business english expressions

The Top 55 Business English Expressions You Need to Know

While talking to your coworkers about your big project, one woman says something about ballparks.

What on earth was she talking about? Why is baseball involved in your business conversation?

Just take a deep breath. Remember that you know lots of English—and you have even practiced your negotiation and conversation skills in front of the bathroom mirror.

There’s nothing to worry about. The paperwork is in order and strategies are in place. Just think about what she said.

Your coworker is now telling you: “I know we were going to play hardball but I really think we should just give them a ballpark figure.”

“What?”

To your left, another coworker mutters under their breath: “Agreed, but we have to keep our eyes on the ball.”

“Huh? What?”

They smile, hold out their hand for a handshake and say, “Right, let’s get the ball rolling.”

You’re frustrated and thinking, “argh! Can everyone please stop talking about balls?”
 


 
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What Are Business Expressions?

The business world is fast-paced, cutthroat and, just to make things a little bit more exciting, it also has its own unique language or “jargon.” Combine business English phrases with the general weirdness of the English language and a simple conversation could become as dangerous as walking through a minefield. Okay, maybe not that dangerous but at the very least it could become uncomfortable.

Perhaps the above scenario is a bit over the top (exaggerated), but sports-related phrases do come up often in the corporate world. Anyone who plays hardball is tough, ruthless and will NOT take “no” for an answer. Negotiating with these types can be a real challenge!

A ballpark figure may sound like the score at a baseball game, but it actually refers to a rough or approximate financial amount.

Keeping your eye on the ball is all about keeping your wits about you, paying attention to what’s happening. It means that you don’t ever lose sight of what you want to achieve. To get the ball rolling means to get things started. So, let’s get this ball rolling!

55 Colorful Business English Expressions You’ll Hear All Over the Office

This list is just the tip of the iceberg (oh yes, there are more…a lot more!), but it will get you on the road to identifying and understanding some of the most commonly used phrases in business English.

Don’t Get the Wrong End of the Stick

Success in business means not being left behind. This means becoming familiar with terms and phrases commonly used in the corporate world. Put in simpler terms, it means having a good and detailed knowledge of what’s being said.

There are consequences to not fully understanding these sayings.

You certainly don’t want to get the wrong idea or the wrong end of the stick (not understand what is going on) when your boss introduces you to a sleeping partner. This is a person closely connected to the company who may even be financing it, but there are no—I repeat, NO—shenanigans going on.

Misunderstandings, inadvertently causing offense or not knowing what you’re supposed to do can slow your career advancement and may even prevent opportunities from coming your way. Understanding and correctly using business lingo with colleagues, customers and rival businesses will make you feel like a team player, a trusted and loyal part of the team/group.

Let’s Get Down to Brass Tacks

In other words, let’s get on with the business at hand.

When it comes to money and finances, you definitely want to know what’s going on. Whether it’s financial transactions, the current financial state of a company or monetary strategies, there are many ways to talk about cash.

Sadly, the term cash cow doesn’t refer to a farm animal made of actual money—but that would certainly be something cool to see! It’s actually a term for a product or investment that provides a steady income, usually an amount that far exceeds the initial startup cost.

However, if a project or business goes belly up it has failed to generate profit. This could result in bankruptcy or the company going into receivership. In this situation, someone with deep pockets could help. This isn’t a reference to extreme tailoring, it means help in the form of an investor or group of investors who have money to spare. In the early stages of development, before investors become involved, many businesses and projects operate on a shoestring or a very tight budget.

Negotiation can be tricky and every so often things don’t go as planned. If a company brokers a deal which costs them more money than is generated, it can be said they took a haircut or a loss. If losses are severe it could lead to cuts being made. The company and employees will have to tighten their belts or reduce how much money is spent.

But when profits soar you can guarantee employees will be looking for a share of the wealth or a slice of the pie. Many well-run businesses reward hard work and it is only right that those employees who put in the most time, energy and effort should receive the lion’s share, or the bulk of the profits.

The corporate world is tough. It may be tempting to beat out the competition by greasing a few palms or giving kickbacks, but giving money to someone in order to win a contract or gain favor with a specific organization or group isn’t above board—it just isn’t honest!

