Personal or Personnel?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Personal" and "Personnel"?

"Personal" and "personnel" are easy to confuse because they both relate to people and sound similar.
  • "Personal" means "private" or "individual."
    • She sent you a personal message.
  • "Personnel" means "staff" or "workforce."
    • How many personnel are on the boat?
personal or personnel?

More about "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. Click to hear how they are pronounced:

Personal

"Personal" is most commonly seen as an adjective. Generally, "personal" means private or individual. Here are four other nuanced meanings:

(1) 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. (Author Cullen Hightower)
(2) Done by or involving a specific person:
  • It was his last personal appearance.
  • My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence. (British poet Edith Sitwell)
(3) 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. (Poet Walt Whitman)
  • He's the reason why I think confidence is an overrated personal trait.
(4) Relating to a person's body:
  • The biggest issue is his personal hygiene.
The word "personal" (especially in the plural "personals") is also seen as a noun meaning an advertisement or message in the personal column of a newspaper. Dating adverts are examples of personals.

Personnel

The word "personnel" is usually a noun. "Personnel" is similar in meaning to "staff" (i.e., it denotes the people employed in an organization, business, or service).
  • The equipment is first rate, but we need more personnel.
  • No, clever personnel do not make good analysts. Trained analysts make good analysts.
The word "personnel" can also be used as an adjective.
  • We have a personnel issue.
  • (This means "We have an issue with our staff.")

A Trick to Remember "Personal" and "Personnel"

Let the single "n" of "personal" remind you it's about one person (i.e., private or individual).

Let the double "n" of "personnel" remind you it's about more than one person (i.e., staff or the workforce).

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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? cannot or can not? who's or whose? What are adjectives? List of easily confused words

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