The Best Business English Idioms And Phrases You Absolutely Need

We love idioms. We love them so much that we have created this fabulous compilation with all the idioms and phrases you need to know in the workplace. Because taking your English to the next level is not easy, this will help you sound more like a native-English speaker. 

  • The Best 10 Idioms For 10 Business Situations
  • 10 Idioms & Expressions You’ll Hear In An International Workplace
  • 10 Football Idioms For Business Situations
  • 5 Great Idioms Every Language Learner Needs To Know

The Best 10 Idioms For 10 Business Situations

By Paola Pascual

These 10 idioms will help you feel like a pro in your job, each of them with a special and particular purpose. Check them out!

#1 The Best Idiom For the Confident Ones: Cool As A Cucumber

Business English Idiom - Cool as a cucumber

Did you know that the inside of a cucumber is about 20 degrees cooler than the outside air? Well, this might be the origin of this idiom. 

MeaningExtremely calm, relaxed, and in control of your emotions.

Examples:

  • She was cool as a cucumber before the interview because she was well prepared.
  • It was a very important meeting, but I stayed cool as a cucumber because I knew our product was the best.

#2 The Best Idiom For International Teams: Hot PotatoBusiness English Idioms - Hot Potato

A hot potato is definitely something you don’t want to hold with your bare hands for a long time, because it would burn your fingers. The idea here is that you are dealing with something you want to pass on as quickly as possible, just like a literal hot potato.

Meaning: A controversial subject that no one wants to talk about; often an issue that makes everyone feel uncomfortable.

Examples:

  • Gun control is a political hot potato.
  • I try to avoid discussing about religion, it can be a hot potato.

#3 The Best Idiom For Newcomers: Learn The Ropes

Business English Idioms - learn the ropes

If you are going to sail, you will need to learn how to tie knots and manipulate the ropes that move the sails in the best way possible. That is the origin of our third idiom! 

Meaning: Learn how to do things.

Examples:

  • As a professional, you need to constantly learn the ropes to do really well in your career.
  • He still needs to learn the ropes, but he has great skills.

#4 The Best Idiom For Negotiations: The Ball Is In Your Court

Business English Idioms - ball is in your court

From the world of ships we go now to the world of sports. Whether it comes from tennis or from basketball, the idea is clear: it’s your turn to make a move.

Meaning: It’s your turn to make a decision or do something.

Examples:

  • I’ve done what I can. Now the ball is in your court.
  • Everybody in this company will support you if you decide to move to another country but the ball is in your court if you decide to change your mind at the last minute.
  • I've already told you that Talaera is a super cool option to learn English, but now the ball is in your court.

#5 The Best Idiom To Talk About What You Can't See: Behind The Scenes

Business English Idioms - behind the scenes

The equator of our list takes us to the theatre. Behind the scenes was originally used to talk about those events in a play that happen off stage, where the audience cannot see.

Meaning: Done privately or secretly, rather than publicly.

Examples:

  • There is a lot of negotiation going on behind the scenes.
  • I can tell there is a lot of work behind the scenes.
  • If you want to check out what happens behind the scenes at Talaera, visit our Facebook page.

#6 The Best Idiom To Agree: On The Same Page

Business English Idioms - on the same page

It seems that the origin of this idiom is attributed to choral singing, when all singers had to be on the same page to be able to sing all together the same song.

Meaning: Understand each other and agree.

Examples:

  • Before we begin the discussion, I want to make sure that we are all on the same page.
  • I have a great connection with my manager, I always feel we are on the same page.

#7 The Best Idiom To Finish An Activity: Call It A Day

Business English Idioms - call it a day

Seemingly, this phrase was born from “call it half a day”, which was used to say goodbye to work by employees before the working day was over

Meaning: Decide to stop working or doing an activity

Examples:

  • I think we should call it a day and go home.
  • We have been working on this all day, why don’t we call it a day?

#8 The Best Idiom To Summarise: In A Nutshell

Business English Idioms - in a nutshell

How much can you fit inside a nutshell? Not much. Shakespeare’s Hamlet uses it to mean something compact when he says  ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams’.

Meaning: In summary, in a few words.

Examples:

  • She put the matter in a nutshell.
  • Our traffic is rising, customers are happy, and our revenue is still growing; in a nutshell, our business is a success.

