Crash Course English Grammar

Grammar Rules for Business English That You Can Master Right Now

Welcome to your Crash Course English Grammar, tailored specifically for the business world. Whether you’re drafting emails, preparing presentations, or speaking with colleagues and clients, mastering these 12 grammar rules will enhance your clarity, professionalism, and effectiveness.

Would you like to improve your English grammar and fluency for your career? The English Center provides quality, private Business English training, online and on location in Amsterdam, Den Haag and Amstelveen.

Contact The English Center to learn more. 

English Grammar is a complex minefield of rules with lots of exceptions. We have chosen our top 12 to give you our personal English Center rapid tutorial on English Grammar.  

Grammar Rule 1: Use the Active Voice

Don’t make me wait!

In business communication, using the active voice is preferred because it makes sentences clear from the start. In the active voice, we know immediately who is acting – who is performing the action expressed by the verb. In English, we generally prefer to know the “who did it” right up front. Another plus of active voice is that it generally requires fewer words, so it ticks the all important concision box. (More about that later.)

Comparison of active and passive voice.

Passive: The report was completed by Tom.

Active: Tom completed the report.

Rule 2: Keep Tenses Consistent

When the heck did it happen?

Consistency in verb tenses helps keep your message straightforward and easy to understand. Switching tenses mid-sentence can confuse the reader.

Tense consistency

Inconsistent: We were moving quickly with planning the project while the other team had been encountering lots of problems.

Consistent: We were moving quickly with planning the project while the other team was encountering lots of problems.

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Rule 3: Proper Use of Commas

Commas, not cannibals! (see the example below)

Commas can change the meaning of your sentences dramatically. They clarify meaning by indicating pauses and separating elements within a sentence. And the presence or absence of a comma can (sometimes) dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. For example, compare:

“Let’s eat, Tom.” (This sentence contains a comma and is a polite suggestion to your colleague,Tom, to have lunch together)

and

“Let’s eat Tom!”.:-o (This sentence is a suggestion to a third person or a group of people to cannibalize/eat Tom. Oh my. Thankfully, not all comma errors are that dangerous ;-).

For a useful list of concise commas rules, go to The English Center blog Comma Rules Made Simple.

Rule 4: Use Concise Language

Can you please get to the point?

In business writing, brevity is key. Avoid using redundant pairs, excessive adjectives (try to find  the perfect verb instead), and filler words that don’t add value to the content. When you edit your work, delete the unnecessary words. Think of yourself as a sculptor, chiseling away everything that is not needed in order to reveal the beauty of the final product.

Lean and mean, concision is king! Enough said.

Verbose: We are currently in the process of reviewing all of the various different options.

Concise: We are reviewing all options.

Read more about English Center locations in Amsterdam, Den Haag, and Amstelveen. And remember, we also offer in company training and courses online.

Rule 5: Correct Pronoun Usage

Grammar Explanation

Pronouns replace nouns. Pronouns should always agree in number and gender with the nouns they refer to. Misuse / excessive use of pronouns can lead to confusion and appear lazy or unprofessional. 

And in the post millennium period, be especially sensitive to the pronouns you use for people who may be trans, nonbinary, etc. If you are not sure of someone’s preferred pronoun, ask them. Finally, be aware that the pronoun “they” is now accepted as a singular pronoun for non binary people.

Incorrect: Mary and Lisbeth are really fun to work with. She is always cracking jokes and keeping us laughing while we work.

Correct: Mary and Lisbeth are really fun to work with. They are always cracking jokes and keeping us laughing while we work.

Rule 6: Use the Correct Form of ‘Its’ and ‘It’s’

Crash Course English Grammar Explanation

It’s is a contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has,’ while ‘its’ is a possessive pronoun (a pronoun that shows to whom something belongs.) This is a common mistake but it’s easily corrected.

Why won’t the printer work?

Incorrect: Its important to check it’s toner.

Correct: It’s important to check its toner.

Rule 7: The future’s bright, with lots of choice!

Grammar Explanation

There are lots of ways to speak about the future in English, so this is one tense that should not make you tense (haha). Here are some examples. Contractions have been added to illustrate the many correct ways to speak about the future..

I fly to Paris tomorrow.

I am going to fly to Paris tomorrow.

I’m going to fly to Paris tomorrow.

I am flying to Paris tomorrow.

I’m flying to Paris tomorrow.

I will fly to Paris tomorrow.

I’ll fly to Paris tomorrow

I will be flying to Paris tomorrow.

I’ll be flying to Paris tomorrow.

Of course, there are some nuanced differences in the sentences above.

PRO TIP > – When we say, “going to,” we emphasize that the future action is planned, Thus, when your boss says, “When will the report be finished?”, it’s better to say, “I’m going to finish it today,” than to say, “I’ll finish it today.” The former sounds like finishing the report is already a planned item for today, and the latter sounds like you are responding in the moment. Maybe there was no plan. Thus, English speakers use “going to” to show intent. To indicate that a plan is already in place. To reassure your manager that you are “on top of it.”

Want to know more about the future tense? Our favorite grammar book, English Grammar in Use, by Raymond Murphy, has a great one page explainer about the future. It’s on page 295. 

