personal and personnel - the difference

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
Personal means private or individual.

Personnel means staff or workforce.

Personal and Personnel

The words personal and personnel sound fairly similar and both derive from the Latin word personalis (meaning personal). However, their meanings are quite different. (Of note, personal is stressed on the first syllable, and personnel is stressed on the last syllable.)


The word personal is most commonly seen as an adjective. Generally, it will mean something like private or individual. Here are some more nuanced meanings:

Affecting or belonging to a specific person (as opposed to someone else):
  • That is my personal bag.
  • Wisdom is what's left after we've run out of personal opinions. (Cullen Hightower)
Done by or involving a specific person:
  • It was his last personal appearance.
  • My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence. (Edith Sitwell, 1887-1964)
Concerning a specific person's private life or character:
  • He keeps his personal life to himself.
  • I don't think I'm obliged to discuss my personal issues with you.
  • Nothing endures but personal qualities. (Walt Whitman, 1819-1892)
  • He's the reason why I think confidence is an overrated personal trait.
Relating to a person's body:
  • The biggest issue is his personal hygiene.
The word personal (especially in the plural personals) is also commonly seen as a noun meaning an advertisement or message in the personal column of a newspaper. Dating adverts are examples of personals.


The word personnel is most commonly seen as a noun. Personnel is similar in meaning to staff (i.e., it denotes the people employed in an organisation, business, or service).
  • The equipment is first rate, but we need more personnel.
  • Clever personnel don't make good analysts. Trained analysts make good analysts.
The word personnel can also be used as an adjective.
  • We have a personnel issue.
  • (i.e., a problem with our staff)
Interactive Exercise
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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? immoral and amoral its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose?
What are nouns? What are adjectives? List of easily confused words