Understanding Business Idioms

Tricky as they may be, understanding idioms is an essential skill for anyone doing business in English, because they are commonly used throughout the business world. Now don’t think that after reading this blog post you’ll be able to understand and fluently use every English idiom under the sun – there are simply to many to learn in one go. The goal of this blog post is simply to get you started by giving you an overview of the most common business idioms in English.

I’ll never forgot the time when I was talking to a classmate and told her that a friend of mine had ‘’shot herself in the foot’’. My classmate gasped, shocked, and asked if my friend was OK? Was she in hospital? I laughed and reassured her that my friend had not actually taken a gun and shot herself in the foot – it’s an expression meaning ‘to spoil a situation for yourself’.

I know for a fact that my classmate was not the first person to be embarrassed by this kind of misunderstanding – the English language is so full of tricky business idioms that – as a non-native speaker – you are bound to fall for one at some point.

Let’s take a look…


Back to square one To start something over again because a previous attempt failed To make this software finally work, we have to go back to square one.
Ballpark number/figure A very inexact estimate To give you a ballpark figure, how much the border wall to Mexico is going to cost, I’d say about 30 million dollars.
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.
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.
In a nutshell Using as few words as possible In a nutshell, we will run out of cash in three months time.
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.
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 Learn the basics of something (e.g. a job) I’m learning the ropes in my new position.
Long shot Something that has a very low probability of happening Winning the lottery is a long shot.
No-brainer Something that is really obvious or easy Making money working for an investment bank is a no-brainer.
No strings attached Something is given without involving special demands or limits They will let you try the product for free with no strings attached.
On the same page To be in agreement about something Let’s go over the contract details once more to make sure we’re on the same page.
Put all one’s eggs in one basket To rely on only one thing to bring success It’s not smart to invest in American tech stocks only and put all one’s eggs in one basket.
Raise the bar To set standards or expectations higher The iPhone raised the bar for smartphone makers.
Red tape Official rules and processes that seem excessive and unnecessary The new law is going to create a lot of red tape.
Safe bet Something that is certain to happen It’s a safe bet that computer processor speed will more than triple within the next 10 years.
Same boat To be in the same difficult situation as someone else None of us has any money left, 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.
Shoot something down To reject something (e.g. an idea or a proposal) You shouldn’t shoot down your co-workers ideas during a brainstorming session.
Talk someone into / out of something To convince someone to do / not to do something I was reluctant to redesign our website, but my employees talked me into it.
The elephant in the room An obvious problem or controversial issue that no one wants to discuss. We should have discussed our pending litigation, 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.
Touch base To make contact with someone. I will touch base with you later today.
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 this country will be an uphill battle due to tough competition.
Word of mouth Something is given or done by people talking about something or telling people about something Many local stores rely on word of mouth to get new customers.

Source: https://www.topcorrect.com/blog/


In a nutshell, although learning business idioms may seem like an uphill battle, it’s a no-brainer: there’s no way around it! Keep your eye on the ball and remember that other English learners are in the same boat as you!