Choose the right word for each sentence:
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.