What are the most common English Business Idioms that English students study? What are some examples of the business idioms in use so that I can learn how to use them? This list of the top Business English idioms will help you to improve your knowledge of them and help you to better understand native English speakers who commonly use these idioms:

NameDefinitionExample
11th HourWhen you finish or are finishing a project or other work at the last moment.Jack always turns in his presentations at the 11th hour but is never late.
24/7Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week or all the time.We are open 24/7 for business.
A Tough BreakWhen things do not go as expected. Experiencing something unfortunate.It was a tough break for her when she was denied the raise. It is her fifth year on the job and her wages have been the same for past three years.
Ahead Of The CurveBeing more advanced and prepared than your competitors.We have started our oil exploration projects in county areas so we can stay ahead of the curve and beat out the other companies.
Ahead Of The PackTo be the top in your market or area of expertise.To stay ahead of the pack, we have to be consistent and relentless so that our level of output does not fall.
ASAPThis is an acronym for “as soon as possible”. This is used when you want something to be completed right now or very soon.We need to see the managing director ASAP, there are some setbacks at the site.
At StakeThis implies that something is bordering on a loss or is about to fail.Several jobs were at stake when the company declared bankruptcy. Luckily Jim was not laid off.
Back To Square OneThis indicates a situation where everything goes back to where it started. People will do this when there are multiple issues causing them to start over.With the servers breaking down, the project was back to square one where the admins wiped them out and reinstalled the software.
Back To The Drawing BoardThis implies having to start over again by creating a new plan because the current plan is not working.When the client rejected all of their ideas, the team had no option but to go back to the drawing board and start anew.
Back Room DealWhen two or more parties arrive at an agreement without public knowledge or full disclosure. This can be legal or illegal depending on the situation.Noticing that the contract was about to slip out of their hands, the manager decided to make a back room deal with the client through promised future incentives.
Ballpark FigureThe term refers to a calculated estimate expressed in numbers. These are not used in contracts but are used in discussions to continue moving the discussion forward without the need for an absolute number.The client has requested a quotation with a ballpark figure. If it is acceptable then we can deliver the real numbers for him to present to the rest of the company.
Behind Someone’s BackIt refers to the act of doing something without someone’s knowledge or permission. This is considered a bad thing to do and can result in negative results.When the manager did not approve his proposal, he went behind his back and had human resources fulfill his request.
Behind The ScenesIt refers to something that is done outside of the view of most others. Typically as preparation or ground work for the main act.When the project was successfully completed the manager applauded his team for all their behind the scenes work.
Bend Over BackwardsRefers to an act of trying to accomplish something by going out of their way for someone.Even if we were to bend over backwards for you there is still no way we can complete the project in time.
Big PictureA complete understanding or a full view of something. Successful workers and leaders see things this way instead of having a narrow point of view or reference.Our Manager pays so much attention to too many unimportant details that he keeps missing the big picture of the company objectives.
Blue CollarConsidered by many to be a lower grade worker, or referred to as an unskilled or semi-skilled laborer, who performs manual work. This can also include skilled workers such as electricians and specialized mechanics. The term is derived from the typical color of the shirt worn by the worker.With the night shift workers who started the strike caused a severe shortage of blue collar workers for their operations. The white collared managers and office workers did not join the strike.
By The BookIt refers to doing something exactly as per the rules or instructions.He was a sincere employee who always went by the book. He never broke any rules set forth by the company.
Call It A DayMeans stopping work for the day. This can be done at the normal time or earlier than normal for whatever reason. At times this is done in frustration.After repeated attempts to accomplish the task, he finally gave up and decided to call it a day.
Catch Someone Off GuardIndicates doing or saying something to someone when they are least expecting it, which takes them by surprise.I was totally caught off guard when I was chosen to lead the team. Most people thought that Jack would be given the job.
Cave – To Cave InRefers to agreeing to something or accepting defeat after a period of argument or opposing.It took me a long time to convince the entire board about the idea, but finally they caved in and agreed.

