Many adult English students say the most important reason for learning it is because “I need it for work”. As English is the dominant language for international business, we will be bringing you more business content this year here at the PrepEng Blog. To get things started, this article contains 28 business English expressions that are widely used in the business world. The ability to understand those idioms can help you close deals and understand what’s being discussed in an important meeting. Let’s take a look! 

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What exactly are idioms in English?

You have probably studied English idioms before, but yeah, let’s talk a little bit about them. 

All languages have idioms. Native speakers use them all the time without ever thinking about their meanings. Idioms are groups of words. Those groups together mean something different than what those words mean separately. They have a lot to do with the culture of the people who use it and that’s why we can’t always translate them. Sometimes, even if we can’t translate it, it is possible to have an equivalence in another language. 

For instance, while English speakers say “It is raining cats and dogs!” to say that it is raining a lot, Brazilian Portuguese speakers will say “Está chovendo canivete!”, which literally means “It is raining pocket knives!”. You probably have some equivalent expression to that in your native language, don’t you?  

The importance of studying business idioms 

If you think idioms are informal and people don’t really use them in the business world, you are mistaken, my friend! The business world is like a club; people in clubs tend to have their own language – and it’s no different here.  In order to actively participate in workplace conversations, you should study business idioms, as well as some essential business vocabulary that we will talk about in the next blog posts. Stay tuned! 

28 business idioms to get started 

Learn these 28 idioms for success in business communication. Questions? Let us know in the comments!

By the way, this blog about business idioms is also available as a free ebook (or PDF if you wish) for download!

IdiomExplanationExample
Back to square one We use this when we need to start something over again because the previous attempt failed.This is not good. We need to go back to square one and try to finish this project in time for the meeting. 
Ballpark number/figure You can use this expression when giving a rough numerical estimate or approximation of the value of something.The costs vary from region to region, but a good ballpark figure would be around $2000. 
Big picture When someone says this they mean that things are done exactly according to the rules or the law.The boss told his accountant that he should do everything by the book. 
Fast track something This idiom is used when we need to make something, like a project or a task, a priority. To fast track something means to speed up the time frame.Kelly, let’s fast track that project you are working on and finish it by next Friday. 
Game plan Game plan refers to a strategy or plan someone follows to achieve success.Liam, can you walk us through the game plan for the meeting with the investors? 
Get down to businessThis is very common in workplace conversations meetings. We use it when we feel the need to stop making small talk and start talking about important and relevant topics.Guys, guys, let’s get down to business, shall we? You can talk about your dinner plans after we are done here. 
Go the extra mile We use this expression when we talk about doing more than what others expect.If we want our customers to have the best shopping experience, we need to go the extra mile. 
In a nutshellThis expression means to use as few words as possible to explain something. It is often preceded by the verb ‘to put’.To put it in a nutshell, we will go bankrupt in 6 months if we don’t do something about it.  
In full swing We use this to say that something is at a stage when the level of activity is at its highestThe construction of the new building is in full swing. 
In the driver’s seat To say that someone is in charge, in control of a situation.Kevin will be in the driver’s seat next week. He’s excited about the new position as CFO.  
Keep our heads above water This is commonly used during difficult financial times, when a business is trying to survive.Unfortunately, we need to fire 25 employees to keep our heads above water.  
Long shot To talk about something that has a very low probability of happening.I know this is a long shot, but have you talked to Katia about this? Maybe she can help. 
Not going to fly You can use this idiom to talk about something that is not expected to work out.I don’t think the new product is going to fly. 
On the same page This idiom is common in everyday situations, not only when people are doing business. It means to be in agreement about something.I want to talk to you later today to make sure we are on the same page. Are you available at 2? 
Pick someone’s brains This means to ask someone who knows a lot about a specific topic for their opinion.How busy are you today? I would love to pick your brains about this issue we are having with Facebook Ads.  
Play it by earThis expression means to decide how to deal with a situation as it develops, instead of following plans that were made earlier.You know what? Let’s play it by ear. I’m sure it will all work out at the end.  
Put all one’s eggs in one basket We use this when someone decides to rely on one thing to bring success.It’s not very smart to invest all the money in this product. We should never put all our eggs in one basket.  
Put the cart before the horseWhen someone is doing something in the wrong order, it is common to hear this idiom.Trying to find an investor without a business plan is like putting the cart before the horse.  
Raise the barYou can use this idiom when talking about setting expectations higher.He definitely raised the bar for other directors. We should take a look at what he has done.  
Red tape This one is used to talk about official rules and processes that seem unnecessary and delay results.We must cut through the red tape if we want this to get done.
Safe bet People use this to talk about something that is certain to happen.Based on these results, it’s a safe bet to say this launch will be a success.  
Same boat You can say this to someone else when both of you find yourselves in the same difficult situation.We are all in the same boat here, Lisa. You can count on us! 
See eye to eye An expression to say that two people agree with each other.Julia and her boss see eye to eye on most things.  
The elephant in the room This one refers to an obvious problem or controversial issue that nobody wants to discuss.Nobody wants to bring up the elephant in the room about Jim’s resignation. 
Think outside the boxThis is a very common expression. It means to come up with creative and unconventional solutions to a problem.Come on, guys! I really need you to think outside the box here.  
Touch base (with someone) You can use this to say that you want to talk to someone for a short time to see how they are doing or to find out what they think about a subject. Similar to ‘check in’.Hey Tim, I would love to touch base with you after the meeting. Let me know if that works for you, ok? 
Up in the air To talk about something that is undecided or uncertain.The deal was up in the air when I last spoke to her about it.  

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28 Business English Idioms

Do you study English for business purposes? If so, subscribe to the PrepEng newsletter to get all the business English content you need! Plus, you can download the Business English Idioms PDF for free! We hope this list of Business English idioms can help you out. Also, let us know in the comment section what topics related to Business English you would like to see here in the next blog post. Read more about Business English here.