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personal / personnel

XYZ Co. is letting go of personal/personnel at an alarming rate.

My personal/personnel files include notes on how to take over the world using just a red paperclip.

Match.com and other dating sites have eliminated the need to advertise in the personals/personnels.

The HR department kept James' personal/personnel file updated with all the complaints about his work habits.

Personal and personnel can be confused if the writer is not diligent, especially as both can be used as a noun and an adjective. Let's go through the quiz to uncover all four usages.

The first example could say that XYZ Co. is laying off employees or staff; the correct choice here is personnel, a plural noun. You wouldn't have one personnel; you'd have many.

The second sentence calls for personal. Personal refers to something of a particular person's, something done in person, something related to a person, and so on. My files belong to me; they are personal. They don't have anything to do with my employer.

The third sentence refers to those ads placed in a newspaper by people looking for romance or wishing to send messages to others. Personals is the correct, if increasingly rare, choice.

In the final sentence, a personnel file is an employee file. Although the file is about one person and is somewhat private, it is limited to James' work life at his current company; it is a file kept by the company about its employee.

To remember which word is which, try this: Personnel has two ns, just as a company has to have at least two employees to have personnel. Anything personal (one n) is about one individual.

When something's personal, it's all about you. A personal decision is one you make on your own and it’s probably about something that concerns you, too. Your personal possessions are things that belong to you. Continue reading.

Personnel is a noun describing a group of people who follow orders, usually at a company. If you have a job, you’re probably considered personnel to be managed. Continue reading.