Business Idioms in English

60 Essential Business Idioms: Sound Fluent at Work!

Native English speakers use business idioms to communicate in the workplace. If you want to sound fluent in professional setting, learning business idioms is like receiving a golden key to effective workplace communication.

In this guide, we’ve included 60 essential business idioms you should know to articulate your ideas with clarity, navigate corporate conversations with confidence, and engage colleagues and clients alike.

List of Business Idioms in English

Climb the Corporate LadderTo advance in one’s career.Jane has been working hard to climb the corporate ladder, and she’s now a senior manager.
Bite the BulletTo bravely face a difficult situation.We need to bite the bullet and tell the team about the upcoming layoffs.
Break the BankTo cost too much.We want quality, but this solution shouldn’t break the bank.
Burn the Midnight OilTo work late into the night or early morning hours.The team burned the midnight oil to meet the project deadline.
Cut to the ChaseTo skip all the preliminary details and get to the main point.The meeting was running long, so the manager cut to the chase.
Drop the BallTo make a mistake or fail to take action when needed.We can’t afford to drop the ball on this, it’s too important.
Game ChangerSomething that dramatically changes the strategies, direction, or outcomes.Introducing AI into our processes has been a game changer.
Get Your Ducks in a RowTo organize things well.Before the next meeting, let’s get our ducks in a row.
Jump on the BandwagonTo adopt a popular activity or trend.It seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and switching to remote work.
Keep Your Cards Close to Your ChestTo keep your plans or ideas secret.When negotiating, it’s often wise to keep your cards close to your chest.
Not All It’s Cracked Up to BeNot as good as people say it is.The new software is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Push the EnvelopeTo go beyond the usual or accepted limits.We need innovative ideas that push the envelope.
The Bottom LineThe final total of an account or balance sheet, the main or essential point.The bottom line is we need to increase sales by 20%.
Through the RoofTo increase or rise extremely quickly.Since introducing the new product, our sales have gone through the roof.
Throw Under the BusTo betray or sacrifice someone for personal gain.I can’t believe he threw me under the bus to save himself during the meeting.
Get the Ball RollingTo make something start happening.We need to get the ball rolling to prepare our presentation for next week’s meeting.
Bring Something to the TableTo contribute something of value.She brings a great deal of experience to the table.
Think Outside the BoxTo think creatively and develop new and original ideas.To be successful in our industry, we need staff who think outside the box.
Rock the BoatTo do something which changes a stable routine and may cause problems.I told the new manager not to rock the boat before she gets to know her team.
Throw in the TowelTo quit or give up something.One of the applicants competing for the new position has just thrown in the towel.
Word of MouthTo communicate or tell people about something verbally (not in writing).Word of mouth is more reliable than adverts.
Hit the Nail on the HeadTo be exactly right when you describe something (e.g. the reason for a problem).You’ve hit the nail on the head regarding what has caused our drop in sales.
Back to Square OneDescribes when you need to start a project again from the beginning.Every aspect of our proposal was rejected by the CEO, so we are back to square one.
Keep You on Your ToesTo describe something that makes you remain alert, energetic, and ready.Management make regular checks to keep everyone on their toes.
Give the Thumbs UpTo show support and give approval.I got the thumbs up from my boss about working from home every Friday.
Start/Get Off on the Right FootTo start a relationship in a positive way.Everyone hopes to get off on the right foot when they start a new job.
From the Ground UpTo do something from the start/very beginning.Our boss built this company from the ground up.
Get Down to BusinessTo start focusing on a specific task (after introductions/small talk).We only have a limited time to discuss this today, so let’s get down to business.
By the BookTo do things according to the rules or the law.Our accountant does everything by the book so there are no problems in the future.
On the BallTo be competent, alert, and quick to understand new things.Your team are really on the ball and getting great results.
On the Same PageTo be in agreement or thinking in a similar way.We made a proposal to expand globally and the CEO is on the same page.
Behind the ScenesDescribes things that happen which the public don’t know about or see directly.We gave a successful presentation and I need to thank all those behind the scenes.
Raise the BarTo increase standards or improve quality in something.Mobile phone manufacturers raise the bar every year with their new products.
(Straight) from the Horse’s MouthTo obtain information directly from the original or a reliable source.I heard straight from the horse’s mouth that the CEO is going to retire this year.