#9 The Best Idiom For The Brave Ones: Long Shot

Business English Idioms - long shot

Unless you’re Michael Jordan, long shots tend to have a small chance of succeeding. This is basically the idea of our 9th idiom. If you're brave and still decide to go for it, even with a small chance of succeeding, this idiom is all for you.

Meaning: An attempt or guess with very small chance of succeeding or being accurate.

Examples:

  • I know it's a long shot, because there are many candidates, but I'm going to apply for the manager's job.
  • It's a long shot, but well worth trying.

#10 The Best Idiom For the Connected Team: Touch Base

Business English Idioms - touch base

I bet you guessed, but just in case, this phrase refers to the rule that a runner in baseball must touch the base on which he/she is standing before running to the next base.

In business, before taking an important action, you often “touch base” to get approval or make sure that it is a good idea.

Meaning: Briefly make or renew contact with someone.

Examples:

  • I just wanted to touch base and make sure you hadn’t changed your mind about seeing me.
  • I just wanted to quickly touch base with you: did you get an email from my secretary about the meeting?

Touch base with us on our Facebook page and leave us a comment with your favourite idiom.

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10 Idioms & Expressions You’ll Hear In An International Workplace

By Neya Abdi

Discovering new English idioms and expressions can be a lot of fun. It can also be frustrating, especially when you hear them for the first time in a setting where you want to make the best impression.

Most idioms and expressions you’ll come across in office environments are throwaway lines that are not industry specific. In other words, knowing them has nothing to do with how well you do your job. But because they come up so often in conversation, in meetings, and in emails, it’ll be important for your language learning to know when and how to use them.

#1 Let’s Table it

Business Idiom - Table it

Meaning: Postpone a discussion or activity until later. Usually used near the end of a meeting when a conversation is dragging and everyone just wants to go home.
From: Parliamentary procedure.
ExampleYou’ve all raised some good points. Let’s table this until next week’s meeting.

#2 In the same boat

Business Idiom - Same boat

Meaning: To be in the same awful situation.
From: Ancient Greeks reflecting on the risks of being out at sea in a small boat.
ExampleYou filed the wrong paperwork, too? We’re in the same boat, man.

#3 Move the Needle

Business Idiom - Move the needle

Meaning: To make a difference; to have a noticeable impact on something.
From: Scales.
Example: They hired her to increase sales, but her strategies failed to move the needle.

# 4 Lots of Moving Parts

Business Idiom - moving parts

Meaning: A complicated situation with a lot of variables or components. Usually used when it would take too long to explain something in detail.
From: Mechanics, we’re assuming.
Example: We’ve looked at some venues and talked to sponsors and next week we’re going to start working on the marketing for the event. There are lots of moving parts, but luckily we have a great team.

# 5 Get your Ducks in a Row

Business Idiom - Ducks in a row

Meaning: Getting yourself organized before doing something.
From: There are a couple of theories. The most obvious (and adorable) one is the way mother ducks organize their ducklings to walk in straight lines while travelling.
Example: Once we get our ducks in a row — do an appraisal, talk to the lawyers — it should be easy to sell the property.

# 6 Cut corners

Business Idiom - cut corners

Meaning: To skip small but important steps.
FromStationary is our guess, here.
Example: John’s team is making a lot of mistakes and it’s because they’re always cutting corners.

# 7 Cut to the Chase

Business Idiom - cut to the chase

Meaning: Get to the point, stop wasting time with chit chat.
From: Hollywood. Comedies used to end in chase scenes and inexperienced screenwriters would put a lot of dialogue before them, leading to bored viewers.
Example: I have to be somewhere in twenty minutes, so can you just cut to the chase?

#8 Bend over Backwards

Business Idiom - bend over backwards

Meaning: Go through a lot of trouble or discomfort to help someone out.
From: The image of bending over backwards is explanation enough.
Example: I bent over backwards to get her that job, and she is not even trying.

#9 I’ll Touch Base with You

Business Idiom - touch base

Meaning: To update someone or have a quick conversation with them.
From: Baseball.
Example: The website needs some work. Think of some ideas for the design, I’ll write the copy, and then let’s touch base next Monday.

