17 Business English idioms, expressions and phrases
1. A long shot
This phrase comes from
sports, like basketball for example when a player is trying to shoot from a
long distance. It means something that is unlikely to happen. With very little chance
Example: Getting a senior position in the corporation one day is
a long shot, but if you don’t try you’ll never find out if it’s possible.
2. Back to the drawing board
This expression means
to start something again from the beginning because it’s not working as you
would have liked or expected.
Example: This project is not going as planned, let’s get back to
the drawing board and fix what’s going wrong.
3. To corner the market
To control enough
quantity of a product or service that enables one to then change the market
price willingly. It can also mean to be the only one making or providing a
given product or service.
Example: Intel has pretty much cornered the market of
microprocessors for servers. Their direct competition, AMD, is a distant
4. Hands are tied
When you are unable to
carry out any meaningful action because of regulations, rules or other people
Example: I wish I could help you cut through all this red tape
(another business idiom meaning administrative procedures) but my hands are
tied. My boss won’t let me.
5. Up in the air
When things are highly
uncertain, when a decision has not been made yet.
Example: We were hoping to sign the contract by the end of the
month, but there are still too many things up in the air we need to deal with
6. To learn the ropes
To learn the basics of
a profession, a specific task or activity.
Example: It took her a while to learn the ropes, but now she is
confident and we feel that we can count on her to manage her client portfolio
7. A learning curve
The process of
learning, usually from trial and error. We often say that there can be a steep
learning curve, which means that one has to learn things quickly in order to
meet the requirements of a specific job.
Example: There was a steep learning curve when I started out
trading stock options, but I now feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it
(another idiom which means to master something).
8. To go down swinging
An expression that
comes from boxing. To swing, means to throw an arcing punch. The expression
refers to someone who fights to very end, who never gives up until it’s
completely over and there is no possibility of victory.
Example: The future of our company is uncertain due to our
massive debt, but I can guarantee that we will go down swinging whatever
happens, we will not give up easily.
9. By the book
To do things strictly
by the rules.
Example: I don’t want to take any chances getting caught by the
financial regulators and having to pay significant fines. We have to do
everything by the book.
10. To cut corners
Almost the opposite of
by the book. This means to do things in the quickest and cheapest way in order
to save time and money but often compromising quality and bending the rules (another
expression which means not strictly following all the rules).
Example: The company’s decision to cut corners ended up costing
them dearly when they got caught red-handed and had to pay a huge fine for
11. Between a rock and a hard place
When there’s no easy
way out or good solution. Whatever you do, whichever option you choose, the
outcome will not be ideal.
Example: Management finds itself between a rock and a hard place
after the corruption scandal that has erupted. Either they file for bankruptcy
and hope that law enforcement forgets about them, or they stay in business and
run the risk of going to jail.
12. From the ground up
To build or start
something from nothing, from zero.
Example: Building a company from the ground up can bring you
great pride if you are successful.
13. The bottom line
Usually referring to
the final profit margin of a business when all expenses have been paid.
Example: At the end of the day, what shareholders really care
about is the bottom line which will determine the dividends they take home
14. To get down to business
To start getting
serious about something.
Example: We’ve wasted enough time debating on the official
launch date. Let’s get down to business now, we have work to do.
15. To get someone up to speed
To update someone on
the current situation or to give them all the necessary information to allow
them to complete their task or fulfill their mission.
Example: Why don’t you come to the office and I’ll take the time
to get you up to speed before we go to the meeting.
16. It’s not rocket science
Something not very
Example: I don’t understand why there are so many mistakes in
this report. It’s really not rocket science!
17. To think outside the box
unconventionally, creatively and explore new non-conformist ideas.
Example: If you want to succeed in this highly competitive
economic environment, you have to think outside of the box to gain an edge on