• Grammar
  • 4 min read

3 Important Grammar Rules to Define Your Business English

Conducting business in English is a little different from speaking the language on an every-day level. That’s because the English we use in a meeting, in a work email, or in business literature in general, will be characterized by a formality that we rarely use when having normal conversations outside of work.

English grammar is the same, wherever or whenever you use the language. That said, the sometimes formal nature of business operations means that a handful of grammar rules become a little more relevant in this style of communication. For that reason, the three grammar points seen on this list all characterize an English that is rather formal in nature.

So, here are three grammar aspects that will see you communicating politely, indirectly and formally in order to form the right business relationships.

Indirect questions

Being direct in English is seen as being unnecessarily confrontational. We only use directness when we really need to emphasize the point. That means, in general, native English speakers prefer to approach things a little more indirectly in order to facilitate friendlier relationships. Indirect questions are a big part of this.

What is your name?

Now, this is a direct question. It is normal in these situations to introduce an indirect element to the question in order to soften it. Here are some examples:

Would you mind telling me…

Could you tell me…

Do you mind me asking…

In many other languages, this indirect addition to the question is totally unnecessary, but the fact is in English it would seem quite direct, and perhaps then quite rude and aggressive, to ask the question without it.

The grammar rule to remember, then, is that once the question has been made indirect, the subject and the verb must invert back in the original question, because that part is now no longer a question. So…

Would you mind telling me…what your name is?

Could you tell me… what your name is?

Do you mind me asking… what your name is?

If the direct question uses an auxiliary, then this auxiliary is lost in the indirect question.

What do you do?

Would you mind telling me…what you do?

Could you tell me… what you do?

Do you mind me asking… what you do?

And if the direct question is a ‘yes/no’ question, then the auxiliary is replaced with ‘if’ and the verb conjugates as the correct tense

Did you enjoy the presentation?

Can I ask if you enjoyed the presentation?

The passive

The passive voice is only used in about ten percent of clauses (subject + verb ideas) in English in normal, informal conversations. However, when the situation is more formal, that frequency can rise to about 30 percent. Quite simply, using the passive voice is one of the keys to writing, and speaking, formally and politely in English.

The passive voice is formed by using the verb ‘to be’ in the correct tense, then adding the past participle of the verb that is to be used.

We must find a solution. (active sentence)

A solution must be found. (passive sentence)

The people are going to require a concise message. (active sentence)

A concise message is going to be required. (passive sentence)

The rules for making passive tense are as follows:

Verb tenseActive sentencePassive sentence
Present simpleI read the book.The book is read.
Present cont.I’m reading the book.The book is being read.
Present perfectI’ve read the book.The book has been read.
Present perfect cont.I’ve been reading the book.The book has been being read.
Past simpleI read the book.The book was read.
Past cont.I was reading the book.The book was being read.
Past perfectI had read the book.The book had been read.
Past perfect cont.I had been reading the book.The book had been being read.
Future simpleI will read the book.The book will be read.
Future cont.I will be reading the book.The book will be being read.
Future perfectI will have read the book.The book will have been read.
‘Going to’ for futureI’m going to read the book.The book is going to be read.
Modal verbsI must read the book.The book must be read.


When it comes to being more formal in English, a simple change of conjunction can make a big difference. Here are some examples of the typical types of conjunctions (linking words) we use in informal, spoken English, and some alternatives which can make your speech (and writing) that little bit more suitable for business.

Type of conjunctionInformal or neutral styleMore formal style
AdditionThe presentation was a success and we have placed more orders.The presentation was a success. Moreover, we have placed more orders.
ContrastIt was a good meeting, but we must discuss the finer details.It was a good meeting. However, the finer details must be discussed (plus passive)
ReasonWe cannot place the order at this time because we cannot commit to this cost.We cannot place the order at this time due to the fact (that) we cannot commit to this cost.
ResultWe cannot commit to this cost, so we cannot place the order at this time.We cannot commit to this cost. Therefore, we cannot place the order at this time.

Just simply exchanging these conjunctions can give your emails a professional edge, and really adapt your language to the business environment.

It is important to remember, however, that using these different conjunctions does involve changes in grammatical structure, so it is not just a case of substituting the word in.

And there we have it! Three English grammar rules that can really elevate your language in a business context.

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