From Casual to Professional: 15 English Verbs That Will Transform Your Business Writing
Tweeting your friends and texting your family is very different from writing reports and sending emails at work.
When you write to your friends, family and social media followers, you use casual (informal) English. But when you write to people at work, casual English will probably sound too informal.
So what can you do to sound more professional and business-like?
It’s not as difficult as you think. Let’s take a closer look at casual versus business English, and then I’ll give you a list of 15 verbs to use in business writing.
- Casual English vs. Business English
- 15 English Verbs for Business That Make You Sound Professional
- 1. Provide (Give)
- 2. Receive (Get)
- 3. Attend (Come)
- 4. Assist (Help)
- 5. Reserve (Book)
- 6. Reply (Answer)
- 7. Select (Choose)
- 8. Explain (Tell About)
- 9. Submit (Hand In)
- 10. Apologize (Say Sorry)
- 11. Discuss (Talk About)
- 12. Prepare (Get Ready)
- 13. Ensure (Make Sure)
- 14. Contact (Get in Touch With)
- 15. Inform (Let Someone Know)
Casual English vs. Business English
You probably already use casual (everyday) English, which makes you sound natural, friendly and informal. For example, to greet a friend, you might say “Hey!”
Business English, on the other hand, uses formal words that sound professional. If you see a coworker or business partner, you might say “Hello” instead, for example. We also want to be more concise (to the point) in business, which means using fewer words to convey (show) the same meaning.
Luckily it’s not hard to sound professional in your business writing. Sometimes it can be as easy as replacing one or two casual words or phrases with a professional word.
Note that although we’re suggesting them for writing, the 15 verbs below can be used in both written and spoken English. So apart from using them in your business writing, don’t be afraid to use all of the professional verbs below when speaking at work or in business situations. And while professional words make you sound more formal, you can still use these verbs in casual settings as well.
Now let’s look at 15 professional verbs you can use to replace the “casual” verbs in parentheses.
15 English Verbs for Business That Make You Sound Professional
1. Provide (Give)
While “give” has many meanings, it would only be correct to replace it with the professional verb “provide” when handing something to someone (such as a document or pin code).
Casual: Could you give me your cell phone number?
Professional: Could you provide us with a copy of the sales report?
Sentence structure: provide + [person/pronoun] + with + [noun]
Another common sentence structure: provide + [noun] + to + [person/pronoun]
Could you provide a copy of the sales report to us?
2. Receive (Get)
The verb “get” is another common verb that can be used in many different ways. However, in this case, “get” may only be replaced with “receive” in the context of receiving something from someone (such as an email or phone call).
Casual: Did you get the message I sent you yesterday?
Professional: Did you receive the customer complaint form?
Sentence structure: receive + [noun/pronoun]
3. Attend (Come)
“Come” can only be replaced with the professional verb “attend” in the context of coming or being present at an event (such as a seminar or training course).
Casual: I’m sorry but I can’t come to your brother’s wedding.
Professional: I’m sorry but I can’t attend this week’s meeting.
Sentence structure: attend + [event]
4. Assist (Help)
While the word “help” can be used as both a verb and a noun, in this example it is used as a verb. You can use the verb “assist” instead in the context of getting help or support from someone.
Casual: I need you to help John with his homework.
Professional: I need you to assist the customer with his laptop.
Sentence structure: assist + [noun/pronoun]
Another common sentence structure: assist + with
I need you to assist with writing this report.
“Help” can also be used as a noun. Similarly you can replace it with the noun form of the verb “assist,” which is “assistance.”
Casual: I need your help with my homework.
Professional: This customer needs your assistance with his laptop.
5. Reserve (Book)
While “book” can be used as a noun as well as an adjective, here it is used as a verb. In this case, the verb “book” can be replaced with the verb “reserve” in the context of registering for a future event (such as a seminar or conference), or holding a venue (location) or item for future use (such as the conference room or rental car).
Casual: It’s better to book your train tickets early during the holiday season.
Professional: It’s better to reserve your seat for the seminar as soon as possible.
Sentence structure: reserve + [noun/pronoun]
Other professional examples:
- Please reserve your seat at the front counter.
- Please reserve your seat immediately.
- I’d like to reserve the conference room for next Thursday at 2 p.m. Is it available?
6. Reply (Answer)
The words “answer” and “reply” can easily be used in place of each another.
Casual: When are you going to answer my email?
Professional: When will you reply to my email?
Sentence structure: reply + to + [noun/pronoun]
Other professional examples:
- When will you reply to the sales department?
- We have to reply (to him) by Monday.
The words “answer” and “reply” may also be used as nouns. Here again, they can be used interchangeably.
