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Business English: Pledge vs Commitment

In my last two posts on words that are close in meaning, I looked at words that had almost exactly the same meaning, but were used in different contexts, and with different grammar.

Today, we’re going to look at two nouns commonly used in the business world. These words are both commonly used in the same context—the context of customer service. And they have very few differences in grammar, compared to the differences highlighted in the two earlier blog entries.

However, these words do have different connotations—they suggest different feelings and senses, beyond their near-identical literal meanings. Knowing the subtle differences between these words—“pledge” and “commitment”—can be very useful in the business world. Let’s take a closer look at this pair of similar nouns!

“Pledge” and “commitment” both refer to something someone has agreed to do or promised to do. Essentially, both words refer to responsibilities. But these nouns describe different types of things that people agree to do.

Generally, a commitment involves time and responsibility, while a pledge involves resources and money. In both cases, something highly specific is being guaranteed. Someone might have a commitment to attend a meeting at a certain time, or complete a specific work project.

Someone makes a pledge to do something like give money to a charity, or contribute building materials to a construction project. A pledge most commonly involves something that is a gift or generous offer. Pledged goods and resources are offered free of charge or sold at a discount. If someone pledges something, it is strongly suggested that they want to give it. This is in contrast with commitment, which only suggests a responsibility to do something, and does not necessarily imply actual desire.

(If you read the above two paragraphs carefully, you may also notice the small grammar difference between commitment and pledge—you can make a commitment or have a commitment, bit you can only make a pledge; pledges are not had.)

If you use “pledge” to refer to time and responsibility, this is a very formal use. Pledge is formal in general, which is why it is more likely to refer to resources and money— things that can be measured very clearly and specifically. If you work in the business world, you’re most likely to use pledge in an advertisement. Companies often talk about the pledge they make to their customers or the general public. In these kinds of company memos and ads, pledge refers to specific standards and guarantees that the company takes very seriously.

As a formal word, pledge is also very polite. It’s a great word to use when talking to potential customers the first time you contact them—it shows that you respect your customers, and are serious about serving them well. In other words, pledge is a great sales buzzword.

However, once you get a repeat customer and start to build a relationship with them, you’ll want to lose “pledge” in favor of “commitment.” “Commitment” is less formal and more friendly. And again, it also suggests time and responsibility. Before a customer starts really working with you or your company, you can only offer them pledged things—resources or savings. But once you start working with a customer on an ongoing basis, what you give them becomes a commitment of time and responsibility, and not just a material pledge.

One final note—there is one other small but important grammatical difference between the nouns “commitment” and “pledge.” When you turn “commitment” into a verb, it changes to become “commit.” However, “pledge” doesn’t change at all when it becomes a verb. You can make a pledge or pledge something.


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