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!

Avoid Weak Sentence Starts

27 Jan 2019

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

20 Jan 2019

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.

Vertical Lists: Using Bullets or Numbers

13 Jan 2019

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

06 Jan 2019

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

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

30 Dec 2018

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.
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: 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

23 Dec 2018

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

16 Dec 2018



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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

He was just ignorant, not stupid.


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

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


when someone is addressed directly.

Richard, can you do me a big favour?


to show an appositive³.

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


in dates.

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


in front of tag questions.

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


after digits indicating thousands.


¹ Note that 'but' and 'and' do not take a comma when both clauses are relatively short.
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.
When an appositive is only one word, no comma is needed.


Introducing Yourself at Work Part 2

09 Dec 2018

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.


Adjective + Preposition Combinations

02 Dec 2018

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.

Introducing Yourself at Work Part 1

25 Nov 2018

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

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)