Go the Extra Mile

In the world of business dedication and determination is often applauded. By going the extra mile or jumping through hoops one shows a willingness to do more than is expected. This is a sure way to impress the boss and prove yourself to be hardworking, enthusiastic and driven—or to put it more succinctly, an eager beaver. When you hit the ground running, every challenge you face is greeted with energy and pace.

Your blood, sweat and tears, or extreme effort and hard work may result in the boss asking you on occasion to take charge or hold the fort.

Be careful though and don’t overplay your hand. Being overly-confident may ruin your chances of success. Knuckle down, pull your weight and work your fingers to the bone to ensure you’re never seen as being unproductive or deadwood. That is one way to avoid being fired or being given your walking papers.

While they may sound like some sort of toy, golden handcuffs (not real handcuffs) are financial incentives given to employees in order to persuade them not to leave a company. Golden handshakes are financial payments given to employees that are forced to leave, usually due to a restructuring of the organization.

Time Is Money

Okay, time isn’t really money, but it certainly is a valuable commodity. Without further delay here are some of the more popular phrases to do with time.

Just to reassure anyone who may be feeling confused, if your manager says, “I need it yesterday,” they do not expect you to construct a time machine. Any manager who expects you to take a crash course in quantum physics so you could travel back in time and hand in paperwork would not only be viewed as being a bit loopy, they would also be referred to as a taskmaster. This is someone with an overly-demanding nature.

Sure it would be great fun to fly around in “The Tardis” catching up on a seemingly never-ending to-do list, but what your boss is really saying is that he needs whatever it is urgently or ASAP (as soon as possible).

When under pressure many employees say they are working 24/7 in order to meet their deadlines. This doesn’t mean they are working all day, every day. Not only is that illegal, it’s also impossible. We all need downtime, or a chance to rest. The term 24/7 is used to express hard work and long hours, usually in the hopes of avoiding finishing projects at the 11th hour, which is at the very last minute. Sometimes this can also refer to deadlines being missed.

It’s tricky to stay on schedule especially if you encounter a lot of red tape. No, this is not something you’ll find in the office stationary cupboard. It means official rules and bureaucracy so ridiculously complicated it prevents progress from being made. While few excuses can be made to explain delays in getting work done, if your hands are tied there is absolutely nothing you can do to speed the process along.

There’s No “I” in Team

The ability to work successfully with a partner or group is another important aspect of the business world. No “I” in team means that no one particular person takes credit for the achievements of a group effort. It’s kind of a cute phrase because the word “team” is not spelled using a letter “I.”

It goes back to be a good team player and not passing the buck, or passing blame to someone else if things don’t go as planned. Of course if a deal is going pear shaped (wrong), then someone must step up to the plate and take action.

Taking responsibility can be an effective way to get your foot in the door and put you on the map. It’s all about turning small opportunities into bigger ones and getting noticed for all the right reasons. Ultimately the majority of workplaces are a level playing field with equal conditions for everyone, it comes down to what you, as an individual, can bring to the table. Think carefully about the unique skills you possess that will be of benefit to your colleagues, company and customers.

Ace Up Your Sleeve

Getting to grips with these phrases will definitely put an ace up your sleeve, or give you a hidden advantage. Of course you’ll still have your work cut out for you (it’s tricky but you CAN do it!), so here are a few more fun and easy ways to continue building your knowledge of Business English Phrases.

  • What are you waiting for? Subscribe to the weekly newsletters from FluentU. This is a fantastic resource for learning the English language, packed with creative and inspiring posts so you can see and hear important words and phrases in action.
  • Keep a notebook handy to jot down any unfamiliar words or phrases you hear while at work. When you get home, look them up.

Television: “The Office,” “The Apprentice,” “Shark Tank” and “Dragon’s Den.”

Film: “Wall Street,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Social Network,” “Office Space,” “The Secret of my Success,” “Inside Job,” “Trading Places,” “Working Girl” and “Too Big to Fail.”

 

Above all else remember, learning should be fun so go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff!


Luna Raye is a freelance writer and holistic therapist. When not relaxing with aromatic oils, she blogs, writes for magazines and teaches English as a second language. One of her proudest achievements is becoming a member of The Funeverse, a free online poetry resource for children, teachers and parents.

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