Using Personal vs Personnel

Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
The words personal and personnel look and sound similar. If used incorrectly, these words can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Learn the correct usage of personal and personnel and some tricks to help you remember the difference.

An Email Error

Imagine sending a company email asking your coworkers to come to the personal office to pick up new ID badges. Within minutes, people start showing up at your office to pick up their badges. Not sure what is happening, you check the email and realize that instead of sending everyone to the personnel office, you have sent them to your own personal office. You send an email correcting the mistake, and promise yourself never to make the same mistake again.

Personal and personnel can be confusing to distinguish. Both can function as a noun, a person, place or thing, or an adjective, a word describing a noun. Even more confusing is that it's possible to have personal personnel, which means people who work only for you!

It's Personal

Personal means something that belongs to you (personal files), or refers to your body, private life, characteristics or physical presence (personal history, personal space, personal history).

A selfie is a personal picture of yourself.

Personal As An Adjective

Personal is most commonly used as an adjective, like in this image's caption. Here are some other examples of personal acting in a descriptive role.

  • I used my personal credit card to pay for the tickets. (my own credit card)
  • He brought his personal chef to cook for us. (his private cook)
  • This bathroom is for your personal use only. (only you can use the bathroom)
  • She told me something very personal when we talked on the phone. (she shared something very private)
  • This is my personal office. (my private office)
  • Someone stole their personal files. (private files of several people)

Personal As A Noun

Personals (noun) can also refer to the personals in the newspaper, which no one really uses anymore. Before the Internet, this was a common way to meet people to date.

  • He put an ad in the Sunday personals. (advertisements in the newspaper)

Calling All Personnel

Personnel refers to a group of people who work for a company or an institution. Personnel can mean the Human Resources Department of a company, or the actual people who work for the company.

Staff are the personnel who work for a company or institution.

Personnel As A Noun

  • The CEO instructed the personnel to work harder. (the staff that works for the company)
  • The personnel at the hotel are wonderful. (the staff that works at the hotel)
  • I went to Personnel to sign my timesheet. (the office that handles a company's staff)

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