business idioms list

English business idioms for work

Welcome to our business idioms list to develop your English fluency at work. Our list includes the most common business idioms ?, an example that uses the idiom in a business context ? and a definition that explains the meaning ?.

What are idioms?

An idiom is a group or words (or a phrase) that is single unit of vocabulary and has a specific meaning. The meaning may not be clear from the individual words and we need to learn the whole chunk as one item. Learning business idioms helps to develop fluency and to better understand native-English speakers.

Business idioms list

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Idiom 🅸Example 🅴Definition 🅳
🅸 get the ball rolling🅴 We need to get the ball rolling to prepare our presentation for next week's meeting.🅳 to make something start happening
🅸 start/get off on the right foot🅴 Everyone hopes to get off on the right foot when they start a new job.🅳 to start a relationship in a positive way
🅸 bring something to the table🅴 She brings a great deal of experience to the table.🅳 to contribute something of value (to a company)
🅸 from the ground up🅴 Our boss built this company from the ground up.🅳 to do something from the start/very beginning
🅸 get down to business🅴 We only have a limited time to discuss this today, so let’s get down to business.🅳 to start focussing on a specific task (after introductions/small talk)
🅸 think outside the box🅴 To be successful in our industry, we need staff who think outside the box.🅳 to think creatively and develop new and original ideas
🅸 by the book🅴 Our accountant does everything by the book so there are no problems in the future.🅳 to do things according to the rules or the law
🅸 rock the boat🅴 I told the new manager not to rock the boat before she gets to know her team.🅳 to do something which changes a stable routine and may cause problems
🅸 on the ball🅴 Your team are really on the ball and getting great results.🅳 to be competent, alert and quick to understand new things
🅸 throw in the towel🅴 One of the applicants competing for the new position has just thrown in the towel.🅳 to quit or give up something
🅸 on the same page🅴 We made a proposal to expand globally and the CEO is on the same page.🅳 to be in agreement or thinking in a similar way
🅸 word of mouth🅴 Word of mouth is more reliable than adverts (or word-of-mouth recommendations).🅳 to communicate or tell people about something verbally (not in writing)
🅸 behind the scenes🅴 We gave a successful presentation and I need to thank all those behind the scenes.🅳 describes things that happen which the public don't know about or see directly
🅸 hit the nail on the head🅴 You've hit the nail on the head regarding what has caused our drop in sales.🅳 to be exactly right when you describe something (e.g. the reason for a problem)
🅸 raise the bar🅴 Mobile phone manufacturers raise the bar every year with their new products.🅳 to increase standards or improve quality in something
🅸 back to square one🅴 Every aspect of our proposal was rejected by the CEO, so we are back to square one.🅳 describes when you need to start a project again from the beginning
🅸 (straight) from the horse's mouth🅴 I heard straight from the horse's mouth that the CEO is going to retire this year.🅳 to obtain information directly from the original or a reliable source
🅸 keep you on your toes🅴 Management make regular checks to keep everyone on their toes.🅳 to describe something that makes you remain alert, energetic and ready
🅸 read between the lines🅴 Reading between the lines, I don't think my colleague actually wanted to resign.🅳 to find a hidden meaning in something said or written (e.g. feelings/intentions)
🅸 give the thumbs up🅴 I got the thumbs up from my boss about working from home every Friday.🅳 to show support and give approval
🅸 back to the drawing board🅴 The client rejected our first proposal, so we have gone back to the drawing board.🅳 to start something again because the previous attempt was unsuccessful
🅸 give someone a pat on the back🅴 Our line manager gave us all a pat on the back for finishing the project early.🅳 to praise someone for an achievement
🅸 twist someone's arm🅴 Can you twist her arm to work overtime today?🅳 to encourage/pressure someone to do something that they don't want to
🅸 keep one's eye on the ball🅴 I need to keep my eye on the ball because this industry is so competitive.🅳 to give your complete attention to something
🅸 do something/go behind someone's back🅴 My team went behind my back and complained to the boss before speaking with me.🅳 to talk about someone or take action without their knowledge
