140 Must-Know Business English Idioms and Phrases
English is a universal language having more than one billion people who speak it as a first or second language. Because English is a broad language with different functions, there are English expressions and idioms suited for the business world.
Business English is a language spoken in the corporate environment or the business setting. If you want to navigate business situations well, then you should master these idiomatic expressions and phrases.
Here are 140 English business phrases and common business idioms that you should know to communicate with your colleagues effectively:
The Alphabet of Business English Idioms
Business English idioms are expressions that don’t translate literally into standard English. Your colleagues, especially native speakers, may use idioms during conference calls, business emails, presentations, and meetings.
Knowing the common business idioms in English will make you sound like a native speaker.
Here are 50 business idioms or expressions in business that you should use in your conversation:
1. A ballpark figure
Usually used in quick conversations, a ballpark figure means a rough estimate of a number. Note that you should try to give an exact number during business negotiations, not a ballpark figure.
Can you give a ballpark figure of the additional profit we need to generate this quarter before the actual meeting starts?
Can you give me a ballpark figure for the cost of this marketing project?
2. All hands on deck
Every person present or in the team is needed to address a situation.
Our current situation is not looking good. I need all hands on deck until we stabilize this issue. The restaurant’s business owner needs all his staff to be all hands on deck during the Holiday.
3. A win-win situation
All parties will benefit from the outcome of a decision or agreement.
It’s a win-win situation because when you purchase all the machines from us, we will give you free installation, training, and a two-year warranty. And won’t worry about hiring experts to install those delicate machines.
Putting up an online store is a win-win situation for both customers and our business.
4. Back to the drawing board
Go back to the planning stage to find a better idea, solution, or proposal. It is an alternative expression to back to square one.
Let’s start the actual meeting and go back to the drawing board to plan a creative solution. The upper management rejected the proposal.
Tell the project manager to gather his team of employees to go back to the drawing board.
5. Beck and call
Being always prepared to be called for a task, and to be ready to respond immediately.
The executive secretary is at the beck and call of the CEO.
I expect you to be at my beck and call during the accreditation period.
6. Bring to the table
Provide or contribute a skill or expertise which benefits the team or completes a task.
I’m done gathering the data but, we need someone who can bring data analysis expertise to the table for us to complete the report.
We should hire Lilly as the project manager. She brings three years of experience and successful marketing projects to the table.
7. By the book
Performing a task according to the rules, laws, or company policies.
Kindly tell the accountant to compute the portion of profits our business partners will receive by the book.
Prepare for this annual business meeting by the book, and do not forget to reserve the venue in advance.
8. Call it a day
Wrapping up and ending a work day, especially after a rigorous task. It could also mean taking a break after an unsuccessful solution to an unfortunate situation.
Alright, team, all of you did great! Let’s call it a day and go home early.
The machines are still under maintenance. I’m afraid we have to call it a day and continue the production tomorrow.
A term used in sales that means an unsolicited call to sell a product or service.
Cold-calling takes lots of energy, especially when you encounter rude people who scream at you before you even finish explaining.
It is hard to cold-call busy people for they tend to rush the conversation and sometimes they just drop the call.
10. Deal breaker
During business negotiations, a deal breaker is a factor or part of the proposal or product that one party does not agree with. If unresolved, a deal breaker would cause a potential business partner to withdraw.
During the actual meeting, he said that the deal breaker for him is that the application doesn’t run on Android phones.
Taking into consideration our financial situation, the 20% increase in the price of materials you sell is a deal breaker for us.
11. Drop the ball
To drop the ball means to make a mistake or miss an opportunity.
Tad dropped the ball when he did not schedule the job interview at his earliest convenience. Someone else got the position.
This is an important business meeting, and I’m giving you one month to prepare the agenda folders. Please don’t drop the ball, I trust you.
12. Elephant in the room
A critical issue or problem that a team is avoiding because it is convenient to do so.
No one likes to address the elephant in the room during the actual meeting, so I gathered my courage to raise the issue.
Inflation is the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss.
13. Foot in the door
Achieving a goal or success by gaining entry to a job or organization.
I heard there’s a position open for a senior manager. You better get your foot in the door and apply for the role for your career growth.
This internship will get my foot in the door of the corporate world.
14. From the ground up
To build or start something from the ground up means to start from the bottom or on the first step of a process. This is an alternative expression for starting from scratch.
