I need to send my boss mail explaining that because of a personal issue I need to handle, I can’t attend the conference. Which of these phrases would best express that I have my own business to deal with:

  • personal issue
  • private issue
  • personal affair
  • personal business

What are the differences between those expressions?

  • Personal and private issue suggest an intimate (embarrassing) health problem. Personal affair suggests an extra-marital relationship. Personal business suggests either a side business conflicting with your work, or else defecation. Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 12:52

1 Answer 1


Rather than any of these, the best phrase would actually be "a personal matter," because it states that you are dealing with something personal, but it does not imply anything about what you are dealing with; it is non-specific, and that's a good thing here.

"Personal issue" implies that it is a more troublesome (possibly even emotional or mental) matter to deal with, and you don't want your boss to think you have "issues," which might mean you are having trouble dealing with life in general.

"Private issue" would be somewhat misused here, because it is more typically used with regard to a product (often stocks or bonds) that are "issued" in a non-public way. ("Private matter," on the other hand, might possibly be used if you want to emphasize that the matter is not merely personal, but is in fact something you do not want to reveal or discuss.)

"Personal affair" carries a faint implication of either a romantic liaison, or at least something frivolous, and you don't want your boss to think anything of that kind.

"Personal business" might be all right, but you may not want to use it because the word "business" in this context carries the subtle implication that you have another job or your own company of some kind, and you certainly don't want your boss to think that.

  • That’s an awfully dark and dense paragraph. Could you please organize it into several separate ones so we can read it more easily?
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 7:44
  • Thanks, Tom. I hope this is better. I think the format looks nicer now, and I also refined a bit of the text. Commented Feb 22, 2013 at 8:06
  • That's good and it helps. I nearly used the term affair until I knew it means something unethical. That's not what I meant. And I get clear distinguish between personal and private. So to request for a leave, I can just use personal matter. Matter is more neutral than issue?
    – user51299
    Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 2:25

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.