Essential Grammar Considerations for Business English

Business English Grammar

Communication is fundamental in all business dealings. It is at the core of all sales, production and manufacturing. Without it, companies would have no profits or products to offer. It doesn’t matter if it is spoken or written, clear wording is needed to convey the right meaning and emotions to attract new clients and motivate employees. Understanding English grammar is an essential tool to facilitate communication at all levels. A smooth delivery will increase sales and reduce friction between employees.

  1. Reported Speech

Take for instance, the grammar of reported speech. Reporting information incorrectly can cause major misunderstandings.

Conversation between Supervisor and Employee. (telling co-worker what supervisor said)

***Supervisor talking to employee

Supervisor: I need you to finish the report by Friday.

Employee: I can do that, no problem.

Supervisor: Good.

***Employee goes back to his office.

Conversation between Employee and co-worker.

Co-worker: I heard you talking to the supervisor, what did she say?

Employee: She says I need you to finish the report by Friday.

Co-worker: What report?

Why is the co-worker confused? It’s not the co-worker who is responsible for the report. It’s the employee. The cause of the confusion is bad grammar. The employee should have told his co-worker that “She said she needs me to finish the report by Friday.” Reported speech can cause many difficulties. It is important to understand all aspects of its complex grammar structure.

  1. Modal verbs

There are two kinds of modal verbs, pure and semi. As the tittle suggests ‘pure’ modals follow one specific pattern: modal verb + the base form of the verb. Can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will and would are all pure modals. 

Pure Modals

  • You must respond to their inquiry.

The term ‘Semi’ modal refers to modal verbs that have different grammar patterns. For example, ‘ought’ and ‘had better’

Semi Modals

  • She ought to go to the meeting.

The modal verb ‘ought’ is followed by the infinitive not the base form of the verb. Many business people overuse the same modals because they don’t feel confident about the grammar structure. A good example is the conversation that takes place between a salesperson and a client.

Conversation between a salesperson and a client. (the salesperson is trying to convince the customer to buy the product)

Salesperson: This product is very good. You must try it.

Client: I am not sure if it will help me with my problem.

Salesperson: It must help, it is the best.

Client: I will think about it.

Salesperson: Yes, you must think about it.

The client is wondering why the salesperson keeps saying the word ‘must’. It makes the salesperson sound very rigid and aggressive. Unfortunately, the salesperson doesn’t know the different grammar patterns and is afraid to use a different modal verb in case of a mistake.

  1. Gerunds and Infinitives

A few verbs can be followed by either a gerund or an infinitive. These verbs will change the meaning of the sentence depending or whether a gerund or infinitive is used and include stop, remember, like.

  • He stopped to buy new equipment. (he bought new equipment)
  • He stopped buying new equipment. (he didn’t buy new equipment)

The role of gerunds and infinitives in those verbs that can take either is critical. Consider the following conversation between a supervisor and employee.

Conversation between supervisor and employee (talking about making a purchase)

Supervisor: Did you buy that new computer today like I asked?

Employee: Yes, I stopped buying the new computer at the supplier.

Although the employee has purchased a new computer, he is saying to his supervisor that he did not buy the computer because he doesn’t understand that using a gerund has a different meaning than an infinitive.

  1. Parallel Structure

Parallel structure can help business people in presenting a product or strengthen an argument. The following example is a strong argument that could be persuasive with reluctant managers.

  • This is the best way to do the project because it will increase sales, revenue, and profit.

The words sales, revenue and profit are all nouns. They are the same grammatical parts of speech. Parallels structure can be used in many ways such as all adjectives or all adverbial clauses. Most people understand the mechanics of the grammar structure but are not aware of its many grammatical forms and don’t understand the punch it delivers when trying to convince other people to do it your way.

  1. Comparative Structure

In business, employees are often asked for comparisons of prices, methods or technologies. Although comparative structure is usually well understood, the variety of ways it can be used is often unknown. Look at the comparison that has a conditional relationship:

  • The greater the risk, the higher the reward.

How would you write this if you were not aware of the comparative form that shows conditional relationships? It would be much wordier and probably lose the reader.

  1. Articles

Articles are difficult to learn as there are over one-hundred rules and even more exceptions. Even deciding on whether or not to use a definite or indefinite article can be a problem in many business situations.

Conversations between employee and co-worker (talking about photocopying)

Employee: I need to use a photocopier.

Co-worker (who is using their photocopier now): there is a copier on the second floor.

Employee: I’m in a hurry, I need a photocopier.

Co-worker: There is another copier on the fourth floor.

Employee: I need to use the photocopier (pointing at the copier his co-worker is using)

Co-worker: oh!

If the employee had used the article ‘the’ in the first sentence, his co-worker would have understood immediately what he needed. They both would have saved time.

  1. Conditionals

Using conditionals can be a challenge. There are many verb tenses arranged in different ways depending on the situation and point in time. These are some of the conditionals and their varied situations and time.

If + simple present, will + future

If you place the order now, we will ship it today.


If + simple past, would + infinitive

If they had more money, they would invest in the stock market.


If + past perfect, would + have + past participle.

If I had gone to the meeting, I would have heard the announcement.


What would happen if the customer called to place an order, but you were confused about conditional times? The results could be as follows leaving the customer thoroughly confused.


  • If you place your order now, we would have shipped it today! X
  • If you place your order now, we will ship it today! (using future time)


  1. Pronouns

Using the right pronoun is very important especially when it is referring to a noun or a person. Mistakes are very noticeable in either writing or speaking.

  • John and Jeff found a receipt which he put in his pocket.

Did John or Jeff put the receipt in his pocket? We don’t know because ‘he’ could mean either John or Jeff.

  • Susan put the envelop in her drawer and opened it.

Here the pronoun ‘it’ refers to either the drawer or the envelope. We don’t know which one it means.


  1. Embedded questions

clients and employees have many different styles of communication. Some prefer a direct style while others prefer a softer, more indirect approach. Embedded questions are less direct and are considered more polite than direct inquiries. It is important to be able to interact with people who have different communications styles because it will further your career.

  • Where is the nearest supplier? (direct question)
  • I can’t remember where the nearest supplier is. (embedded question)


  • What is the date today? (direct question)
  • I wonder what the date is today. (embedded question)

The listener is prompted in both cases to provide the information without directly being asked.


  1. Fronting

When business people need to make a strong argument, disagree with someone or want to express an emotion, grammatical fronting can be helpful. Fronting is putting part of a clause in front of the verb and subject.

  1. The normal way to say it:
  • I have been seeing the client regularly for the past few weeks.

Fronted adverbial clause:

  • For the past few weeks, I have been seeing the client regularly.

This emphasizes ‘the past few weeks’ by putting it first in the sentence.

  1. The normal way to say it:
  • I have heard from him only occasionally since he became CEO.

Fronted adverbial clause:

  • Only occasionally since he became CEO have I heard from him.

Here the emphasis is on what has occurred since his promotion. What is at the front of the sentence often creates the most impact.

Grammar is the oil that greases the wheels of communication. If you want to get ahead in business, knowing many of the key points of grammar will help you!

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