Business Writing Tip #199—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (2)

As promised in my last post, here are some more useful action verbs for job applications. In this post I’m covering research, training and technical skills.job app image

Research Skills

  • clarify
  • critique
  • diagnose
  • extract
  • identify
  • inspect
  • interpret
  • review
  • summarise
  • survey

Training Skills

  • adapt
  • advise
  • clarify
  • coach
  • communicate
  • coordinate
  • develop
  • enable
  • encourage
  • evaluate
  • explain
  • facilitate
  • guide
  • inform
  • instruct
  • persuade

Technical skills

  • assemble
  • build
  • calculate
  • compute
  • design
  • devise
  • engineer
  • fabricate
  • maintain
  • operate
  • overhaul
  • program
  • repair
  • solve
  • train
  • upgrade

Business Writing Tip #198—Action Verbs to Use in Job Applications (Part 1)

Sometimes it can be tough to think of verbs to use in your CV, cover letter or in a statement addressing selection criteria for a job. To help you out, I’ve put together a list to help you describe some of the things you do at work. These words are also useful if you are writing position documentation (job descriptions, position profiles, duty statements, selection criteria and the like).CV image

In this post I’ve included verbs for communication, management and finance. I will cover some other categories in the next post.

Communication Skills

  • arbitrate
  • arrange
  • author
  • correspond
  • direct
  • draft
  • edit
  • influence
  • interpret
  • lecture
  • mediate
  • moderate
  • negotiate
  • persuade
  • publicise
  • reconcile
  • translate
  • write

Management Skills

  • administer
  • analyse
  • assign
  • chair
  • conduct
  • consolidate
  • contract
  • coordinate
  • delegate
  • develop
  • direct
  • evaluate
  • execute
  • improve
  • increase
  • organise
  • oversee
  • plan
  • prioritise
  • produce
  • recommend
  • review
  • schedule
  • strengthen
  • supervise

Financial Skills

  • administer
  • allocate
  • analyse
  • appraise
  • audit
  • balance
  • budget
  • calculate
  • compute
  • develop
  • forecast
  • manage
  • plan
  • project
  • research





Business Writing Tip #196 – Common Causes of Subject-Verb Agreement Errors

In the last tip we looked at-subject-verb agreement, and the verb forms you need to use.

But what kinds of errors do people make when it comes to subject-verb agreement? There are four common errors. It is easy to get confused when:

  1. The sentence contains a compound subject

Compound Subjects

When two or more nouns and the coordinating conjunctions and, or and nor form the subject of a sentence, it is referred to as a compound subject. You might have two singular subjects, two plural subjects, or one singular and one plural subject.

The verb form depends on the conjunction.

With And

When you use and, use a plural verb form.

For example:

  • Mohammed and Christine are finalising the report.
  • My phone skills and written communication are excellent.

Hint: If you can use they in place of the compound subject, use the third person plural verb form.

With Or or Nor

If you use or or nor the verb agrees with the subject nearest to the verb.

Two singular subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor Christine has time to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or Christine is finalising the report.

Two plural subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor the supervisors want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or the supervisors are finalising the report.

Plural and singular subjects:

  • Neither the team members nor Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.

Singular and plural subjects:

  • Neither Mohammed nor the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either Mohammed or the team members want to finalise the report.
  • Either the team members or Mohammed wants to finalise the report.
  1. The subject of the sentence is separate from the verb

The sentence might include a phrase or clause that separates the subject and the verb. It might be a prepositional phrase which adds more information, or a dependent clause. The subject and verb still need to agree.

  • The team members with the highest sales figures get the bonuses.
  • The photocopier in the room next to the kitchen is the best one for double-sided, colour copying.
  • The new printer that I bought has the ability to print more quickly than our old printer, and it is cheaper to run.
  • The sales people who build the strongest relationships with their clients are the most successful.
  1. The subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun (e.g. anyone, everything)

Most often an indefinite pronoun is the subject of a sentence it will take the singular verb form. But there are exceptions. You need to think about the noun that the pronoun would refer to, and whether that is singular or plural.

Indefinite Pronouns That Always Take a Singular Verb Indefinite Pronouns That Can Take a Singular or a Plural Verb
Anybody All
Anyone Any
Anything None
Each Some
No one


  1. The subject of the sentence is a collective noun (e.g. team)

Collective nouns identify more than one person, or thing, and considers them as a singular unit. Therefore you need to use a singular verb.

  • The team is going on a retreat to develop its business plan for the next 12 months.
  1. The subject appears after the verb

This is not so common in written Business English, but you may see it.

For example:

  • There are fifty widgets in the storeroom.
  • Here is the report.