BusinessIdioms 11th Hour - Cave - To Cave In

NameDefinitionExample
Change Of PaceRefers to departure from the regular routine of activities. This is done to break the monotony or dullness of work or life.The company has hired a new consultant who is expected to bring a change of pace to the sales division that is lacking creativity.
Come Up ShortA failure to achieve the expected levels of outcome. When you do not meet your goals or deadlines.Everybody expected that he will excel as a team leader, but he came up short and did not achieve the sales figures listed out.
Corner A MarketMeans to fully control all or a substantial market. This can lead to being able to ask for higher prices for your product or service.Intel had practically cornered the market on processors until AMD gained a significant market share.
Cut CornersTo do something the easy way. Typically this results in poor service or a product that is not of high quality. There are times when it is necessary.Our competitor’s proposal cuts corners in order to win the bid and come under budget. The customer will realize this when the solution that is delivered does not meet their expectations.
Cut One’s LossesIt means letting go of unproductive staff, work or other items to prevent further losses. It is typically done when failure is inevitable.The company was not getting any new projects, so they decided to cut their losses by letting go of their bench recruits and newly leased equipment.
Cut-ThroatIndicates an act that is very fierce and inconsiderate. Many see this as the nature of business.Jenny is a cut-throat salesperson who will do anything for a deal. Be careful when working with her.
Diamond In The RoughIt refers to a person who has exceptional potential talent or abilities, but does not properly utilize them. They are in need of further development to reach their full potential.He has excellent operational skills, but his presentation is not the best. Tom thinks that Jenny is a diamond in the rough. That simply needs mentoring.
Drop The BallA situation where someone failed to do something or did not act in a responsible manner.A lot was expected of him, but he had been distracted lately and dropped the ball several times.
Easy Come Easy GoThe expression describes the loss of something that was as easily lost as it was achieved.He looks at the fluctuation in the company sales with an easy come, easy go attitude. He doesn’t have a definitive plan, but should make one.
Fifty-Fifty (Chance)This can either mean equal division of something or indicate that something has equally weighted advantages and disadvantages.There is a fifty-fifty chance of my promotion since I have not done anything exceptionally well this past year, but have not made the same mistakes as others have.
From The Ground UpIt refers to start something from scratch or from the complete beginning.After last year’s losses, he had decided to fire his sales people and rebuild the sales strategy and staff from the ground up.
Game PlanIt indicates a strategy that is drawn after careful thought and consideration.We need to come up with a game plan to secure the bid. Be sure to include all of the most important steps and finer details.
Get Back Into The Swing Of ThingsMeans regaining hold of an activity you had lost touch with.He is a little rusty now, but hopefully he will soon get back into the swing of things and take on his old responsibilities and new ones when ready.
Get Down To BusinessIndicates going straight to focussing or begin working on a task. This indicates the seriousness of your work.The new manager doesn’t like wasting time. He likes to get down to business straightaway and expects the same from others around him.
Get Something Off The GroundTo make available to the public or first launch something that you have been working on. It is also used when referring to starting a new project.We don’t have much time so we need to get the project off the ground as soon as possible. We can start with hiring new contractors.
Get The Ball RollingIt indicates getting started on something.We have been hoping to get the ball rolling on the new project for a very long time.
Get/Be On The Good Side Of SomeoneTo try to get someone to like you or to be in their favor. This is common when someone is mad at you and you want to fix the relationship.Tony was late three days in a row. He is trying hard to get on the good side of his boss who is not happy with him at the moment.
Get One’s Foot In The DoorImplies that someone is engaging in an activity which they hope will bring them success in the future. Typically it is an attempt to start communicating with a company or organization.Even though it was only an unpaid internship, he was still able to get his foot in the door. This helped him secure a long term job after the internship.
Give Someone A Pat On The BackMeans to appreciate someone for their efforts or for a job well done.I got a pat on the back from the vice president of the company for setting up and streamlining the process.
Give A Thumbs DownWhen something is rejected or not approved. It also refers to a bad rating as well.Even after working to the best of his abilities, he still got a thumbs down for his new proposal.