I wish we had a time machine to travel back in time and witness the hardships they had to go through to build this business from the ground up.
You have to create the business presentation slides from the ground up, don’t use our previous template as it is not applicable for this project.
15. Get down to business
This English expression means to start and focus on the task at hand before doing something else. Usually used to start the actual meeting or business activity after the team has a small talk and to redirect the focus on the agenda.
Okay, team, the attendees are all in, so let’s get down to business and discuss the topic of presentation for this meeting.
I understand we are all busy people, so let’s get down to business and finish this meeting quickly.
16. Game plan
A detailed plan of action or strategy to get ahead of a task.
The marketing team is creating a game plan for the launch of our new product.
We must anticipate all the risks and craft a game plan to mitigate them.
17. Go the extra mile
This means exerting more effort and doing more than what is expected of someone. Examples:
The project manager encouraged the team to go the extra mile and exceed their key performance indicators. A team of employees has gone the extra mile to craft a clear-cut business proposal and closed the deal successfully.
18. A Gray Area
A confusing or undefined part of a communication or document.
Our business partners are busy people, so write the contract clearly to avoid any gray areas and going back and forth with them.
Profit sharing is the gray area that the upper management is currently trying to define in the meeting.
19. Green light
Greenlight is a signal for something to proceed or start.
Give me the green light to mass produce the newsletter after you negotiate with the manager.
We have not received that green light to send the email campaign so just stand by and wait for the directive.
20. Hands are tied
Someone’s hands are tied when they have a limited capacity to act on something. This idiom implies that a situation is out of someone’s control.
I can’t release more funds for this project. My hands are tied due to the budget cuts. Sorry, you can’t join this business activity, I’m just following the protocol, and my hands are tied —I can’t let you in without an invitation.
Inform or warn someone ahead of time. A heads-up is given to give someone time to prepare.
I called to give you a heads-up on the agenda before the actual meeting starts.
The project manager called to give us a heads up that our proposal was approved, and we must prepare for the implementation now.
22. Hit the nail on the head
This means providing the correct answer or performing a task with accuracy.
That’s right, you hit the nail on the head! We need to use project management software to improve our efficiency.
Our clients are busy people that’s why it’s important to hit the nail on the head on your first try, or else they will lose interest.
23. In a nutshell
A brief summary of a statement, report, or meeting. It also means to say something in a few words
I won’t tell you how about the whole meeting, but in a nutshell, we need to operate with a tight budget starting next month due to the dire financial situation.
I don’t have much time to spare as I have to attend a business activity shortly. But can you brief me in a nutshell about this project?
24. In the driver’s seat
To be in the driver’s seat means to take ownership of a process and be in control. Examples:
Congrats on your promotion! Now that you are a project manager, I expect you to be in the driver’s seat of your team.
I will guide and orient you for a month, but you have to be in the driver’s seat and lead the planning of marketing projects after that.
25. In the loop
Keeping someone in the loop means informing them about something they need to know. In short, it means to keep someone updated.
I will be away for a business meeting, but please keep me in the loop about how things are going in the office.
I CC-ed the hiring manager in this email to keep her in the loop of the whole hiring process.
26. Jack of all trades
A jack of all trades means someone with various skills but is not specializing in any particular area.
Lilly is a jack of all trades because she served in the accounting, IT, and advertising departments over her tenure here. But eventually, she needs to find her niche.
We need to hire a jack of all trades for an executive secretary since the tasks are broad and immense.
27. Keep an eye on the ball
Keeping an eye on the ball means that someone should be aware and focused on what’s going on so they can make a good decision.
Business people need to keep an eye on the ball and plan accordingly to survive this crisis.
I know we can get out of this unfortunate situation. We just have to keep an eye on the ball and find a creative solution.
28. Learn the ropes
Being trained to know the basics of an activity or process or to gain a new skill and knowledge for something new.
You have to learn the ropes of reading your client’s body language to be successful in sales.
I’m starting to feel comfortable in my role as an auditor because I have already learned the ropes of performing my tasks.
29. Learning curve
Refers to the period required for someone to learn or adjust to new technology or technique.
Lilly shifted to a new career and is experiencing a learning curve in the real estate industry.
Since it’s your first time performing a business negotiation, it’s normal to have a learning curve before you master the process.
30. Lose one’s ground
To lose one’s ground is an expression in business which means to fail to maintain one’s position or authority; to be forced out of an advantageous position.