Rule 8: Use Correct Capitalization

England and America: Two great countries separated by a shared language :-/

Capitalization rules help identify proper nouns and show us that a new sentence has begun. But watch out! American English and British English have different rules about capitalization. In general, Americans use a lot more capitals than the Brits, Aussies, etc. 

PRO TIP> Know the style guide for your company and stick with those rules. 

I have to admit to capitalization mixing, as I just cannot decide which style I like better. Hopefully you will not fall prey to this problem. And 2 more tips: “uppercase” and “capital letters” are the same thing. Finally, title case is different than sentence case. 

Sentence case rules are generally the same in both AE and BE and simply instruct us to start each sentence with a capital letter and to use capitals for proper nouns.

Title case rules are where we see differences:

AE: Capitalize the first word, the word I, proper nouns, and all words more than 4 letters.

BE: Capitalize the first word, the word I, and proper nouns. 

Capitalization examples

Incorrect title case AE and BE: About the acme marketing department

Correct title case AE : About the Acme Marketing Department

Correct title case BE: About the Acme marketing department

Incorrect sentence case AE and BE: The acme Marketing Department is very strong.

Correct sentence case AE and BE: The Acme marketing department is very strong.

In AE title case, capitalize ALL words longer than 4 letters!

In BE title case, use sentence case. In other words, use the same rules you would use for a sentence.

This rule applies in both AE and BE: Always capitalize these things – first words and proper nouns (names of persons and places).

Still not clear about proper nouns? Proper nouns are words such as Amsterdam, Mary, Rijksmuseum, Empire State Building, Schiphol, President Macron.They are words that pertain to a particular being or thing. 

PRO TIP> Want to know more about American capitalization? Check our these concise capitalization guidelines from the APA

https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/capitalization/title-case

PRO TIP> Want to know more about capitalization and all things stylistic in British English? Consider getting a copy of The Economist Style Guide. 

Rule 9: Apostrophes in Contractions and Possessives

Grammar Explanation

Use apostrophes to indicate possession OR to form contractions. Omitting or misplacing apostrophes can cause misunderstandings or give an unprofessional impression.

Examples

Possession singular noun: The company’s policies

Possession plural noun: The companies’ policies

Possession and contraction: At Maxim’s Sportswear, we’re expanding our market, and we won’t stop till we’ve achieved our goals.

Are you interested in Intensive English grammar training? Learn more about our intensive English courses here.

Crash Course English Grammar Explanation

Prepositions are important for describing relationships between different elements in a sentence. Misusing them can make your meaning unclear or make you sound less natural when speaking English. Adding prepositions when they are unnecessary can make your sentences wordy and less concise.

Example

Incorrect: She is responsible with managing of the team.

Correct: She is responsible for managing the team.

Correct but unnatural: That is the desk of Susan.

Correct and natural: That is Susan’s desk.

Correct: The center of the city is bustling with activity.

Correct and more concise: The city center is bustling with activity. 

PRO TIP> There are so many possible proposition combinations that this is, admittedly, a tough area to master. But here is one rule that generally works. When speaking of transport, use “on” for trains, buses, trams, ships, horses, bikes, airplanes. The memory cue is that you can stand up on these. For situations where you cannot stand up, use “in.” In a car, in a truck, in a helicopter.

PRO TIP> Speaking about hospitals: In or at?

If you say you are in the hospital, the listener may be alarmed and will assume you are sick or you have had an accident. 

If you say you are at the hospital, the listener will think you are visiting someone who is sick.

Rule 11: Plurals – ending in -s, don’t have an apostrophe! 

English Grammar Explanation

This one is straightforward. If you are adding an -s to a plural, never use an apostrophe. The plural of a noun is usually -s without an apostrophe.

Incorrect: Photo’s

Correct: Photos

Incorrect: I have so many report’s to finish by the end of this week.

Correct: I have so many reports to finish by the end of this week.

Spelling of other plural forms:

Words ending in -y, change to -ies. 

E.g Dictionary > Dictionaries

Words ending in -s, -sh, -ch, -x and -o change to -es 

E.g bus > buses, dish > dishes, church > churches, box > boxes, potato > potatoes 

Irregular plural forms children, men, women, feet, mice, fish

Rule 12: Past tense simple verbs with did: Statements, questions and negatives

Crash Course English Grammar Explanation

In statements about the past, we use a past tense verb. 

I worked a lot last week.

But… in questions and negative statements with the auxiliary (helping) verb “did,” we use the infinitive form. For example: 

Did you work a lot last week? No, I didn’t work much at all last week.

This rule works for regular and irregular verbs. 🙂 And it works when you use the  contraction (didn’t).

PRO TIP> This rule may seem counterintuitive, but when you have learned the pattern, it will become easy to avoid this common error. Learn the pattern with these examples:

Negotiate

   – Statement: She negotiated a new contract with the client.

   – Negative: She did not negotiate a new contract with the client.

   – Question: Did she negotiate a new contract with the client?

Think

– Statement: I thought about our project goals over the weekend.

– Negative: I did not think about our project goals over the weekend.

– Questions: Did you think about our project goals over the weekend?


We hope you found this Crash Course English Grammar useful. Want to learn more about English grammar for business? Perhaps take a short course in English grammar to review what you learned in high school or university and then scale up for professional English?

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