Business Idioms Change Of Pace - Give A Thumbs Down

NameDefinitionExample
Give The Thumbs UpIt indicates an approval of something.We cannot start the event until we get a thumbs up from management. They typically want us to conduct events like this to bring in new customers.
Go BrokeIndicates a huge financial loss where in you lose all or most of your money.After they lost their biggest client the company is on the verge of going broke. They need to start taking in a lot of sales to meet their costs.
Go Down The DrainEfforts that have proven fruitless or have gone to waste.All their work went down the drain when the client cancelled the project after poor performance from many of the consultants.
Go The Extra MileDoing more than what is generally expected. When people make a strong effort in their job or duties.When you work with a boss who recognizes it when you go the extra mile since you feel appreciated.
Go Through The RoofExceeding expectations with a huge margin. Also, when sales, numbers or other items that are quantifiable makes extremely large gains.With the implementation of the new strategies our sales have gone through the roof.
Gray AreaUsed to describe something that is not clearly defined, cannot be categorized, or something that is given liberties not normally seen.His sales cannot be fully trusted since there are several grey areas that he works in. We need to check to make sure everything he is doing is legal.
Ground BreakingA new idea which is highly innovative, has a high potential, and is able to capture a large amount of market share.The new hires have surprised us with some ground breaking ideas for finding potential customers.
Hands Are TiedYou have no authority over a certain situation or there is nothing that you can do about it since you are restricted for some reason.Unless we get an approval from higher management, we cannot implement the new technology since our hands are tied.
Have Your/Someone’s Work Cut OutA situation when you are overloaded with work which may be difficult or close to impossible for you or someone else.He has to get the prototype ready by the end of the week. He already has his work cut out for him.
Hit The Nail On The HeadIt means to do something in the most accurate and efficient manner. It can also refer to when someone says something that is precise and to the point.The company has hit the nail on the head with the adoption of the new software that increased sales by 150%.
Hold Your HorsesRefers to slowing down or waiting before making a move or continuing forward.We haven’t heard back from the client about implementing the changes so we need to hold our horses until then.
In A NutshellExplaining something in a brief and simple manner.In a nutshell, we will need something out of the ordinary to impress the new client.
In Full swingWhen something is in 100% motion and has fully started.The new employees are already in full swing with the new projects. They are engaged with the customers and are doing well.
In The Black(opposite: In the Red)When a company is in a profitable condition financially. It comes from the color of ink in ledgers being black which shows earnings.The new marketing strategies are helping to bring in new clients. The company is now in the black.
In The Driver’s SeatTo be put in charge of a situation or have complete control over something.Ever since he was put in the driver’s seat for the new project, he has been very busy, but is happy to finally be in control.
In The Red(opposite: In the Black)When a company is in a position of losing money or not doing well financially. It comes from the color of ink in ledgers being black which shows earnings.Since recession, the company has been in the red with a decreasing customer base which means less sales.
Jump The GunTo start something before you should. To act in a way that is offensive to others by accusing them of something without knowing the details.Frank jumped the gun by accusing the contractor of stealing supplies from the worksite without having proof or evidence.
Keep One’s Eye On The BallTo watch something carefully or pay full attention to it to ensure success.If you want to win the manager’s appreciation, you must always keep your eye on the ball and consider each detail of his instructions.
Land On Your FeetWhen there is a problem or issue that is rather difficult, but you make it through it without any issues.He is very efficient and no matter how difficult the problem is he always manages to land on his feet.
Last StrawThe term is used to describe a problem which can be either big or small, and the main thing is it is the final issue that causes something to fail or cause other actions.The layoffs at the beginning of the year caused a lot of issues. However, the company’s decision to reduce salaries was the last straw which caused the workers to strike.
Learn The RopesGain a good understanding of how a job is done. This is being done during training or mentoring by senior employees.When the management noticed that he was quickly learning the ropes, they offered to put him on the new project.
Long ShotIt indicates something that is against the odds and will most likely be unsuccessful.Winning the manager’s appreciation is a long shot, but we still have to keep trying!