I think he lost his ground because he became too complacent after his first success.
You are now ahead of the competition, do not lose your ground and fall back to where you started.
31. Movers and shakers
Movers and shakers are the people who have an important role in any organization. They can be managers, owners, directors, executives, or even workers.
Tad is one of the movers and shakers in our company. He developed the prototype of our product.
The movers and shakers of the modern architecture industry led the opening of the business conference.
This business English expression came into existence because people usually work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nine-to-five means working for eight hours.
I have to quit my nine-to-five job to focus on my small business. It’s hard to get to work a nine-to-five job in winter because I have to shovel snow off my driveway almost daily.
33. No strings attached
If there are no strings attached, it means you don’t need to make promises or give anything in return.
You can use the application for two weeks for free. There are no strings attached, you don’t have to link your credit card account, and you can cancel your subscription anytime.
Since you have been our client for two years, I can upgrade your account for free, with no strings attached.
34. On the back burner
A task is not urgent but will be performed later. On the back burner is business jargon which means a low-priority task or activity.
The floor plan is not our priority today. Let’s put it on the back burner for later.
The team leader forgot the tasks he paced on the back burner last week.
35. On the same page
To agree with someone regarding an issue; to have the same opinion about something.
We’re all on the same page here. We want this strategy to be successful so let’s work together to achieve our goal.
Are we on the same page regarding this matter, or do you have a different perspective?
36. Play hardball
To play hardball means being firm, doing everything, and not taking “no” for an answer to produce positive results.
As a team leader, I need to play hardball sometimes to meet the quarterly target.
Our business partner won’t budge and played hardball during the negotiation. They want a 60-40 profit sharing, but we are pushing for 50-50.
37. Pull the plug
Discontinuing or stopping an activity or service; not giving support or funding an activity. Examples: The company pulled the plug on the charity event after the controversy.
The CEO plans to pull the plug on the software we use because of the data breach.
38. Raise the bar
Raising the bar means setting the standard or expectations higher, usually through an exemplary achievement or creation.
Lilly raised the bar by increasing our sales by 150%. She deserves the employee award of the year.
The company raised the bar by using new technology for its product.
39. Rule of thumb
A general guideline based on practical experience and common sense.
The rule of thumb is to read the content of the agenda folder before the actual meeting begins.
Always arrive fifteen minutes early for a job interview. That’s a rule of thumb.
40. Second nature
Having second nature means becoming so accustomed to doing something that you do it without thinking about it.
Tad has been a computer programmer for more than a decade, so programming has become second nature for him.
She’s a skilled and seasoned corporate accountant, and crunching those figures is her second nature.
State of the art is a business phrase that refers to the most recent developments in an area of technology, science, engineering, or industry.
The engineering department is raving about the state-of-the-art skyscraper project they will build.
A piece of state-of-the-art virtual reality equipment was the center of attention during the technology expo.
42. Team player
A person who works well within a group and helps others achieve their goals. Examples:
Our new supervisor is a team player for creating a collaborative work environment in our department and going the extra mile to assist us with our tasks.
Please be a team player and assist the intern after you finish your task.
43. The big picture
To see the big picture is a common expression that means to view the entire perspective of a task or issue instead of focusing on individual details.
I strive to see the big picture in my job as a data analyst.
As a project manager, I need to handle the big picture instead of getting caught up with the details.
44. Think outside the box
To think outside of the box means to provide a creative or abstract solution instead of an obvious solution for a problem.
Our client wants us to think outside of the box for the launching of their new clothing line.
We implemented that strategy before, and it didn’t work. Please think outside of the box and give me a better solution.
45. Tighten one’s belt
This English expression is usually used during an unfortunate financial situation. It means cutting costs and spending less money because the company is operating on a tight budget.
Let’s switch to electronic documents and save expenses on printing documents. We have to tighten our belts due to inflation.
The upper management sent a directive to cut 20% of the overhead cost and to tighten our belts.
46. Touch base
In business English, “touch base” means to have an informal meeting, usually to discuss current events or give updates at work.
Examples: Hi, team! Let’s touch base using the video conference program this afternoon. We will update each other on the marketing projects we are working on.
We can touch base using the team chat app on Friday to update each other on our weekly accomplishments.
47. Up in the air
Used to express that something is still undecided or uncertain; an issue is still unresolved.
Our plan for a company team-building activity is still up in the air —the CEO will review the documents when he reports back from his business trip.
