grammar-for-business

8 Important English Grammar Rules That Anyone in Business Should Understand

English grammar is as useful for business as your favorite suit.

Just like that suit, your grammar should be perfectly tailored to your message.

After all, using good English grammar when talking or writing always creates a positive impression.

One of the ways to get there is to be more accurate. When you use accurate language, this means that you say exactly what you want to say by using the correct grammar structures.

Luckily, learning English grammar can be simple and fun if you study it the right way! We recommend that you follow these steps.

5 Steps to Understand English Grammar and Use It Well

1. Look closely at the rule

Sometimes grammar rules can be complex. However, you need to understand the rules, not just memorize them. Really understanding how grammar works will help you use it better and with greater accuracy.

You’re going to find eight key grammar rules in this post, and they’re all simplified and easy to understand. This will get you started in the right direction! Today you can start really understanding English grammar.

2. Read the example provided

Most grammar rules have all sorts of technical terms like “subjunctive,” “participle” and so on. However, don’t be worried about these! These are just terms we use to help you learn faster, and to refer to grammar rules while discussing them.

Sure, you could try memorizing the definition of each grammar term, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use them well.

It’s more important that you study how grammar rules are used by native speakers. You should try to read and listen to examples of grammar rules being used naturally by native speakers in English. Seeing and hearing many examples will help you understand the rules better than will memorizing grammar terms.

We’ll give you examples for each of the eight important grammar rules featured in this post, so that’s a big help!

3. Make your own example sentences for the rule

Understanding grammar is one thing, but remembering and using correct grammar is another thing altogether.

If you make your own example sentences for each rule, you’ll learn the rules much faster.

4. Practice the rule by doing exercises

Every time you study a new grammar rule, make sure you get lots of practice. Practice will help you to be ready to use the rules in real life when speaking or writing!

You’ll find exercises with an answer key at the end of this post, along with links to external resources for practicing each rule.

5. Use the rule in writing and speaking

Now that you’ve learned the grammar rule, make sure you keep using it! Otherwise, the rules will soon be lost—like all the other things we learn and never use again. Try to use this grammar rule whenever you can.

 

All right, you officially know how to learn grammar with this process.

Let’s get started with some grammar rules to help you with your business English.

Remember to follow the steps above for each of the eight rules below!

8 Important English Grammar Rules That Anyone in Business Should Understand

1. The passive voice is used to shift the focus from the person doing the action to the action itself.

The rule:

The passive voice is formed with the verb to be and the third form (past participle) of the main verb.

The verb to be is used in the tense we want to have in the sentence, whether that’s past, present, future or something else.

At the end we can add the person who completed the action, if that’s necessary.

Examples: 

The meeting will probably be delayed (by the chairperson).

The report was sent to the wrong recipient.

The email hasn’t been sent yet because of technical problems.

How to use this rule in business:

You can use the passive voice whenever you want to focus on an action rather than on the person performing the action.

If you’re describing a problem, you can use the passive voice to avoid blaming a particular person for the problem. You can also use the passive voice when it isn’t important to know who did the action, when a group completed the action together or when you want to make things sound more formal.

When we’re being formal, we’re less personal, so there’s not always much point in insisting on who did what. You can make your English sound more formal by using the passive voice, especially in writing.

Here are some examples of expressions with the passive voice that can be used in formal writing:

It is recommended that we do more research before launching the product.

It has been suggested that better team work will lead to better results.

Practice the passive voice by doing the exercises at the end of this post or by accessing this online resource.

2. Modal verbs are used to add meaning to the action of the main verb.

The rule:

Modal verbs are words like may, might, can, could, shall, should, will, would and must.

They’re used together with another verb in order to add further meaning to it. Modal verbs don’t get s in the third person singular, like many verbs do (e.g., he eats, she sleeps). They can’t be used in the future or past tenses. You can form the negative version of them by just adding not.

The meanings that can be added by using modal verbs are:

  • Possibility

When expressing possibility, may is used for stronger possibility than might.

Can is used to make general statements about what’s possible. Could is the past tense of can, and it can also be used to say that something is possible.

Examples:

They may email us for further details.

The market might recover, but until then we should be cautious.

The rules can be very strict in our company.

Our supervisors could be more transparent about salaries.

  • Impossibility

The negative of can (cannot, can’t) is used to express impossibility in the present and could (could not, couldn’t) is used to express it in the past.

Examples:

These figure can’t be right, our profits are much higher.

We knew the chairman was joking. He couldn’t be serious.

  • Probability

We use must to express certainty about the present and must have for the past. We use should to express high probability in the present and should have for the past.

Examples:

The meeting is running late. There must be something wrong.

The team got good results again. They must have worked really hard.

The negotiation should be over any minute now.

It’s closing time. Most customers should have already left.

  • Ability

We use can to express someone’s ability or skills in the present and could for the past. Could have is used when somebody had the chance to do something, but didn’t do it.

Examples:

She can speak three languages, but we’re not sure if we’re going to hire her.