🅸 put all one's eggs in one basket🅴 I take some investment risks every year, but I never put all my eggs in one basket.🅳 to commit all your resources to a single idea or plan of action
🅸 cut one's losses🅴 We've decided to cut our losses and close the restaurant.🅳 to stop an activity that is unsuccessful to avoid losing more money
🅸 hands are tied🅴 My boss said that she cannot give me a promotion because her hands are tied.🅳 not able to act in a particular way because of external reasons
🅸 off the top of your head🅴 Off the top of my head, I can't give an exact number of complaints we've received.🅳 to speak about some something without thinking in detail or checking facts
🅸 call it a day🅴 I think we have spent enough time discussing this project. Let's call it a day.🅳 to stop doing something (to leave work or do something else)
🅸 see eye to eye🅴 He doesn't always see eye to eye with his colleague about the future priorities.🅳 to agree with another person
🅸 work against the clock🅴 We're always working against the clock to meet urgent deadlines.🅳 to aim to finish something before a specific time
🅸 go the extra mile🅴 Companies benefit from staff who go the extra mile.🅳 to make more effort to achieve something that is expected
🅸 learn the ropes🅴 We all have to learn the ropes when we start a new job.🅳 to learn how to do specific tasks or activities in a company
🅸 pull the plug🅴 The directors have decided to pull the plug on the project to expand in Asia.🅳 to stop a task or activity from continuing
🅸 all in the same boat🅴 We're all in the same boat because our company is closing and we need new jobs.🅳 to be in the same difficult or unpleasant situation
🅸 hot off the press🅴 Our new brochure is hot off the press with all the latest products and special offers.🅳 describes something that has just been released or printed
🅸 the buck stops here🅴 My team is responsible for meeting the deadline. The buck stops here with us.🅳 emphasises who is ultimately responsible for something
🅸 the ball is in your court🅴 I've submitted our proposals to the CEO and now the ball is in his court.🅳 emphasises who is responsible for making the next decision
🅸 go down to the wire🅴 Discussions went down to the wire, but we finally reached an agreement.🅳 describes something that is not decided or certain until the very last minute
🅸 up in the airEverything is still up in the air about our company relocating to another office.🅳 describes when something is still undecided and plans are not yet finalised
🅸 ahead of the packWe've got five interns at the moment, but he is way ahead of the pack.🅳 describes someone who performs better than others in their team
🅸 hold the fortI need to hold the fort while the managing director is on maternity leave.🅳 to be responsible for something when someone else is unavailable
🅸 get your foot in the doorShe took an entry-level job to get her foot in the door and got promoted after 1 year.🅳 to take the first step with the aim to progress further in the future
🅸 go belly upSeveral of our competitors went belly up during the last recession.🅳 describes a company that fails or goes bankrupt
🅸 give someone the green lightThe directors have finally given us the green light to increase spending.🅳 to authorise or allow someone to do something
🅸 cut cornersCompanies should never cut corners with regards to health and safety.🅳 to do a task to a lower standard to save time or money
🅸 strike while the iron is hotI'm confident that this client will sign the contract if we strike while the iron is hot.🅳 to take action without delay when there is an opportunity to do something
🅸 get something off the groundWe need to find an investor who can help us get this project off the ground.🅳 to successfully get something started
🅸 in (out of) the loopOur manager forgets to keep us in the loop about changes to the sales targets.🅳 to be in (or outside of) a group of people that share information

Example conversations using business idioms

You can also find examples of conversations about work that use some of the English business idioms.

Business idiom images

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Tips to remember business idioms

Read the business idiom ? and then read the example sentence ?.
 Try to guess the meaning of the business idiom from the example.
Read the definition ? to check your understanding of the business idiom.
Create your own example using the same business idiom.
 Try to use the business idiom when you are practising your English!