Word Confusion: Personal versus Personnel

Posted May 30, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 20 February 2018

I have no words for this one. I can only hope that it’s a personal problem for the writer…probably because he or she is using…gasp…spellcheck…. It could, of course, be a personnel problem, i.e., the writer is using a nonprofessional to do the editing or proofreading. I know, I know…miaou!

I think part of my cattiness this morning is a book I just finished reading in which the writer left off all sorts of prepositions and articles and wasn’t paying attention to tenses. Oh, the story was cute enough, but I kept being thrown off by the missing bits and pieces. Oy.

Then again, maybe it was the personnel with whom the writer was getting personal

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Personal Personnel
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: personal and personnel

Photographic postcard of a young girl dressed for the beach of her time, standing under a sign inscribed, `Notice No Mixed Bathing

The “Bathers Progress Postcard Series” is courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum on The Commons and has no restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons.

I guess this young girl’s bathing has become a lot more personal than she expected.

Group photo of TVA Agriculture Division Office Personnel

“TVA Agriculture Division Office Personnel” is from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons while the photographer is unknown.

Part of Grammar:
Adjective 1, 2; Noun 1, 3
Plural: personal, personals
Plural: personnel
Of, affecting, or belonging to a particular person rather than to anyone else

  • One or made by a particular person
  • Involving the actual presence or action of a particular individual

Of or concerning one’s private life, relationships, and emotions rather than matters connected with one’s public or professional career

  • Referring to an individual’s character, appearance, or private life, especially in a hostile or critical way

Of or relating to a person’s body

[Grammar] Of or denoting one of the three persons. See the post on “Personal Pronouns“.

Existing as a self-aware entity, not as an abstraction or an impersonal force

[Chiefly North American] An advertisement or message in the personal column of a newspaper

  • [Personals] Another term for personal column
People employed in an organization or engaged in an organized undertaking such as military service

  • Short for personnel department
  • Human resources

[As a modifier] a personnel officer

Her personal fortune was recently estimated at $37 million.

The president and his wife made personal appearances for the re-election of the state governor.

The book describes his acting career and gives little information about his personal life.

His personal remarks about Mr. Mellor’s work ethic were unprofessional.

You look like a drowned rat — nothing personal.

Her personal hygiene leaves something to be desired.

Can I get a personal opinion from you?

It’s my personal car, not a company car.

One category of pronouns is the personal pronoun.

He rejected the notion of a personal God.

So put in a personal ad. Maybe he’ll see it.

I found it in the personals.

He delivered the roses in person.

Can’t you be your own person for once!?

My future happiness arrived in the person of Beau Ritter.

Many of the personnel involved require training.

We’re short on sales personnel this week what with this flu bug going around.

You’ll have to talk to someone in the personnel department.

Compare it with the German Personal, the variant of Personale, and the Italian personale.

George is the personnel officer in your branch.

We’ve been ordered to make cutbacks in personnel by the end of the month.

Adjective: hyperpersonal, multipersonal, nonpersonal
Adverb: hyperpersonally
Combined Form: -person
Noun: person, persons, personality, personalness, personals
History of the Word:
1 Late Middle English from Old French, which is from Latin personalis meaning of a person, from persona, meaning person.

2 Late 14th century, pertaining to the self from the 12th century Old French personal.

1610s, it evolved into meaning aimed at some particular person (usually in a hostile manner).

3 1861, personal added in the meaning a classified ad addressed to an individual.

1888, it evolved into the meaning newspaper item about private matters.

1976 added personal computer.

Evolved around 1825-35 from the French personal (adjective (from the Old French personel) and personnel (noun), both of which evolved from the Late Latin persōnāle, the neuter of persōnālis, which replaced the Latin personal as a noun.

The noun, personnel contrasts with matériel meaning equipment or materials used in an organization or undertaking.

Compare it with the German Personal, the variant of Personale, and the Italian personale.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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US Soldiers Removing Landmines by a soldier at Fort Bragg is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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