Business Idioms Give The Thumbs Up - Long Shot

LoopholeIt is an omission or ambiguity in information or the structure of something. This can be used to the advantage of someone who is smart enough to exploit it.He was able to win the case when he found a loophole in the contract. They did not realize that it clearly stated he did not have to pay if the product was defective.
Lose Ground (opposite: Gain Ground)It indicates the weakening of a position or failing to keep up with something.Unless we a have solid plan in place, we are going to lose ground against the competition this year as well.
Nine-To-FiveIt refers to the general working hours in an employment.Most people are working nine-to-five jobs or even longer than the regular hours.
No BrainerRefers to something, usually a decision or choice that is obvious or requires no thought.Taking the contract was a no brainer since it was way better than the last three offers we received.
No Strings AttachedAn act which is performed without the expectation of getting something in return.The new policy has no strings attached unlike the first one where we owed fees that were deceptively placed in the details.
No Time To LoseIt refers to a high pressure situation when a tight timeline is in place or a deadline is fast approaching.The deadline for turning in the work is next week so we have no time to lose.
Not Going To FlyMeans that a certain idea is not good enough to achieve the end result and will not be accepted by those who need to approve it.The manager rejected my idea, as he thought it was not going to fly with upper management who does not want new contracts before the end of the year.
No-Win SituationWhen there is no chance of success no matter what is or can be done.He has to either move to a different location and accept a position with a lower title, or quit his job. Either ways it is a no-win situation for him.
Off The Top Of One’s HeadIt indicates an impromptu response or an idea that was generated without much thought.I don’t know how much I pay in taxes, but off the top of my head it should be about $60,000 a year.
On A RollIt indicates someone is on a winning streak or has continued a series of good performances.Meredith is on a roll, she had met her sales target each time for the last six months and has landed a new client.
On The BallHighly capable at the current task or tasks that you are working. Extremely competent at what you do.He always manages to push his ideas through because everyone trusts him to be on the ball and able to deliver on his commitments.
On The Same PageWhen people have a mutual agreement or understanding of something.I will send you a confirmation mail after checking the conditions to make sure we are on the same page.
On Top Of SomethingIt refers to someone having total control over something.He is always on top of the incoming projects, finishing them well within the deadlines.
On Your ToesTo be prepared any upcoming situations or issues that might come your way.When you work in a corporate role you always have to be on your toes and remain aware of your surroundings.
Out In The OpenMeans something is of public knowledge and is no longer confidential information.After thorough investigation, the people behind the money laundering were out in the open.
Out Of The Loop (opposite: In The Loop)It means to not be included in a certain conversation or task so you lack the knowledge others have.Even though he is a team leader nobody counts or communicates with him so he is always out of the loop!
Pink SlipWhen your employment has been terminated.He tried to use a pen drive at work, which was against the policy. He is fired now with his boss giving him a pink slip.
Play HardballWhen someone uses tactics and pressure that are rough or considered unfriendly.People nowadays are ready to play hardball to get ahead in their jobs even if it is unethical.
Put All Of One’s Eggs In One BasketTo rely on only one source to generate the intended outcome. To put a lot of importance on one particular item.With today’s competition you have to learn several skills. You cannot just put your eggs in one basket and expect to get a job.
Put The Cart Before The HorseTo do one action before another necessary action has been performed. When you do things out of order.You submitted the project without running it past the manager. You should not have put the cart before the horse.