Our project manager could give us very useful feedback but we have had no time to discuss our problems.

We could have finished the project on time, but then one of us was transferred and we lagged behind.

  • Permission

We use can to express permission. Could and may are more formal.

Examples:

Can I help you with that product?

May I introduce you to my colleague?

Could I ask a few questions about your presentation?

  • Requests

We use can and will when asking people to do something for us and could and would when we want to be more formal and polite.

Examples:

Can you fill in for me please?

Will you take my messages while I’m gone?

Could you please open a few windows?

Would you help me with this scanner?

  • Suggestions

We use could and should to offer suggestions and advice.

Examples:

You should try to talk slowly when giving presentations.

We could schedule another meeting for tomorrow.

  • Necessity

We use must for the present and future and had to for the past.

Examples:

You must fill in this for to apply for the job.

They had to take on more staff to finish the job on time.

How to use this rule in business:

Whenever you have a choice, go with the more polite and formal modal verb. For example, when asking somebody to do something for you, say:

Could you…? instead of Can you…?

Would you…? instead of Will you…?

Also, when asking for permission, you can be more polite by using May I…? instead of Can I…?

You can find exercises to practice modal verbs online and at the end of this post.

3. We don’t use will to refer to the future after time expressions.

The rule:

After words and phrases that refer to time (when, after, before, as soon as, etc.) we can’t use the future with will.

Instead of the future, we use the present. Instead of the future perfect, we use the present perfect. We simply cut will out.

Examples:

Don’t forget to email me when you get the results.

As soon as I’ve received their invitation, I will forward it to you.

How to use this rule in business:

This rule will come in handy when making time arrangements and talking about schedules. It may seem like a difficult rule if you don’t have any similar restrictions in your native language. In this case, just remember to be extra careful when using the time expressions!

Make sure you practice this rule so that you get it right every time!

4. We don’t use will and would in if clauses (unless they’re modal verbs).

The rule:

A conditional sentence is made up of two parts:

1. the If clause (the part starting with the word if) 

2. the main clause (the other part, which has meaning on its own)

There are three types of conditional sentences:

Type 1 is used for real actions that happen in the present or future.

Type 2 is used for unreal actions happening in the present.

Type 3 is used for unreal actions happening in the past.

Examples:

Type 1:

If he sends you the report, make sure you let me know.

After If, there’s no will to refer to the future. We use the present tense. In the main clause (make sure you let me know) we can use whatever we want, there are no restrictions.

Type 2:

If he were hired, I would be his colleague.

If they raised everyone’s salaries, we would be the first to find out.

When talking about hypothetical actions in the present, we can’t use would after If. We must use the present subjunctive, but to make things easier we use something that looks just like the past. Except for the verb to be, which has the forms were for all the persons.

You may still hear “If he was hired, I would be his colleague,” but this isn’t entirely correct or formal—so we just use were to be on the safe side. There are no restrictions in the main clause (I would be his colleague).

Type 3:

If he had been my supervisor, I would have told him why I couldn’t reach my target.

For unreal actions in the past, we can’t use would have after If. Instead, we use the past subjunctive (had been).

How to use this rule in business:

In business you may need to use a lot of conditional sentences in negotiations. You may need to say what you would do if your partner were willing to do something else for you. Remember to stick to the correct and formal option (were not was) in order to sound polite and make a good impression.

Have a look at these online exercises to help you with conditionals!

5. We use the present perfect to refer to actions from the past that are connected with the present.

The rule:

We talked about using “perfect” forms earlier in this post. You’ve already used the past perfect and present perfect. These styles of conjugation are used when an action has been completed already, so it’s “perfect.”

The present perfect is used for actions that happened in the recent past, or for past actions that have an impact on the present.

In contrast, the past is used for actions that no longer have a connection with the present.

Examples:

Our competitors have lowered their prices so we’ll have to do the same.

The statement was released and then we got several questions from shareholders.

How to use this rule in business:

Whenever you’re talking or writing about something that happened in the past, decide first if the event still has some sort of connection with the present or not. Avoid switching between the present perfect and the past because it makes you look undecided about where you’re standing.

Practice the present perfect and the past online and don’t forget to do the exercises at the end of this post.

6. Perfect forms are used for actions that happened before other actions.

The rule:

The past perfect is used for talking about actions that happened before another moment in the past.

The present perfect is used for talking about another moment from the present.

The future perfect is used for talking about other moments from the future.

Examples:

Past perfect: By the time I handed in my resignation, I had already been contacted by two different headhunters.

In this example, there’s the moment from the past when I handed in my resignation and there’s another moment before this when I was contacted by the headhunters.

Present perfect: I have never seen such an impressive resume.

In this example, we use the present perfect to express an action that happened just before the present moment. We can add until now at the end of the sentence to make this clear.

Future perfect: I will have finished the report by the time you give me the email address.

The future perfect is used to express an action (finishing the report) that will happen before another moment in the future (you giving me the email address).

How to use this rule in business:

In business it’s often important to make the order in which things happen clear so that there’s no confusion about what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. Every time you need to use the perfect tenses, decide which action happened first and which action happened afterwards.