Casual: Are you coming over? I need your answer by this afternoon.
Professional: Are you free to meet with me tomorrow? I need your reply by this afternoon.
7. Select (Choose)
Here again, “choose” and “select” can be used to replace each other quite easily.
Casual: You may choose the color you like.
Professional: You may select the sample reports to print.
Sentence structure: select + [noun/pronoun]
Another common sentence structure: select + from + [noun]
You may select from this range of products.
8. Explain (Tell About)
We ask our friends to tell us about how they plan to spend their holiday. While to “tell about” is to give some information, “explain” means to tell about something in more detail and to make it clear. In business, we often use “explain” to give or ask for more detailed information about something.
A common mistake made by English learners is to use the phrase “explain about.” The word “about” here is redundant (repetitive, unnecessary) as “explain” by itself means “to tell about.”
Casual: Can you tell me about the book you’ve just read?
Professional: Please explain these sales figures (to me).
Sentence structure: explain + [noun] (+ to [person/pronoun])
Other professional examples with various structures:
- Please explain to me why you were late this morning.
- Please explain why you were late this morning.
- I’ll explain what I’d like you to do.
9. Submit (Hand In)
We use the phrasal verb “hand in” when talking about homework and assignments. However, when we usually use the verb “submit” instead when talking about job applications, business documents, etc.
Casual: I need to hand in my English writing assignment.
Professional: I need to submit my weekly report to the finance office.
Sentence structure: submit + [noun/pronoun] (+ to)
- I need to submit my weekly report by Friday.
- Can you please submit the results to Sandra?
10. Apologize (Say Sorry)
We usually use the phrase “say sorry” with children and in other casual situations. This phrase is therefore too casual to be used in business, especially in writing, so we often use the verb “apologize” instead.
Casual: You should say sorry for making her worry.
Professional: We should apologize for making the customer wait.
Sentence structure: apologize + for + [situation]
Another common sentence structure: apologize + to + [person]
Please apologize to the customer for our mistake.
In business, we often use the word “apology,” the noun form of the verb “apologize.” If you are in a situation where you need to say sorry or apologize, you owe (someone) an apology.
We owe the customer an apology for making him wait.
11. Discuss (Talk About)
With friends, you might say you need to “talk about” your vacation or the birthday party you are planning. But in business, we usually use the verb “discuss” instead.
Many English learners make the mistake of using “discuss about.” Here again, the word “about” is redundant because “discuss” by itself means “to talk about.”
Casual: Let’s talk about how to solve this math problem.
Professional: Let’s discuss what information to put in this report.
Sentence structure: discuss + [topic of discussion]
- Can we discuss the project schedule?
- Let’s discuss how we’re going to complete the project on time.
12. Prepare (Get Ready)
We commonly tell children or our friends to “get ready” for a trip or an event. In business, the verb “prepare” is often used instead.
Casual: We’re working hard to get ready for our class presentation.
Professional: We’ve been working late to prepare for our sales launch.
Sentence structure: prepare + for + [task/event]
Another common sentence structure: prepare + [noun]
We’ve been working late to prepare our annual sales report.
13. Ensure (Make Sure)
“Make sure” and “ensure” are very similar in meaning and usage. It’s perfectly okay to say “make sure” in spoken business English, but in writing, “ensure” sounds more professional.
Oftentimes, you may see the usage “ensure that,” as in “Please ensure that you follow my instructions carefully.” There’s no difference in meaning between the two sentence structures.
Casual: Please make sure you follow the recipe I gave you.
Professional: Please ensure you follow my instructions carefully.
Sentence structure: ensure + [noun/pronoun] + [action]
14. Contact (Get in Touch With)
Both the phrase “get in touch with” and the verb “contact” are used in spoken casual and business English. However, in written business English, “contact” is shorter and conveys the meaning better.
Casual: I tried to get in touch with you about the Christmas party.
Professional: I tried to contact you about next week’s sales meeting.
Sentence structure: contact + [person/pronoun]
15. Inform (Let Someone Know)
While the phrase”let you know” is commonly used in spoken business English, the verb “inform” is used in business writing to sound more professional.
Casual: I will let you know later if I can meet you for lunch.
Professional: Later I will inform you which reports I need.
Sentence structure: inform + [person/pronoun]
Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?
Now that you have mastered these 15 professional verbs, be sure to practice using them in your business writing at work every day.
And if you want to learn many more verbs that’ll make you sound professional, check out FluentU. It’s a language program that uses authentic videos to teach you English in context, and it happens to have a number of business videos.
Kit Lum is a freelance writer who holds a Cambridge CELTA Certificate and a Business degree. She also teaches English as a Second Language on demand. She speaks 4.5 languages and is currently learning her fifth.