I have no idea who will be invited to the closed-door meeting. The list of attendees is up in the air.
48. Walking papers
When someone is given the walking papers, it means that they are let go or fired from the job.
Have you heard the news? The management served the admin assistant her walking papers for not following the protocol.
I noticed her desk was cleared this morning. The HR must have given her the walking papers yesterday.
49. Weigh in
To express an opinion or analysis to influence a decision or to mediate between two opposing views.
Lilly, you haven’t weighed in on the issue yet. What’s your take on this problem?
Let me weigh in on why I think it would be better for the company to hire more employees.
50. Word of mouth
Word of Mouth (WOM) is an informal communication channel that involves sharing information about products or services. WOM is described as “the most powerful marketing tool available.”
Many small businesses rely on word of mouth to market their goods and services.
Our sales suddenly peaked because of word of mouth. Let’s maintain our growth by providing quality products.
40 Useful Business English Phrases in Conducting a Meeting
A business meeting is an integral part of the corporate business world. To ensure effective communication between participants, it is necessary to know business phrases used in business meetings, business presentations, business negotiations, and general business settings.
The language of business English would help you foster an open-minded and non-judgmental environment, build healthy discussions, and avoid miscommunication during meetings.
English speakers who know how to navigate meetings and exercise their English skills for business purposes can easily get ahead of others.
Here are 40 useful business English phrases that can help you conduct a meeting effectively.
Signal the Start of a Meeting
Remote work challenges our conference call skills and how we manage a meeting. There is usually a wait time after entering a video conference program; participants stand by until all members are in the virtual meeting room. You can signal the start of a meeting by saying:
- Alright. Shall we start the meeting?
- Is everybody already here?
- Let’s get started.
- It’s time to begin.
- Okay. Let’s get going.
Presenting Information In Order
After giving the topic introduction or the topic of the presentation, you have to present the details to avoid misunderstanding. Here are five helpful phrases you can use:
- To start with… To conclude…
To start with, I’d like you to know that we are operating with a tight budget.
To conclude, we have to gain additional profits for the next quarter.
- Initially… Finally…
Initially, our business partners wanted to fast-track the production.
Finally, we have to deliver earlier than the scheduled time.
- Let’s start by… Last but not least…I
Let’s start by discussing the business terms and conditions.
Last but not the least, our lawyers will review the agreement before our business partners sign.
- Firstly, secondly, and lastly
Firstly, Lilly will give us the meeting overview. Secondly, I will discuss further details. Lastly, I will answer questions you may have.
- Next… To finish…
The vice president for finance will discuss our financial situation next. To finish, we will decide on the portion of profits our employees will receive as their bonus.
Giving updates on Current Projects
When handling a project with lots of preparations to be completed, you may be required to give updates on its development during business meetings. Here are handy phrases you can use:
- We have started the process of…
We have started the process of contacting our suppliers for business negotiations.
- We are involved in…
We are involved in creating an advertising strategy for our business partners,
- We remain occupied with…
We remain occupied with creating presentations for the video conference program.
- We are working on…
We are working on the business presentation for the marketing project next week.
- We are currently doing…
We are currently doing the requests of our business partners.
Keeping the Meeting on Track
There are times when the meeting agenda is not followed due to plenty of topics members want to discuss. To go back on topic, you can use these English business phrases:
- Let’s concentrate on…
Let’s concentrate on producing a creative solution for this issue.
- That’s outside the scope…
That’s outside the scope of this meeting. We will refer that to our project manager.
- We can’t discuss…
We cant discuss our financial situation here. Better raise your question to the finance department.
- That’s another subject…
That’s another subject this business presentation won’t cover.
- Let’s get back on track…
Let’s get back on track and finalize the details for hiring two project managers.
Checking the Consensus
You can use the following business English expressions or phrases to check if the members of the business meeting are on the same boat:
- Do we agree?
Do we agree to let go of this marketing project?
- Is there anyone who…
Is there anyone who has a different opinion regarding this matter?
- Do we all share…
Do we all share the same opinion on how to handle our financial situation?
- Are we on the same page about…
Are we on the same page about this creative solution for the project?
- Are you all with me…
Are you all with me when I said we must proceed with the business negotiations on their terms?
Going back to a topic
During business meetings, members sometimes lose track of the agenda because there are plenty of topics to be discussed. To go back to the main subject, you can use these business English phrases:
- This leads us back to…
This leads us back to how we will resolve the issues in our financial situation.