#10 Win-win Situation

Business Idiom - win-win situation

Meaning: A situation where every outcome is a good outcome.
From: Unknown.
Example: Both Plan A and Plan B will make the boss happy. It’s a win-win situation for all of us. 

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10 Football Idioms For Business Situations

By Paola Pascual

Soccer or Football?

Football or soccer? Soccer or football? Before we start with our list of football idioms, let’s throw some light on this. The quick answer is, if you are in North America, South Africa or Australia, then it’s soccer. Otherwise, it’s football. But why is it that they keep calling it “soccer”? According to a paper by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, surprisingly enough, the Brits might be the ones to blame.

Around 200 years ago, two styles of football were emerging in England. One, based on passing the ball with their hands (you guessed, rugby!), and the other, based on dribbling the ball with their feet. The latter was called “association” football. Rugby was shortened to ‘rugger’, and the association football was shortened to ‘soccer’. Apparently, they liked to end words in -er back then.

The reason why “soccer” is used in these countries results from the need to avoid confusion between that type of football and the other forms that are more popular over there. That said, when we say that we have a list of awesome football idioms, we mean we have a list of awesome soccer idioms.

Our Top Ten Football Idioms

Whether you say “football” or “soccer”, and whether you are sporty or not, these idioms might come in handy when speaking English. They originated from sports, but now we often use them at work, at home or with friends. As a little tribute to the 2018 World Cup that has just started, here is our Top 10 compilation of football idioms:

#1 To get the ball rolling

Business English Idiom - Get the ball rolling

Meaning: To make something begin.

Examples:

  • Let’s get the ball rolling and start with the list!
  • Who would like to get the ball rolling? (=Who would like to have the first word?)

#2 To get a kick out of something

Business English Idiom - get a kick out of

Meaning: To get a feeling of enjoyment, amusement or excitement from something.

Examples: 

  • I always get a kick out of watching stand-up comedy.
  • She got a kick out of seeing her book published.

#3 To know the score

Business English Idiom - know the score

Meaning: Understand and accept the reality of the situation, or to know the facts.

Examples: 

  • I know the score -my job could be easily replaced in the future by Artificial Intelligence.
  • You know the score, we can’t afford a big house right now.

#4 To be a game changer

Business English Idiom - game changer

Meaning: A new idea or event that makes a significant change in the way things are done.

Examples:

  • The new parking system is a game changer.
  • When it comes to transport, the invention of the wheel was a real game changer.

#5 To take sides

Business English Idiom - take sides

Meaning: To choose one person or party whom you support, defend or agree with in an argument.

Sentences:

  • The argument has nothing to do with me, so I refuse to take sides.
  • When they passed the new law, the citizens were quick to takes sides.

#6 To be on the ball

Business English Idiom - on the ball

Meaning: To be aware and quick to take action.

Examples: 

  • I didn’t sleep well last night, and I’m not really on the ball today.
  • The new candidate has to be someone who is really on the ball.

#7 To watch from the sidelines

Business English Idiom - watch from the sidelines

Meaning: To be in a position where you are not directly involved.

Examples: 

  • Every time I am in trouble, you never support me. You just watch from the sidelines!
  • The Government should start doing something, they can’t continue to watch from the sidelines.

#8 To score an own goal

Business English Idiom - score an own goal

Meaning: Something that you do that gives you disadvantage and helps someone else.

Examples:

  • Their speech was supposed to get them more supporters, but they actually scored an own goal once they started ranting off-topic.
  • The president thought the new law would be beneficial for his party, but it has generated such strong opposition, that it has become an own goal.

#9 To move the goalposts

football English Idioms - Move the goalposts

Meaning: To unfairly change the rules or conditions of a procedure during its course.

Examples:

  • You always do the same. As soon as I start winning the argument, you just move the goalposts on the whole thing!
  • Every time I meet the required conditions, they seem to move the goalposts.

#10 At this stage of the game

Football English Idioms - At this stage og the game

Meaning: At this point, or at a certain point in a process.

Examples: 

  • There is nothing we can do at this stage of the game, we should have started before.
  • I'm not sure we're ready to launch the product at this stage of the game.