If you have trouble with this in sentences that begin with “There are” or “Here is”, turn the sentence around.

  • Fifty widgets are in the storeroom.
  • The report is here.

Happy writing!

Business Writing Tip #195—Subject-Verb Agreement

subject-verb agreementOne thing most people know about English is that the verbs need to agree with the subjects. Agreement is the grammatical match between words and phrases.

One of the main forms of agreement is subject-verb agreement and making sure your subjects and verbs agree will help you create a strong, professional impression with your business writing.

Subjects can be either singular or plural, and the verbs must agree in number with the subject.

That is, a singular subject goes together with a singular verb form, and a plural subject belongs with a plural verb form.

Regular Verbs

The pattern for regular verbs is predictable. The third person singular (he, she, it) adds an ‘s’ to the verb. Other forms do not end in ‘s’.

  Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I decide. We decide.
Second Person You decide. You decide.
Third Person He/She/It decides. They decide.


When it comes to spelling there is one thing you need to remember.

If the verb ends in –sh, -z, -ch or –s you need to add –es, rather than just –s.

For example:

  • I finish, she finishes.
  • You watch, he watches.
  • I fix the photocopier. The technician fixes the photocopier.

Irregular Verbs

English has many irregular verbs. Some of the most common are be, have and do.


Be Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I am. We are.
Second Person You are. You are.
Third Person He/She/It is. They are.


Have Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I have. We have.
Second Person You have. You have.
Third Person He/She/It has. They have.


Do Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I do. We do.
Second Person You do. You do.
Third Person He/She/It does. They do.

In the next post we will look at some of the common reasons errors occur.

Happy writing.


Business Writing Tip #162—Phrasal Verbs (Part 3)

Again, as promised in my last post, here are some more useful phrasal verbs. This is the third, and final, post in this series.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To hand (something) out To distribute I’ll handout a copy of the presentation during the meeting.
To hang on To wait a short time Hang on a second. I’ll be right there.
To keep (something) up To continue We need to keep up our efforts to boost the sales figures.
To let (someone) down To disappoint The suppliers let us down by not delivering the agreed quantities.
To look into To investigate A team has been set up to look into the declining sales figures.
To look out for To be careful and take notice Given our recent drop in sales, we need to look out for new opportunities in the market.
To pass (something) out To distribute ( see also to hand something out) I’ll pass out a copy of the presentation after the meeting.
To pass (something) up To decline (usually something positive) Don’t pass up on this great opportunity. The sale ends tomorrow.
To put (something) off To postpone The company has put off introducing the revised pricing structure until the next quarter.
To run into (someone/something) To meet someone/something unexpectedly I hope we don’t run into any problems with the project schedule.
To send (something) back To return The new equipment isn’t working correctly. We’ll have to send it back.
To set (something) up To organise, to arrange Please set up a conference call with the Polish office to discuss the quarterly sales figures.
To shop around To compare prices The company needs to shop around to make sure that it gets the best possible deal on the new printers.
To sort (something) out To resolve a problem This report isn’t clear. We need to get together and sort out exactly what we want it to say.
To take (something) back To return an item If the customer is not happy with the printer performance, we need to take it back and offer them an alternative.
To think (something) over To consider I’d like you to think over the various options and we’ll make a decision at tomorrow’s meeting.
To turn (something) down To reject, to refuse We presented the agreed position at the negotiations, but the other side turned them down.
To try (something) out To test We will be installing the new printers and trying them out over the next couple of days.
To use (something) up To finish the supply We’ve used up our annual training budget, so we need to be creative about how we fund training over the next two months.

That’s it for phrasal verbs for now. They are often used in emails between colleagues, or with customers with whom we have a strong relationship, to avoid being overly formal when we write.

Trying out life in Australia again after living abroad

Trying out life in Australia again after living abroad

Happy writing.



Business Writing Tip #160—Phrasal Verbs

IMG_2319Phrasal verbs are a useful aspect of English which help us with the register of our writing. If we are writing something very formal, for example a report, we probably wouldn’t use them. But if we want to write an email to a long-standing customer who we have known for some years, the verbs we would usually use when we write at work might seem too formal. We might accidentally offend our client who could be wondering, “Why are they being so distant with me?” Phrasal verbs work perfectly in this kind of situation.

First, a definition. Michael McCarthy and Felicity O’Dell give the following definition in English Phrasal Verbs in Use: Advanced.

“Phrasal verbs are verbs that consist of a verb and a particle (a preposition or adverb) or a verb and two particles (an adverb and a preposition, as in get on with or look forward to).”