- As I was explaining…
As I was explaining, we need to improve this marketing project.
- What were we discussing?
What were we discussing before we got interrupted?
- Now, where were we?
Now, where were we? That’s right, we are on the topic regarding our budget.
- Let’s return to…
Let’s return to our agenda.
Finishing a Speech
Before ending your business presentation, you have to finalize and wrap up your speech with a good summary. You can use these English business phrases:
- Let me end by…
Let me end by reiterating the importance of this marketing project.
- To conclude..
To conclude, we have to close the deal for the business negotiation next week.
- To summarize…
To summarize, we are trying to mitigate the risks through budget cuts.
- The conclusion is…
The conclusion is our project was a success because of our collaborative work environment.
- To sum it all up…
To sum it all up, a positive result of the business negotiations will generate more jobs for the people.
Thanking attendees of a meeting
It is important to express your gratitude to the meeting attendees. Thanking people for attending an event builds a good relationship. Here are English business phrases and expressions you can use:
- Thank you for attending today’s meeting.
- I would like to thank everyone for coming today.
- It was a pleasure having you in this meeting.
- I’m delighted to hear all your input today.
- I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who attended this meeting.
40 Business English Phrases in Daily Real Life Scenarios
Aside from the business meetings, there are other situations in the corporate environment that you encounter especially when you are networking.
Below are 40 business English phrases you can use in eight common situations:
Inviting someone formally
- I would like to invite you to…
I would like to invite you to our company gathering.
- Are you free on?
Are you free on Monday? We could schedule a meeting if you’re free.
- Would you care to join?
Would you care to join us for lunch?
- We would be delighted to…
We would be delighted to have you as our resource speaker.
- Would you like to…
Would you like to visit our art gallery?
Requesting for information
- Could you please share…
Could you please share the contract with me?
- I wonder if you could…
I wonder if you could provide me with the minutes of the meeting.
- Do you have?
Do you have any information about the merger?
- Would you mind..
Would you mind telling me about this project?
- What do you know about?
What do you know about our current situation?
Giving a recommendation
- Put in a good word
I can put in a good word for you because you did well in this company.
- Vouch for
Their project management team is great! I can vouch for the effectiveness of their strategy.
- Say good things
I can only say good things about this product, it really helped me a lot.
- I/we recommend you..
We recommend you try this product and see it for yourself.
- I/we suggest
I suggest that you confirm the information first.
Correcting a misunderstanding
- This isn’t what I meant…
This isn’t what I meant. Yes, there are budget cuts but it won’t affect our salaries.
- It is not my intention…
It is not my intention to take over the project. I was just offering my opinion.
- I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding
I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding. The meeting is set for Monday and not today.
- (This) is different to…
The information you received is different from what I said in the meeting.
- I would like to clarify that…
I would like to clarify that there is a 10% increase, not 5%.
- My apologies for..
Please accept my apologies for being late. I was stuck in heavy traffic.
- I owe you an apology.
I owe you an apology. I should have kept my cool and not raised my voice during the meeting.
- I take full responsibility for…
I take full responsibility for causing the delay in the project.
- I regret…
I regret not informing you ahead of time. It won’t happen again.
- It was wrong of me to…
It was wrong of me to keep that crucial information from you.
- What can I do for you?
- How can I help you?
- Is there anything I can do for you?
- Would you like my assistance?
- Can I lend you a hand?
- Well done!
Well done! I know you can deliver good results.
- You’re the best! You’re the best! We would not have closed the deal without you.
- I would like to compliment…
I would like to compliment you on a job well done!
- My sincere congratulations…
My sincere congratulations to you and your team for finishing the project successfully.
- I commend you on…
I commend you on your stellar accomplishment as a project manager.
Business English is the most commonly used form of English in the work environment. As a language learner, it is crucial to understand business English phrases, expressions, and idioms and use them appropriately in conversations. Your knowledge of the most common business English phrases will make you sound like a native English speaker.
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Valentina has always been a teacher at heart. After spending eight years teaching college-level English, she realised that her true passion was helping people learn and grow – especially when it came to learning English. She firmly believes that in order for language learning to be successful, it’s important to create a comfortable and welcoming environment where students feel safe to experiment and take risks. When she’s not writing for the Lillypad community, Valentina loves travelling, reading and going for long walks with her dog Freddy.