This is one question in my book:

Our company don’t ____ on profits only.

A. Concentrate B. Focus

The key gives B but I don't think there is a difference between them in this context.

What do you think? Thanks.

  • 3
    I think if you copied that question exactly from your book then the book should be thrown out.
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 5:25
  • Ignoring the poor language of the sentence, focus is the right word. See dictionary definitions and usage examples for the difference between concentrate and focus.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 6:28
  • Can you elaborate on that? As I don't find any difference in the definitions or examples either (in this context).
    – user52139
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 7:24
  • Wow - too many mistakes in that sentence!
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 9:03

4 Answers 4


One dictionary that does not use circular definitions for these two expressions is The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online:

concentrate verb [1]
1 [intransitive] to think very carefully about something that you are doing [↪ concentration]:
- Now please concentrate.
- Adrian was finding it difficult to concentrate.
concentrate on
- Be quiet - let me concentrate on my homework.

focus [2]
1 give attention to something [intransitive and transitive] to give special attention to one particular person or thing, or to make people do this
focus on
- He needs to focus more on his career.
focus your attention/mind/efforts on something
- She tried to focus her mind on her work.
focus (somebody's) mind/attention (on something) (=make people give their attention to something)
- We need to focus public attention on this issue.

[Other meanings omitted for both words]

Here, the definition of concentrate does tend to support the distinction given in the answer from @FriendlyGreasemonkey, in that it specifically refers to thinking, whereas the definition of focus refers to giving attention.

There is clearly considerable overlap, and many instances where either word could be used, but I would agree that concentration implies use of the mind by an individual or group, and is not suitable for use in reference to an entity.

  • Well put, good sir. Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 14:07

Concentration tends to be used in the context of a person's mind and thoughts. If you accept that a company, not being a real person, has no mind then it cannot concentrate.

Conversely, focus tends to connote the tuning or centering of interests, which in the case of a company means its resources i.e. people and other assets. This makes the choice of focus in terms of a company more suitable, in my mind.

  • 1
    I agree with that deduction if the plural don't was an error. But it needn't be. A business company can have plural agreement (in BrEn more so) if the employees are the referent: “I'm very happy to see the company celebrate 30 years in town, and to know that they're sticking around,” said Mark Gilmore, chairman of the... (The Recorder)
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 10:02
  • @TaliaFord Agreed, but in the question, "Our company" is unlikely to be referring to the employees, but rather to the company as a single entity, as in the company ethos.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 12:20
  • Since the only options for the blank were concentrate or focus it must be a typo that don't is stated in the OP. It's not entirely wrong to use concentrate but, for me, focus is the better choice. Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 12:41
  • @FriendlyGreasemonkey No. If "Our company" is being treated as plural, as suggested by Talia, you could write "Our company [they/we] do not [don't] focus/concentrate on ... "
    – TrevorD
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 12:51

(This answer looks at the non-optical and non-chemical senses only, of course)

Different dictionaries do seem to differ in what they are overtly prepared to permit in the on-phrase after concentrate:

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

concentrate . . . vb . . . 4. (intr; often foll by on) to bring one's faculties to bear (on); think intensely (about)

permitting 'concentrate on profits' (and 'concentrate on the view' etc) as well as 'concentrate on making profits'. focus on . . .

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

con•cen•trate . . . v. . . . v.i. 5. to bring all efforts, faculties, etc., to bear on one objective (often fol. by on or upon): to concentrate on solving a problem.

perhaps limiting X in 'on X' to the achieving of some goal. focus one's efforts on . . .

However, English is usually very flexible in areas like this, probably readily interchanging (using one for the other)

'concentrate on the view' <==> 'concentrate on appreciating / taking in the view'


'Our company doesn't concentrate on profits only.' <==> 'Our company doesn't just concentrate on making profits.'

None of the corresponding entries for focus stipulates any need for an achievement to be referenced by the on-phrase.

  • The Ngram for "concentrate on several,focus on several" looks interesting: img51.imageshack.us/img51/3149/ysxk.jpg
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 9:29
  • Yes indeed - there's a pattern. focus on doing,concentrate on doing,focus on being,concentrate on being at books.google.com/ngrams/… (I really must learn how to hotlink on this site). Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 9:34
  • I think these corroborate the conclusion that the two words are synonyms, with focus coming into vogue for some reason. Perhaps because it's shorter? Or might have something to do with focus sounding more scientific. Or perhaps the metaphor with the lens is, simply, niftier. More evocative. (I can't figure out how to insert an image into comments, but I've got the hotlinking thing down: [ lookee ]( hllp://www.coolsite.com )) Sometimes it's just a hassle though... (oh yeah,omit the spaces.)
    – Talia Ford
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 9:46
  • Yes – 'punchier' is another term I'll add. And the fact that it doubles nicely as a noun. 'Labour is ahead in the polls!' 'Conservatiswas ...?!?' And imagine a 'concentration group'. Oh, and thanks for the hotlink info. Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 11:39

There is no difference in British English, except the style.

The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines "focus on" by "concentrate on", and "focus on" by "concentrate on".

  • Did you mean to swap the second pair of phrases around?
    – TrevorD
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 12:14
  • -1 There is a difference in BrE - see my answer.
    – TrevorD
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 0:44
  • @TrevorD Yes, you are right ; unfortunately I couldn't have read it before writing, half an hour sooner. I was about to explain the differences of images (optical vs mental), but thought that "style" was fair enough. Of course I was absent-minded, when not inversing the propositions. Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 17:08

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