Maybe this made everything clear to you, or maybe it didn’t. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you know that you can make your writing less formal by using phrasal verbs.

Here’s a list of some phrasal verbs that are useful in business English.

Phrasal Verb Definition Example
To ask around To ask many people the same question Could you ask around the office and see if there’s someone available to work this weekend?
To back someone up To support Thanks for backing me up when I presented the proposal.
To not care for To not like I don’t care for the proposed office layout. Let’s see if there’s a better way.
To chip in To help If everyone chips in, it’ll only take about half an hour.
To cut back on To consume less, to reduce It looks as though we’re heading for an overspend. We need to cut back on some of our expenses.
To do something over To do again I thought my report was safe, but my computer crashed and the hard drive is fried. I need to do it over.
To drop by To visit without an appointment I’ll be over your side of town tomorrow afternoon. Is it okay if I drop by?
To drop someone/something off To take something/someone somewhere My car’s broken down. Can you drop me off at the station after work?


I’ll give you some more examples in my next post.

Happy writing.

About the photo: This photo is a detail on the interior walls of the Czech National Technical Library.

Business Writing Tip #143—Hidden Verbs

In previous tips I’ve talked about verbs—action verbs, linking verbs, auxiliary verbs, modal verbs. Today I want to tell you about hidden verbs. Verbs that lurk in the shadows, pretending to be something they are not, and creating a writing style that is old-fashioned and, in my view, rather ugly.

Verbs are the fuel, the energy, of our sentences. They add power and move us forward. They give direction. They make our reader want to keep reading. They keep our reader’s interest. But only, only, if they are used well. If they are used badly, if we scatter weak verbs through our prose, they slow things down and make our writing difficult to read.hiding cat

The principal culprit in this crime is the hidden verb. This is the verb that we transform into a noun and then hook on to a weak verb.

Let me give you an example.

  • To make an application for employment with our company, please complete the attached form.

The hidden verb in this sentence is ‘apply’ and I have ‘nounified’ it, and joined it with the rather weak verb ‘make’.

Change it and it becomes much easier to read.

  • To apply for employment with our company, please complete the attached form.

Sadly there are people who feel that if words are good, then more words are better. This is not the case. In business writing, we only need as many words as it takes to make our meaning clear.

Here are some more ‘before’ and ‘after’ sentences (please note these examples focus on the hidden verbs, not on other style issues):

  • We need to carry out a review of the department’s budget to gain an understanding of where we are making overspends.
  • We need to review the department’s budget to understand where we are overspending.


  •  If you are unable to make the payment of the $850 instalment on the due date, you need to make an application in writing for approval of the late payment.
  • If you can’t pay the next instalment ($850) on the due date, please apply, in writing, for approval of the late payment.


  • Please undertake the calculation of the revised figures before we make our submission of the quarterly projections.
  • Please calculate the revised figures before we submit our quarterly projections.

The Hidden Verb Hunt

When you are hunting hidden verbs, there are some clues to look for.

  1. The ‘nounified’ versions often end in:
  • -ment
  • -tion
  • -sion
  • -ance
  1. Look for the following verbs and check if any hidden verbs are lurking near them:
  • achieve
  • effect
  • give
  • have
  • make
  • reach
  • take
  1. Look for the words ‘the’ and ‘of’ near each other. Often there’s a verb hiding between them.

Some Common Hidden Verbs

  • Conduct a review (review)
  • Make an announcement (announce)
  • Perform an analysis (analyse)
  • Make an adjustment (adjust)
  • Give consideration to (consider)
  • Make the payment (pay)
  • Production of … (produce)
  • Conduct an assessment of … (assess)
  • Performance of … (perform)
  • Make a calculation of … (calculate)
  • Reorganisation of … (reorganise)
  • Make a recovery … (recover)
  • Bring about the introduction of … (introduce)
  • Negotiation of … (negotiate)
  • Achievement of … (achieve)

Do you need another reason to uncover your hidden verbs? Removing them helps reduce wordiness.

Usually I sign off with Happy Writing.

Today, I’ll change it to,

Happy Hunting.

Business Writing Tip #97— Moods and Tenses

smilingIn English we have three tenses—the past, the present and the future. There are, just to make life interesting, variations on these to indicate whether actions are continuous or not, or when they happened in relation to something else, and the like. These are about the division of time. Of course it’s not just about being more interesting; it’s about being more precise. But more on tenses another time.

Many people confuse tenses with moods. You see, we also have moods in English.

Now I’m not talking bad moods, or snappy moods here. I’m talking about the three simple moods—the Indicative, the Imperative and the Subjunctive.

The mood that we use depends on how we are using the verb—the mode, or manner.