Business Idioms Loophole - Put The Cart Before The Horse

NameDefinitionExample
Raise The BarSet higher standards than that was previously achieved. To raise the standards normally expected to produce better results.By completing the project a month before the deadline, he has raised the bar for performance standards.
Read Between The LinesUnderstanding or interpreting information that was not communicated directly or completely. The misinformation is usually presented on purpose.Although it is not official yet, everyone can read between the lines and tell that the contract will be given to another company.
Red TapeThe official rules typically put in place by the government that in most cases are too strict, time consuming, and in many cases unnecessary.My licensing application was put on hold because of the red tape that I have to go through at the local level.
Rock The BoatCausing unnecessary trouble or issues that interrupt what is normally a smooth situation.Jack tends to rock the boat when working on projects since he looks for the easy way to do things instead of following orders.
Round-The-ClockTo continue throughout the day and night.The call center has round the clock operations and is open everyday as well except for a few holidays.
Run Around In CirclesGoing over the same situation or problem without reaching a conclusion or solution.Since we have all tried everything, we should rather outsource it to a specialist because we are clearly running around in circles without getting anywhere.
Safe BetWhen you are nearly certain that an idea will not generate a negative outcome.Investing in their company’s stocks is a safe bet since they nearly always have a profit at the end of the quarter.
Same BoatGoing through a similar situation as the other person.We are all in the same boat and none of us knows if we will have to work this weekend or not.
Second NatureWhen something seems to be effortless for a person to do.Sales is second nature to Jim who has been closing deals for the past 15 years. You should try to learn from him if you want to be successful.
See Eye To EyeWhen two people look at things or a situation and are in full agreement.Even though the contract was not clear to me and the rest of the employees, the managers saw eye-to-eye on all of the points. They were in full agreement with the changes.
See Something ThroughTo make sure a particular task or job is completed all of the way to the end.The manager has put me in charge to see the project through to the end which is scheduled for next year.
Sever TiesTo end an alliance or partnership due to misunderstanding or issues that cannot be resolved. Both parties will no longer communicate or do business with each other.After a huge disagreement both of the partners decided to sever ties with each other.
Shoot Something DownCompletely negating an idea or bringing an end to something.No matter how many ideas we come up with, the manager is always shooting them down. It is hard to find something that he is pleased with.
Sky’s The LimitWhen there are no boundaries or limitations to what can be achieved by someone, a group, or company.She has received a performance bonus consistently for the last three years, and it seems like for her the sky’s the limit.
Small TalkCasual conversation that doesn’t do any harm or good, and consists of subjects of no significant importance.It is good to start off with small talk when you first meet a new client.
Smooth/Clear SailingBeing able to reach the destination or achieve something without facing any difficulty.Once we fired the old manager and put in place a new one the project was smooth sailing and completed on schedule.
Speak Of The DevilA situation when you are talking about someone, and they suddenly arrive.The team was busy talking about Jack who soon arrived. Speak of the devil, he always shows up when his name comes up.
Snail MailIt refers to the system where mail was traditionally sent through post with physical letters.You have to send the documents using snail mail through the post office.
Stand One’s GroundWhen someone is firm about something that they believe in and will not back down.Everyone tried to talk him into not leaving but he stood his ground and resigned due to the unfair policies.

