Personal vs. Personnel – What’s the Difference?

The difference between the words personnel and personal escape many early writers and language learners. They are easy to tell apart when spoken out loud, but they are spelled similarly, so in writing they can sometimes be confusing.

Still, these words are different parts of speech, and they can never be substituted for each other. Personnel and personal are two distinct words, so continue reading to learn the difference between them.

What is the Difference Between Personal and Personnel?

In this post, I will compare personal vs. personnel. I will use each of these words in a few example sentences to give you an idea of how they look in context.

Plus, I will outline an easy memory tool that you can use to help you choose either personnel or personal in your future writing.

When to Use Personal

personal versus personnelWhat does personal mean? Personal is an adjective that has two main meanings. Sometimes, it describes someone’s private business, like when someone says, “that’s personal” instead of answering a question. In this sense, it is a synonym of the adjective private.

For example,

  • “I wish Frances would stop sticking her nose into my personal affairs,” said Dr. Hildebraand.

Personal can also show possession by an individual. Most people have their own personal toothbrushes that they don’t share, for instance.

Another example,

  • The CEO will be represented in court by a personal attorney, rather than by a member of the company’s legal department.

When personal is used in a phrase like getting personal or personal attack, it refers to an attack on someone’s character as an individual, rather than on the merits of his or her actions or beliefs.

Adjectives modify nouns, so personal describes a particular quality of various nouns, like in the phrases personal favor or personal cell phone.

  • The DNC said that no financial, donor or personal information appears to have been accessed or taken, suggesting that the breach was traditional espionage, not the work of criminal hackers. –The Washington Post

In the above example, personal describes the information of specific donors. It is their information.

Pronunciation of Personal

Lastly, the word personal has stress on the first syllable when spoken out loud, like the word merciful. Try to sound out person-uhl.

When to Use Personnel

personal or personel What does personnel mean? Personnel is a noun. It refers to people employed by an organization, especially in professional and military contexts.

In the military, materiel refers to military equipment, while personnel refers to military service members.

For example,

  • Our company is having a personnel crisis because the work is dirty and often dangerous, and the pay is too low.
  • Military personnel were on the scene within minutes of receiving the distress call from the abandoned station.
  • But what good will this equipment do if the military lacks the personnel to use it? –The Wall Street Journal

Pronunciation of Personnel

When personnel is spoken out loud, it is pronounced with heavy stress on the final syllable, like the word carousel. Try to sound out perso-nell.

Trick to Remember the Difference

definition of personal definition of personnel The main difference between personal and personnel is that the former is an adjective, while the latter is a noun.

Personnel vs. Personal Check: Since the words noun and personnel each have two N’s in them, you can use their spelling as an easy way to remember whether to use personal or personnel.


Is it personal or personnel? Personal and personnel are confusing words since they are spelled similarly.

  • Personal is an adjective that means private.
  • Personnel is a noun that refers to human capital.

These two words are never interchangeable: personnel is always a noun, while personal is always an adjective.