At this stage of the game, we know the score - it's easier to just watch from the sidelines and do nothing, but seriously, we always get a kick out of seeing your likes and comments on Twitter, so get the ball rolling and pay us a visit.

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5 Great Idioms Every Language Learner Needs To Know

By Stephanie Schottel

One of my most motivated students is an advanced ESL student, and we work exclusively on idioms. She’s obsessed with idioms, so much so that now I’m obsessed with idioms. I collect them like people collect stamps or seashells. Every time I hear one or use one that she and I have not yet talked about, I type it into my notepad on my phone. So, by the time I see her each week, I have a treasure trove of idioms to share with her.

We get giddy talking about idioms—their history, their usage, how they differ between her native language and English, and how the idioms differ between American English and British English. Needless to say, it’s a lot of fun for a couple of lovers of English.

With that in mind, here is a handful of phrases that she and I recently discussed.

I either personally used these expressions in my everyday conversations during the course of one week or heard someone else use them. I’ll offer some context around each one and then discuss the meaning.

#1 Get on my soapbox

Business Idiom - Get on my soapbox

Also 'come down from my soapbox'. My husband loves the Lord of the Rings. In fact, he can’t resist sharing the movies with my 5-year old daughter. I get on my soapbox every time I catch him showing the movies to her. Why? Because it has way too much violence for a child, in my opinion. He is so used to my rants that he doesn’t even hear me anymore.

So, if I get on my soapbox, what am I doing?
You guessed it. I’m giving my unsolicited opinion in a very persuasive manner. When I am done, I “come down” or “step down” from my soapbox.
If I don’t come down, my husband might say, “Get off your soapbox!”

#2 That won’t cut it

English Idioms - that won't cut it

You might hear this expression in the following context:
You can cram for the test, but that probably won’t cut it. You will need to study every day for several days in order to really understand the material.
So, the question you might have is “Cut what?” Imagine a pair of scissors trying to cut through steel. It’s not enough. It won’t work. Thanks for playing, as they say. So, whatever method you are using to solve your problem, it is simply insufficient; try another way.

#3 To get busted

English Idioms - get busted

With this next idiom, I promise that my example has nothing to do with me personally. I simply listen to a lot of podcasts and interesting conversations in coffee shops.
ContextHe got busted for smoking marijuana.
You can get busted for any number of large or small indiscretions. This is an informal phrase to be used among friends. Among colleagues, it is better to stick with “He or she got arrested.”

#4 Think outside the box

English Idioms - think outside the box

This idiom has become cliché (completely overused) in the business world, in particular. Yet, like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps on going. This particular week, I heard one podcast in which the host was encouraging small business owners to “think outside of the box” when it comes to developing new ways to market their products.

Do you have a guess about the meaning?
You probably gathered that this expression has nothing to do with actual boxes, but perhaps you can imagine your brain as a box. All of your run-of-the-mill (average) thoughts exist inside of the box, but your boss, teacher, or mentor wants you to reach beyond that to where the new and exciting ideas exist.

Truthfully, I recommend finding an alternative way to express the process of finding new and extraordinary ideas. This expression is simply overplayed.

#5 In one ear and out the other

English Idioms - in one ear and out the other

A common theme around my household is the lack of quality listening. For example, when I tell my daughter to clean her room, it goes in one ear and out the other.
You can picture it in your mind, right? You can visualize the words going into one little ear, bypassing the part of the brain the registers information, and then sailing out the other ear. 
If you can picture that, you can picture 99% of the interactions I have with my daughter.

But, back to my point, this is a great idiom to use when someone missed your point or simply wasn’t listening.

Stephanie Schottel, M.A. is an ESL instructor at Talaera and the owner of Cup of Tea Language Coaching, a Houston-based business that specializes in one-on-one ESL coaching that empowers English learners to express themselves fully and confidently in their communities and workplaces. By using her own experience of studying and working abroad in Germany (and feeling unable to express her true self with the language tools she had), she brings insight, empathy, and knowledge of the language learning process into every session. She is passionate about helping ESL students to master the language so that they have the tools at hand to convey their ideas, values, and personality without compromise. When she is not teaching English, you will likely find her doing art projects with her daughter, on a jog or on a paddle-board, or looking up new German vocabulary words in her 25-year old German dictionary (that is literally falling apart).


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