This is the mood we use to indicate, or declare, something, or to ask a simple question.

‘The people employed by this company enjoy working here.’

‘Do they like it here?’


This is when we tell someone to do something.

Finish this report first before you start working on the meeting minutes.’

Go away.’


The final mood is the subjunctive. This is used when we want to express doubt, supposition or uncertainty, or when some future action depends upon a contingency.

‘He would not have failed his licensing examination if he had not been ill.’ (progressive subjunctive).

‘If I were to cancel the meeting tomorrow, would it be too difficult for you to reschedule it to a day next week?’

We don’t use the subjunctive much in English these days—and it is more common in written English than in spoken English. There’s quite a useful summary of the subjunctive and its use on the BBC Learning English website.


Some books also include the infinitive as a mood. The infinitive, or ‘to’ form, is the verb in its broadest sense with no reference to who, where or when.

Business Writing Tip #93—Do Collective Nouns Take Singular or Plural Verbs?

This is a bit of a vexed question. Some people insist that collective nouns should always take a singular verb; others are adamant that they should take plural verbs.

Whatever you decide to do after reading this post, it’s up to you. But one thing I would suggest—if you’re writing on behalf of an organisation, check their style guide. If their style guide doesn’t address the issue, come up with a decision and ask them to document it in their style guide. (If they don’t have a style guide, recommend they create one.)

What is a collective noun?

Before we go any further, what is a collective noun? Collective nouns, according to Mark Tredinnick in The Little Green Grammar Book are nouns which, ‘though singular themselves, refer to notional or real gatherings of people, other animals, plants, works or ideas’. Some examples are:

A Mob of Roos

A Mob of Roos

  • Team
  • Board
  • Government
  • Department
  • Family
  • Army
  • Repertoire
  • Faculty
  • School

And of course there are many others.

What the experts say

Now Mark Tredinnick is a firm believer in collective nouns taking singular verbs. But there are other views on this. Michael Swan, in Practical English Usage suggests that either singular or plural can be used, although if we are using singular determiners (a/an, each, every, this, that) it’s best to use a singular verb.

Are you confused yet?

To add to the confusion, the BBC has different policies on singular or plural verbs with collective nouns, depending on which department is using it.

BBC Radio News says they are plural (The Government have introduced a bill…), and BBC Online likes them to be singular (The Government as introduced a bill…). BBC Television News doesn’t have a policy! They use whichever they think sounds best ‘in the context’.

My view, for what it’s worth

To throw in my two cents worth, I say use whichever version you like. But be consistent.

If you are always going to use singular verbs, always use them. If plural, always plural. And if you are going to mix them up like BBC TV News, be consistent within each sentence. So to quote their example of what NOT to do:

The jury was out for three hours, before they reached their verdict.

It should, of course, be:

The jury was out for three hours, before it reached its verdict.


Be consistent and put it in the style guide.

Happy writing,



Business Writing Tip #60—Building Sentences: Auxiliary Verbs

Last time we looked at action verbs and linking verbs. In this post we’ll look at auxiliary, or helping, verbs.

Photo by Mandajuice. Creative Commons.

Photo by Mandajuice. Creative Commons.

Auxiliary verbs add something to the main verb. They always come before the main verb. The auxiliary verb and the main verb together are called the “complete verb” or a “verb phrase” (depending on what book you read). These verbs can show differences in meaning and can suggest the time at which the action of the verb takes place.

There are nine auxiliary verbs that are always helping verbs. These verbs are never the main verb. They can’t stand alone.

These nine verbs are:

May Might Must
Could Would Should
Can Will Shall

In the examples in this post the auxiliary verbs are in bold type, and the main verbs are underlined.

  • You should arrive at the meeting on time.
  • You will need help from the sales department to prepare the quarterly report.
  • You must use the fire stairs to exit the building if there is a fire.

As well as these nine verbs, there are three others which can be helping verbs, but which can also take the part of the main verb in a sentence.

These are ‘be’, ‘do’ and ‘have’.

Their forms are:

Be Is Are Was Were Be Being Been
Do Do Does Did
Have Has Have Had

Take a look at the following examples. In the first sentence of each pair the verb is performing the role of a main verb, and in the second sentence it’s an auxiliary verb.

  1. She was an excellent supervisor.
  2. The report was written by a committee formed with representatives from each department.


  1. He does everything you tell him to do, but he doesn’t ever take the initiative.
  2. When you push her, she does finish her work by the deadlines.


  1. They have enough space in their office to add an extra desk.
  2. They have participated in this introductory training course. Now they need to do the advanced one.

Until next time …