If you truly wish to master business English or legal English, you need to learn idioms.
A good command of Business English is not purely about speaking correctly. It is also about how to use idioms and phrasal verbs confidently. It goes without saying that understanding idioms is an essential tool for communicating in the workplace. If you do not understand English idioms, you will easily get lost in conversations with native speakers.
In order to help you find your way through the maze of business idioms, we have compiled a list of 50 idioms for business English with their definitions and examples on how to use them.
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|A long shot||Something with little chance of success.||We could try and get that account but it’s a bit of a long shot.|
|Back to square one||To start something over again because a previous attempt failed.||We have tried all we can think of so now it’s back to square one, I guess.|
|Ballpark figure||A rough estimate||Can you give me a ballpark figure on the costs of refurbishing the meeting room?|
|Bigger picture||The whole situation rather than minor details.||Working on all these details, we have lost sight of the bigger picture.|
|By the book||To do everything according to the rules or the law||His boss seems to do everything by the book so things can take a long time.|
|Corner the market||To be number one in a particular market||We have cornered the market in security personnel throughout the region.|
|Cut corners||To do things as cheaply and as quickly as possible||They cut corners on the project in order to get it completed on time.|
|Dog-eat-dog||Very intense and aggressive competition||Competition between language schools is very dog-eat-dog.|
|Fine print||Small details (usually in a contract).||Make sure you read the fine print before signing up to anything.|
|Get down to business||Stop making small talk and start talking about serious business topics||Now that everyone’s here, let’s get down to business and start with the presentation.|
|Get something off the ground||To start something (e.g. a project or a business)||Now that we have finished the planning phase, we’re eager the get the project off the ground.|
|Go down the drain||To lose something after working on it.||That’s all that time we spent trying to hire him gone down the drain for nothing.|
|Go the extra mile||To do more than what people expect||To give our customers the best shopping experience, we go the extra mile.|
|Hands are tied||Not being free to behave in the way that you would like||I’d love to help you, but my hands are tied.|
|Hit the nail on the head||To be exactly correct about something.||Melissa hit the nail on the head when she mentioned the budget.|
|In full swing||At a stage when the level of activity is at its highest||Construction of our new production site is in full swing now.|
|In the driver’s seat||To be in charge or in control of a situation||Being offered the position of managing director, I’ll soon be in the driver’s seat.|
|Keep one’s eye on the ball||To give something one’s full attention and to not lose focus||We should not diversify our product offering too much, but rather keep our eyes on the ball.|
|Learn the ropes||To learn the basics of something||As a trainee lawyer, the main thing you’re doing is learning the ropes.|
|Long shot||Something that has a very low probability of happening||They said it was a long shot when we tried to expand into the US.|
|Nitty-gritty||The specific facts or details||Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and see if we can make this deal work.|
|No strings attached||Something is given without anything expected in return.||You can try out the car with no strings attached.|
|On a shoestring||Very low budget||The project is operating on a shoestring budget at the moment.|
|On the same page||To agree about something||Let’s go over the contract again to make sure we’re on the same page.|
|Out in the open||Something that is public knowledge and not secret anymore||Our financials our out in the open anyway.|
|Put all one’s eggs in one basket||To rely on only one thing to bring success||It’s not smart to invest in one stock only and put all one’s eggs in one basket.|
|Ramp up||To increase||We have had to ramp up production to deal with all these new customers.|
|Raise the bar||To set higher expectations.||Steve Jobs raised the bar for how a presentation should be delivered.|
|Red tape||Official rules and processes that seem excessive and unnecessary||The new government has promised to cut red tape for businesses.|
|Rock the boat||To say something that will cause problems||Don’t rock the boat until the deal has been signed.|
|Safe bet||Something that is certain to happen||It’s a safe bet that Amazon will still be the number one company in ten years.|
|Same boat||To be in the same difficult situation as someone else||None of us has a job, so we’re all in the same boat.|
|See eye to eye||To agree with somebody||My boss doesn’t see eye to eye with me about our marketing campaign.|
|See something through||To continue until something is finished||I want to see this role through before looking for my next job.|
|Sever ties||To end a relationship||We had to sever ties with the supplier due to delays.|
|Sleep on it||To consider something for a time (usually overnight)||Let’s sleep on it and we’ll come back tomorrow.|
|Smooth sailing||A situation where success is achieved without difficulties||Once our largest competitor went out of business, it was smooth sailing.|
|Stand one’s ground||To not change your position||You have to stand your ground if he tries to change your mind.|
|Take the bull by the horns||To directly confront a difficult situation in a brave and determined way||Middle managers at the firm were constantly delaying projects, so I took the bull by the horns and told the CEO.|
|Take with a pinch (UK)/grain (USA) of salt||Do not accept it entirely.||He says that he can get the sale but I’d take it with a pinch of salt.|
|Talk someone out of something||To convince someone not to do something||We wanted to take on more debt, but our CFO talked us out of it.|
|The elephant in the room||An obvious problem that no one wants to talk about.||We should have discussed the takeover, but no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.|
|Think outside the box||To think of creative, unconventional solutions instead of common ones.||Our current approach will get us nowhere. We have to think outside the box.|
|Time’s up||We have reached the time when something or somebody has finished.||Time’s up for the manager of Manchester United. His replacement has already been hired.|
|Touch base||To make contact with someone.||I will touch base with you later today.|
|Twist someone’s arm||To convince someone to do something that they would prefer not to do.||My boss thought the budget was too high, so I had to twist his arm to get him to agree.|
|Up in the air||Something is undecided or uncertain||Our international expansion plan is still up in the air.|
|Uphill battle||Something that is difficult to achieve because of obstacles and difficulties||Gaining market share in the retail sector will be an uphill battle due to tough competition.|
|Upper hand||To have more power than anyone else||Due to my experience, I easily had the upper hand in the negotiation.|
|Word-of-mouth||People talking positively about an experience that they have had.||Their coffee shop doesn’t do any social media – they just rely on word-of-mouth.|
All fifty of the idioms in the table are common expressions used consistently in offices across the English-speaking world. If you learn them and use them then you will be another step along the way in your journey to mastering business English.
If you want to learn more about The Idioms of Business English and how to use them, invest in a lifetime’s access to our course. You can also contact us for lessons with one of our Business English teachers.
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