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 idioms that – as a non-native speaker – you are bound to fall for one at some point.
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 English.
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.
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.
Something that has a very low probability of happening
Winning the lottery is a long shot.
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.
Official rules and processes that seem excessive and unnecessary
The new law is going to create a lot of red tape.
Something that is certain to happen
It’s a safe bet that computer processor speed will more than triple within the next 10 years.
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.
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.
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.
In a nutshell, although learning 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! 😉