Rock The Boat

NameDefinitionExample
Start Off On The Right FootTo create a good beginning or getting started in a positive way.We have clearly started off on the right foot by impressing the client with our first sales pitch.
Start Off On The Wrong FootMaking a mistake or having a negative event happen in the beginning which creates an overall negative feeling.We did not understand the requirements from the client which caused us to start off on the wrong foot.
StartupReferring to a new business in an existing market. It could also be in a completely new industry vertical or a new market.The group already has several businesses, but they are going to launch a startup in the healthcare sector soon with a new product.
State Of The ArtSomething that is made using the latest techniques and technology.Dell has a state of the art assembling facility in India that is more advanced than the ones in the US.
Take On New SignificanceIt means attaining a new level of importance or different type of stature.The training mentoring program is taking on a new significance with each day as the ideas from the participants are expressed and shared.
Take Something Lying DownComing to terms with something that is not very appealing, but without much or argument. In many cases ‘not’ is added to the front of the idiom to change the meaning.The new banking policy isn’t fair at all, and we should not take it lying down. We can find a way to change the policy.
Take The Bull By The HornsTrying to deal with a tough situation by taking control of the main or center point of the problem.It is time we take the bull by the horns by taking over the project that is already one month late. Tim should take over management since he can handle tough situations.
Talk Someone Into SomethingTo convince someone to agree with you and your ideas. You are usually persuading someone to think differently than they did before.Jennifer is always trying to talk me into the latest account management software. I am not sure if it is worth it, but she is very convincing.
Talk Someone Out Of SomethingChanging someone’s mind by convincing them to not do something which they were planning on.The manager has determined to fire him, but the entire team got together and talked him out of it.
The Elephant In The RoomA challenging or  a problematic situation that people choose to ignore and not to talk about. The situation is typically easy to see and understand.Everyone knows how he got the promotion through cheating and lies. However, no one dares to talk about the elephant in the room.
The Whole PictureUnderstanding the significant parts of a situation and its end results. Being able to see all of it and how everything works together.After we explained the whole picture to him, then he was able to come up with a solution to the problem.
Think BigMaking plans which might be difficult to achieve but are worth it.Our manager always encourages us to think big so that we can achieve more than we typically do.
Think Outside The BoxExpanding your imagination by coming up with solutions different from the typical and traditional methods.He always thinks outside the box and manages to get through any situation effectively through something new.
Throw In The TowelIt refers to the act of giving up.He tried every other way to train the new hires about the technology they used, but it was no use and he finally threw in the towel.
Touch BaseIndicates that you want to get in contact with someone. In a business situation the purpose is usually to cover a specific topic but at times it can be just a general discussion.The manager asked me to touch base with the finance team before getting started on the project.
Trade-OffTo give something away or do something in return to gain something else in return.He has to trade-off his stocks to keep his pension plan and 401k for retirement.
Twist someone’s armForcing someone to do something that they ideally didn’t want to.He is very headstrong. There is no way you can twist his arm to get the contract.
Under The TableA deal or something that is done without the knowledge of most other people.In some countries people still pay under the table to get things done in a faster manner.

Up In The Air

NameDefinitionExample
Up In The AirWhen there is still some uncertainty about a decision that needs to be made.We haven’t heard back from the client yet whether we are getting the project or not. It is still up in the air so please contact them to get a decision.
Uphill BattleWhen there are several problems or obstacles in the way of achieving something making it extremely hard to finish or solve.He has been trying to run the code for several days now, but it seems like an uphill battle due to all of the bugs that are not getting fixed.
Upper HandWhen you are in a position of advantage over someone.He already has an upper hand over the competition due to having a contract with the company already. This is one of the reasons why he will probably win the contract.
Water Under The BridgeSomething that has already taken place and can not be changed. It is typically something negative that people want to forget about.There is nothing more that we can do to recover from the current situation. This issue is simply water under the bridge and not worth discussing.
Wear Your Heart On Your SleeveWhen someone displays their feelings openly. It is easy to see how the person is feeling.He is one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve. To me that doesn’t sound like a good person to work with.
White Collar(Opposite: Blue Collar)When someone is working in an office job, management, or as an executive.His father always made sure to provide him everything needed to support his education so that he could get a white collar job.
Whole Nine YardsGiving or doing everything needed.They do the installation, training and also provide support. They perform the whole nine yards so there is no need for any other contractor or supplier.
Win-Win SituationIt is a situation where everyone stands to gain something from it, and no one incurs any loss.The merger is a win-win for both the companies leading to higher stock prices.
Word Of MouthRefers to information being person to person. This is done verbally and also through social media.I heard about the new restaurant through word of mouth from my sister who heard about it from her boss.
Writing On The WallIt refers to clues pointing out something which is apparent and easy to understand.The sudden dip in the stocks of the company was the writing on the wall which led to massive layoffs.
Yes ManSomeone who always agrees to everything that he is told. These are people that are seen as not having their own opinion and are typically not desirable.It is not always healthy to be a yes man by constantly agreeing to everything your boss says. He probably would like some feedback and pushback from time to time.
You Can’t Have Your Cake And Eat It TooMeans that one cannot have something both ways, and they have to give up one of the options.You cannot get a promotion and not have to take on more responsibilities. Keep in mind that you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
Your Guess Is As Good As MineWhen none of the people involved have any idea about the something being discussed.Nobody knows what to expect with the new client. Your guess is as good as mine so let’s see what happens.
Zero ToleranceSomeone or something is not going to accept even the slightest change from the original plan or order of things.The company has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to workplace harassment.

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