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To appear professional and trustworthy in the workplace, you must ensure that your business English skills are error-free.
By using our innovative Mondly software and exposing yourself to lots of English content, you’ll feel more confident in your language skills and avoid making these kinds of mistakes.
However, there are many words, phrases and idioms in English that even native speakers get wrong. If you’re not careful, you could accidentally learn these ‘eggcorns’, confuse your colleagues and even embarrass yourself.
Here are ten of the most commonly confused phrases in business English.
1. ‘Piece of mind’ vs ‘peace of mind’
These are two phrases that can be used in English but are often confused. They also mean two very different things.
The use of the noun ‘peace’ should give you a clue here; it suggests a quiet and calm state of mine.
On the other hand, ‘piece of mind’ can be used in the phrase ‘to give someone a piece of your mind’. This suggests that you are angry and are expressing your opinion to the person who has done wrong.
Both can be used in business English contexts, but it’s best to ensure you have the right version to avoid confusion.
- “The main benefit of their proposal is the peace of mind it offers.”
- “I’d like to give them a piece of my mind for breaking the contract like that!”
2. ‘I could care less’ vs ‘I couldn’t care less’
This common phrase in English is used to explain that you really couldn’t care at all about something. That you are not bothered at all.
Yet as you might have noticed, both versions are quite different. One using the positive version of the modal verb ‘could’ [could] and the other using the negative [couldn’t]. So, which is correct?
Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer. It depends on whether you’re focusing on learning US English or British English.
‘I couldn’t care less’ is the UK version that emerged first and makes the most sense, logically speaking. After all, if you care so little for something, you literally couldn’t care less.
This version travelled to the US, yet in the 1960s, the new version emerged; ‘I could care less’. This version has stuck in the US whilst the original British version is solely used there. Verdict? Decide whether you’re learning US or British English and stick to that version!
UK: “I couldn’t care less if they landed the project. I’d rather not work with them.”
US: “It was obvious that the management could care less about their employees.”
3. ‘For all intensive purposes’ vs ‘for all intents and purposes’
This is a phrase in English that native speakers get wrong all the time. It’s often misheard and then misunderstood. Although the listener might not always notice if you accidentally get it wrong when speaking English, you must get it correct when writing in English.
The correct version is ‘for all intents and purposes’ and means ‘in effect’ or ‘in every way’ or ‘almost completely’.
- “Their decision to launch the product right away was, for all intents and purposes, the right thing to do.”
4. ‘Beckon call’ vs ‘beck and call’
If you want to say that you (or someone else) are ready to carry out a request whenever asked, you could use the phrase ‘beck and call’. It is often used in a negative sense too, to express that someone is doing too much for the other person.
For example, “She was at the CEO’s beck and call throughout her time working for the organisation”.
However, this English phrase is often misheard as ‘beckon call’. This seems to make sense, doesn’t it? After all, the word ‘beckon’ means to make a gesture with your arm or hand to encourage someone to come. But actually, ‘beck’ is a shortened version of the original ‘beckon’.
- “I’ve been at their beck and call for three years now. I think that’s enough.”
5. “Could of/should of” vs ‘could have/should have’
Native speakers mistakenly write ‘could of’, ‘should of’ and ‘would of’ in English more often than you would think, even in business English contexts. However, this is incorrect. The grammatically correct version is ‘could have’, ‘should have’ and ‘would have’.
There are two reasons why this happens:
1) The contracted version of the verbal phrase sounds like it ends in [of]. For example, when contracted, ‘could have’ becomes ‘could’ve’ which sounds like ‘could of’
2) When speaking quickly, ‘could have’ sounds like ‘could of’.
Although this won’t matter too much when speaking English, you must get it right when writing in English for business purposes or else you risk looking unprofessional.
- “I could have highlighted our positive client feedback on the website better.”
6. ‘Take something for granite’ vs ‘Take something for granted’
When you ‘take something for granted’, you don’t appreciate having it as much as you should. This is often because you’re unfamiliar with it and you’re used to having it around.
This is not the same thing as ‘take something for granite’! In fact, this expression doesn’t exist in English at all. Granite is a type of rock. 😉
- “The manager took her skills for granted until it was too late.”
7. ‘Escape goat’ vs ‘scapegoat’
If you work in a business English context, you might have heard about the office ‘scapegoat’. This is the person who constantly gets blamed for all of the problems and is often punished, even if it isn’t their fault.
According to the website Etymology Online, the word comes from the Bible. It combines the words [escape] and [goat], which could explain the confusion!
- “The office intern was the scapegoat for our problems so far and was fired”.
8. ‘Nip it in the butt’ vs ‘nip it in the bud’
Expect people to laugh if you get this one wrong! The idiom means stopping a problem before it gets too big. The correct version is ‘nip it in the bud’ and not the most amusing version, ‘nip in the butt’.
For example, think of a flower. If you nip it (bite it or pinch it sharply) when it’s still a flower bud, it won’t grow. The same applies to the problem. On the other hand, ‘nip in the butt’ means another thing entirely!
- “If the management team had nipped it in the bud early enough, we wouldn’t have this problem now.”
9. ‘Ex-patriot’ vs ‘expatriate’
An expatriate is a person who has left their home country to live in a different country, often to work. The word is often shortened to ‘expat’ and is often used instead of ‘immigrant’ to refer to professional Europeans who travel abroad to work.
The word is often misspelt and misunderstood as ‘ex-patriot’. A patriot is someone who loves their country so therefore, an ex-patriot is someone who no longer cares about their country. Obviously, it’s possible to be both at the same time. But usually only the first version- expatriate- is used.
- “There are many international organisations and expatriates working in this region.”
10. ‘Spurt of the moment’ vs ‘spur of the moment’
The idiom ‘spur of the moment’ describes when something happens quickly, without much planning beforehand. It comes from the word for the sharp point on a horse rider’s boot that helps prod the horse, the ‘spur’. When the rider uses the spur, the horse reacts immediately.
However, this is often misheard as ‘spurt of the moment’. A ‘spurt’ is a gush or a sudden forceful stream, usually of water. Although the phrases are related, it’s important to make sure you get the correct version when using business English.
- “We decided to go ahead and launch as planned on the spur of the moment.”
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