business idioms - 20 you have to know in business

Business Idioms – 20 idioms you have to know in business

What are Good Business Idioms?

That’s the question Yvette and I are asked on a regular basis. The reason for that question is because most of our students often have to interact with native speakers of English in a business environment or they have heard an idiom and didn’t understand what it means. So, Yvette and I have decided on the top 20 business idioms you have to know and are sharing them with you here.

What is a business idiom?

First of all, an idiom is a phrase where the words together have a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words. There are at least 25,000 idioms in the English language. Don’t worry, we’re not listing all of them that would take too long. Now business idioms are used in a business environment or context. A lot of business idioms originate from sports.


Here is our selection of the 20 business idioms you have to know.

1. Get the ball rolling

Use this phrase to say you want to start something, e. g. a project.

2. In a nutshell 

You can use this phrase when you want to give a short summary of something using only a few words.

3. Hit the nail on the head

This phrase applies when you have done or said something 100 % correctly, then you’ve hit the nail on the head

4. Have someone’s work cut out for them

If you have something difficult to do or a demanding assignment and you don’t want to give further details about it, you can use the phrase “I’ve my got my work cut out for me”.

5. Learn the ropes

This means to learn the basics of something. This phrase originated from the expression “know the ropes” which was used when sailboats were a means of transportation and when understanding how to handle the ropes necessary to operate a ship and its sails was an essential skill. 

6. Caught between a rock and a hard place

Use this when you want to point out that you are between two equally difficult choices and it does not matter which choice you make.

7. No strings attached

If you give something without expecting anything in return, you’re giving with no strings attached, i.e. no obligation on the receiver’s side to return whatever you’ve given.

8. Read between the lines

This idiom is a useful skill too. When you understand something which isn’t clearly communicated or is often only suggested, then you can read between the lines.

9. Rock the boat

 This phrase means to do or say something that causes problems or upsets people.

10. See eye to eye

When you see eye to eye with your business partners, you agree fully with them.

11. The sky’s the limit

It’s hard to tell where the sky ends. Use this phrase to say there is no limit to what can be achieved.

12. Touch base

This is used to say you will make contact with someone or talk to someone

13. Get/have one’s foot in the door

This phrase means to take a low-level position at a company with the goal of eventually getting a better position within the same company.

14. By the book

When doing things by the book, you do them exactly according to company policy or the law.

15. Calling the shots

Someone who is responsible and has to make the important decisions also calls the shots.

16. Set the record straight

When you need to correct a mistake and say what is correct or the truth, then you set the record straight.

17. I’ve got a lot on my plate 

This is equivalent to I have a lot of responsibilities or tasks to finish.

18. Go back to the drawing board /  to square one

This means it’s time to start again from the beginning.

19. Pull the plug

When you pull the plug on something, you stop it from continuing.

20. Call it a day

When you stop working for the day, you call it a day.


There you have it, that wraps it up for today

Our selection of the twenty business idioms you have to know. In case you want to learn more, I’m putting together a list of  idioms for you soon. Sign up to the newsletter or follow me on social media to find out when that list will be made available.

I promise I won’t list all 25,000 idioms and I hope you’ve found this list useful. Join me again next week for a new blog post and find connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Twitter.

Have a wonderful time and take care


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