when saying your telephone number and pause somewhere in the sequence of providing your number.
  • Give your company name, title and reason for calling.
  • Let them know when to call you back.



Using Modal Verbs to Express Possibility

26 Aug 2018

There are times when writers are uncertain about what will happen and need to refer to future events as possibilities or probabilities, not as future certainties.

Here, we'll briefly review the language used to show how 'probable' future events are, i.e. what is the chance that they will happen.

We can use certain modal verbs followed by the bare infinitive (i.e. the infinitive without 'to') to refer to the future. These modal verbs can be used in the active and passive voice.

May / Might + bare infinitive

May and might are used to express the uncertain possibility of an action in the future. May expresses stronger possibility than might.

Interest rates may increase in the next few months.
Interest rates might be increased in the next few months.

Could / Can + bare Infinitive

We use can and could to express future possibility when the possibility is related to suggestions, plans or projects.

The company's lawyers think it could take a long time to draw up the contract.
We are expanding overseas, so I could be sent to China or Taiwan in the next few months.

Can expresses stronger possibility than could. However as the can of possibility is easily confused with the can of ability, may/could are usually used to avoid confusion.

They can deliver tomorrow on time. (They are able to deliver on time)
They can deliver tomorrow on time. (It is possible for them to deliver on time)

Which meaning is intended? To avoid such confusion use may.

They may/could deliver tomorrow on time. (It is possible for them to deliver on time)
They may/could attend the meeting on Friday.

Could is also used to express a conditional possibility, i.e. the possibility of something happening or not depends on something else happening.

We could go to Macau next week, if you take Monday off work.
The company could expand if it had more capital.

Welcoming Business Visitors - Offering Help

19 Aug 2018

When welcoming a visitor to your office, you should offer to take their coat or umbrella (if they have one), offer them a seat, and offer them something to drink. There are a number of ways of making offers in English. The common ones start with these phrases:

Would you like ...?
Would you like me to ...?
Can I get you ...?


Let's look at how each of these phrases is used in context:


Would you like something to drink?
Would you like any coffee or tea?
Would you like a cold drink?
Would you like to take a seat?
Would you like a magazine to read while you wait?

Would you like me to take your umbrella?
Would you like me to get you a magazine to read?
Would you like me to get you a drink?

Can I get you any tea or coffee?
Can I get you some water?
Can I get you a cold drink?


Choose the most appropriate phrase to suit the context in which the offer is made.



Checklist for Writing Effective Emails

12 Aug 2018

Use the following checklist to ensure that your e-mail reflects your professionalism and increases your credibility within your company:

1. Company e-mail is the appropriate choice for this document
. The e-mail, which may reside in your system's memory and be accessible to people other than the intended reader:

  • Contains information that pertains only to your job responsibilities or to company-approved functions. You followed company guidelines for using e-mail for personal communications.
  • Contains no confidential or sensitive information. It could be made public or subpoenaed without embarrassment to your company or you, the writer.
  • Is not a way of avoiding talking to someone in person or by telephone. Don't let e-mail replace human interaction that builds relationships and allows you to observe or hear people's reactions to what you are saying.
  • Contains no reprimanding or emotional wording. Constructive criticism is received best in one-to-one, in-person coaching sessions.
  • Requires immediate response.
  • Is not information required by the reader for long-term reference.

2. The distribution list is appropriate:

  • All those who should receive the information have been copied. For example, you have not relied upon the primary reader to distribute the information to his/her direct reports if you require them to have the information.
  • Those who do not need to know the information have not been copied.

3. You have respected your reader's time and edited the e-mail for clarity. You:

  • Eliminated wordiness; eliminated any "streams of consciousness."
  • Used short words, sentences, and paragraphs.
  • Used precise, factual wording.
  • Translated technical jargon and acronyms as appropriate for the distribution list.
  • Deleted any unnecessary "document trail."

4. You have used professional presentation, tone, and courtesy. You:

  • Used a simple format that will convert well to all computer systems/programs.
  • Used upper- and lower-case letters rather than all capitals. Upper and lower case letters are easier to read; using all capitals seems like yelling. The rule of thumb is to put no more than eight words in all capitals; you have saved all capitals for emphasis or headings.
  • Have written the e-mail from your reader's point of view. Your wording is considerate and polite; it is objective and direct without being abrupt.
  • Used words that are appropriate for a business environment.

5. You have organized the e-mail strategically. You ensured accurate and complete content. You:

  • Provided a subject heading and opening purpose statement that predict the document's content.
  • Anticipated and answered your reader's questions, providing background information when it helps your reader understand your message.
  • Double-checked the accuracy of facts and figures.
  • Clearly and explicitly asked for action or described what you will do next.

6. You have proofread the e-mail. You:

  • Used correct, consistent punctuation.
  • Used your spell checker and double-checked the spelling of people's names and of company products and services.
  • Replaced "brief hand" abbreviations such as "w/" and "info" with standard spellings.
  • Ensured your precise use of all vocabulary, especially of any unfamiliar vocabulary gleaned from your computer's thesaurus.
  • Checked grammar (especially subject-verb agreement) and usage (for example, commonly confused words such as "there" and "their").
  • Checked sentence structure (especially to correct any fragments or run-on sentences).