Here are a few exercises so that you can practice the perfect tenses.

7. We use the continuous aspect when the action is seen as ongoing.

The rule:

We use the past, present and future continuous for actions that are ongoing (progressive) in either the past, present or the future. The continuous aspect is used instead of the simple aspect when the speaker feels that it takes a certain amount of time or effort to complete an action.

With the continuous aspect, the speaker focuses on the action or the process itself. With the simple aspect, the speaker focuses on the result or the product of the action.

Examples:

I was interviewing the second candidate when I got your text message.

They are going through a complex restructuring process so I don’t know if they have any job openings.

In my presentation I will be talking about new market research methods.

How to use this rule in business:

Business people are talking a lot about what they are doing and what they do. It’s important not to mix the two situations up.

Use the continuous aspect for actions that you see as lasting for a while. You can actually say when they started and when they ended (or when they will end in the future).

Use the simple aspect for actions that are general. A very common mistake is to not understand the difference between being asked “What do you do?” and “What are you doing?”

When you hear the question “What do you do?”, you should answer something like “I am a lawyer” because the question uses the present simple, so it refers to a general action (your job).

In the second case, when you hear the question “What are you doing?” you should tell the person about the action you’re currently doing, like “I’m looking for a file.” The present continuous suggests a progressive action, not a general one.

Practice the continuous aspect by doing these exercises so that you don’t forget the rules!

8. We normally use the when we know exactly what we’re talking about.

The rule:

The is also called “the definite article.”

This name implies that it’s used for things or people that are defined for the speakers. This means that the thing or person has already been mentioned, or that the speakers know exactly what they’re talking about.

Examples:

I received the email that you mentioned during the meeting.

I don’t like emails that don’t have a subject line.

In the first example, the speaker defines the object they’re talking about by making it specific (the email you mentioned). In the second example, the speaker is referring to all emails (that don’t have a subject line) in general, not to a certain email in particular, so the isn’t used.

How to use this rule in business:

This rule is helpful when talking about specific things or people and when you want to make it clear to the other person what object or person you’re talking about. It’s important to decide if the thing you’re talking about is known to both or all the people talking or if you’re just making general remarks.

Practice the definite article by doing these online exercises and don’t forget the exercises below! 

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Now Practice All 8 Grammar Rules with These Exercises

How are you doing? Do you think you understand how to use the above grammar rules?

Test your knowledge and practice the rules with the following exercises.

There’s an answer key at the bottom!

  1. Fill in the gaps with one of the modal verbs provided. Several options may be correct:

a. This ___ be my signature, I always use black ink. (can, can’t, couldn’t)

b. ___ I forward your report to my colleague? (Can, May, Should)

c. We ___ go through five interviews and an exam before we got the job. (must, had to, could)

d. Prices ___ go up, but we ___ know for sure (might, will, can; shouldn’t, can’t, mustn’t)

  1. Fill in the gaps with the or leave the gap empty if the is not necessary.

a. This is ___ worst cover letter I’ve ever read!

b. Do you have to read ___ resumes as part of your job?

c. Is this ___ PowerPoint presentation you said you needed help with?

d. She is a junior manager, she doesn’t make decisions regarding ___raises.

  1. Decide if the following sentences are correct or not. Rewrite them if they’re incorrect.

a. If I knew about his decision, I would have told you.

b. When I will call you, please give me the right address.

c. By the time I applied for the job, they have already received 200 resumes.

d. I have been working on this presentation since you left.

Now have a look at the key to the exercises to check your answers.

Answer Key

1.

a. can’t

b. Can, May, Should – all options apply

c. had to

d. might; can’t

2.

a. the

b. –

c. the

d. _

3.

a. incorrect. If I had known about his decision, I would have told you.

b. incorrect. When I call you, please give me the right address.

c. incorrect. By the time I applied for the job, they had already received 200 resumes.

d. correct

 

Now that you’ve learned a few new grammar rules and you know the steps to learn some more, all you’ve got to do is keep up the good work.

Good business English is worth your time and effort.

And One More Thing…

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It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular.

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More to the point, FluentU has an entire business category filled with authentic business-related videos covering six language levels.

To show the variety of videos even inside this single category, real-world business videos on FluentU include “Introducing Business Colleagues,” “Business Buzzwords,” “Control Your Inbox!” and “What Warren Buffet Thinks About Cash.”

An added bonus is that if you want to work on other topics later, simply use the same, familiar FluentU platform to learn with videos from other categories, such as “Science and Tech,” “Politics and Society” or mix it up with “Arts and Entertainment” or “Health and Lifestyle.”

Every spoken word is subtitled, complete with an in-context definition, image and multiple example sentences.

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All you have to do is tap or click on one of the words in those subtitles to get more information. For example, if you tap on the word “brought,” you will see this:

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Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”

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If you are interested in watching fun, relevant videos and practicing language actively in the process, be sure to create a FluentU account and try out this one-of-a-kind language learning program!

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