Read Between the LinesTo find a hidden meaning in something said or written (e.g. feelings/intentions).Reading between the lines, I don’t think my colleague actually wanted to resign.
Back to the Drawing BoardTo start something again because the previous attempt was unsuccessful.The client rejected our first proposal, so we have gone back to the drawing board.
Give Someone a Pat on the BackTo praise someone for an achievement.Our line manager gave us all a pat on the back for finishing the project early.
Twist Someone’s ArmTo encourage/pressure someone to do something that they don’t want to.Can you twist her arm to work overtime today?
Keep One’s Eye on the BallTo give your complete attention to something.I need to keep my eye on the ball because this industry is so competitive.
Do Something/Go Behind Someone’s BackTo talk about someone or take action without their knowledge.My team went behind my back and complained to the boss before speaking with me.
Put All One’s Eggs in One BasketTo commit all your resources to a single idea or plan of action.I take some investment risks every year, but I never put all my eggs in one basket.
Cut One’s LossesTo stop an activity that is unsuccessful to avoid losing more money.We’ve decided to cut our losses and close the restaurant.
Hands Are TiedNot able to act in a particular way because of external reasons.My boss said that she cannot give me a promotion because her hands are tied.
Off the Top of Your HeadTo speak about something without thinking in detail or checking facts.Off the top of my head, I can’t give an exact number of complaints we’ve received.
Call It a DayTo stop doing something (to leave work or do something else).I think we have spent enough time discussing this project. Let’s call it a day.
See Eye to EyeTo agree with another person.He doesn’t always see eye to eye with his colleague about the future priorities.
Work Against the ClockTo aim to finish something before a specific time.We’re always working against the clock to meet urgent deadlines.
Go the Extra MileTo make more effort to achieve something than is expected.Companies benefit from staff who go the extra mile.
Learn the RopesTo learn how to do specific tasks or activities in a company.We all have to learn the ropes when we start a new job.
Pull the PlugTo stop a task or activity from continuing.The directors have decided to pull the plug on the project to expand in Asia.
All in the Same BoatTo be in the same difficult or unpleasant situation.We’re all in the same boat because our company is closing and we need new jobs.
Hot Off the PressDescribes something that has just been released or printed.Our new brochure is hot off the press with all the latest products and special offers.
The Buck Stops HereEmphasizes who is ultimately responsible for something.My team is responsible for meeting the deadline. The buck stops here with us.
The Ball is in Your CourtEmphasizes who is responsible for making the next decision.I’ve submitted our proposals to the CEO and now the ball is in his court.
Go Down to the WireDescribes something that is not decided or certain until the very last minute.Discussions went down to the wire, but we finally reached an agreement.
Up in the AirDescribes when something is still undecided and plans are not yet finalized.Everything is still up in the air about our company relocating to another office.
Ahead of the PackDescribes someone who performs better than others in their team.We’ve got five interns at the moment, but he is way ahead of the pack.
Hold the FortTo be responsible for something when someone else is unavailable.I need to hold the fort while the managing director is on maternity leave.
Get Your Foot in the DoorTo take the first step with the aim to progress further in the future.She took an entry-level job to get her foot in the door and got promoted after 1 year.
Go Belly UpDescribes a company that fails or goes bankrupt.Several of our competitors went belly up during the last recession.
Give Someone the Green LightTo authorize or allow someone to do something.The directors have finally given us the green light to increase spending.
Cut CornersTo do a task to a lower standard to save time or money.Companies should never cut corners with regards to health and safety.
Strike While the Iron is HotTo take action without delay when there is an opportunity to do something.I’m confident that this client will sign the contract if we strike while the iron is hot.
Get Something Off the GroundTo successfully get something started.We need to find an investor who can help us get this project off the ground.
In (Out of) the LoopTo be in (or outside of) a group of people that share information.Our manager forgets to keep us in the loop about changes to the sales targets.

When to use business idioms in conversation

Business idioms should be used to support workplace conversations. The trick is to use them sparingly. If you use business idioms too often, it may sound like you are engaging in “corporate speak” or “business jargon” which native speakers can find annoying and unnecessary. Instead, use business idioms from time to time, when they are appropriate and supportive to the context.

What other business idioms do you know?

If you know of any other business idioms we should add to this list, let us know in the comments below!

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