If you are learning English for work purposes, you are likely to come across business expressions, idioms, and phrases that are confusing for an English learner to understand. Colloquial expressions used by native speakers can be difficult as the meaning is not always clear. However, if you want to sound more natural and more like a native speaker when talking to your work colleagues, or even if you simply want to be able to understand what’s going on in work meetings a little better, it is important to learn these English phrases for business.

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Business Expressions That’ll Make You Sound Like a Boss in English

Is it important to study business English idioms and phrases? Well, if you want to work in business, it is often seen as an advantage to be able to speak English, particularly as English is now considered a global language.

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It might seem a bit overwhelming as there are many idioms we can use to talk about work and business. We are here to help! Today, we’ll outline some of the most commonly used business expressions in English.

So, without further ado, let’s get down to business…

  1. Get down to business

This brings us to our first idiom. “Get down to business” is commonly used in the workplace. If someone says “let’s get down to business” they want to start being serious and begin an important task or piece of work, or even begin discussing an important issue that needs to be solved.

Remember, you can use most idioms about work in everyday conversation, too.

“Ok, enough small talk. Let’s get down to business.”


  1. Back to square one

This means back to the beginning, or to the initial starting point. Think of a board game where you move from square to square as the game progresses. If you lose, you may have to move back to the beginning of the game (or square one!)

In a business context, you might have been working on a project or a campaign for a long time but then your manager decides to change the campaign brief, meaning you need to start all over again.

“My manager changed the campaign brief so we are back to square one.”


  1. On the same page

If you are “on the same page” as others, you share the same views and opinions.

It is hard to work with people who aren’t “on the same page” as you, as your ideas might clash.

“I hope I can work on this project with Chris as we are always on the same page.”


  1. Talk business

The meaning of this idiom is pretty self-explanatory. If you “talk business” you are simply talking about business or business-related matters.

“Right. Enough small talk. It’s time to talk business.”

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  1. Get the ball rolling

If you “get the ball rolling” you take the first steps or make the first move in something (usually a process).

In a business context, this might be used when starting a new project, a new way of working, or when new rules are put in place, for example.

“We need to get the ball rolling and interview more potential employees.”

“Let’s schedule a kickoff meeting next week to get the ball rolling on our new project.”

“At the upcoming brainstorming session, let’s share ideas to get the ball rolling on product expansion.”

Note: You might also hear this idiom as “set the ball rolling” or “start the ball rolling.”


  1. Knuckle down

This idiom means to start focusing more or working harder.

“If we want to achieve this month’s target, all employees need to start knuckling down.”


  1. Go the extra mile

This means to do more than what’s expected. If you “go the extra mile,” you might do more work than required. Americans in particular consider this a positive thing.

“My boss asked me to contact two of our clients but I went the extra mile and arranged meetings with them as well.”


  1. Hands are tied

You might find yourself in a situation at work where you can’t give people what they want. Perhaps someone wants to make a deal with you but the price they are offering goes against your budget or company guidelines.

In this type of situation, you could say “my hands are tied.” This means that you are unable to help or offer what is being asked of you because of a situation or rule that is out of your control and you cannot change.

“I’m sorry I can’t accept that offer. My hands are tied.”


  1. Ballpark figure

This is a common business English idiom that likely originated in baseball. A “ballpark figure” is an estimate or an approximate number.

“He gave us a ballpark figure of £20,000. He’s still unsure of the exact cost.”


  1. Tighten your belt

If you “tighten your belt” you are trying to spend less money or live on a smaller—or tighter—budget. Companies and organizations also use the business expressions “tighten the purse strings” or “pinch pennies,” which have the same meaning.

“Due to the financial crisis, the company needs to tighten their belt and cut some costs.”


  1. Cut-throat

Don’t worry—this idiom isn’t as scary as it sounds! And it is one of the most well-known sales idioms. You might use this to talk about a person or a decision. As a business Engish idiom, if a person is “cut-throat,” they are very competitive and will make decisions without caring or giving a second thought to how it might harm or affect others in a negative way.

If a decision made by a person or a business is “cut-throat” it means the same thing—the decision is made without regarding how it might negatively affect others.

Some people believe that, in order to be successful in business, you need to be “cut-throat” or be able to make “cut-throat” decisions.

“My old boss was very cut-throat. She would dismiss any employee who didn’t meet her standards.”


  1. By the book

If you do things “by the book”, you follow the rules and do things in an honest way, rather than lying or cheating.

“When it comes to making business deals, it is important to do things by the book.”


  1. Keep your eye on the ball

This is another sports idiom that has made its way into business jargon. It means to stay focused and pay attention to what you are doing, or a specific goal. At work, it is important to keep your eye on the ball and avoid getting distracted or you will never complete any tasks!

“I find it difficult to keep my eye on the ball when I work from home. I get too easily distracted.”


  1. In a nutshell

We use this idiom when we want to summarize something or state the main points. It is similar to “overall.”

– “What happened with the new manager?”

– “In a nutshell, he was too stressed so decided to quit.”


  1. Word of mouth

If you own a business or if you offer a service, you want as many people to find out about it as possible. Companies can do this in many different ways, such as with advertising or marketing campaigns. But another great, more traditional way of getting your business known, is through “word of mouth.”

This means simply spreading the word through people talking about and recommending your business.

“I heard about her candle business through word of mouth. Some of my friends recommended them.”

A happy woman holding a megaphone and holding her other hand up to her mouth as if she was shouting something.

  1. Think outside the box

You will hear this common idiom used in business and in the workplace. It means to think of a more imaginative or abstract idea, rather than a simple, traditional idea. In a business context, it might be important to think outside the box when brainstorming new ideas, particularly if you work in advertising or marketing.

“My manager asked us to think outside the box for the company’s new marketing campaign.”


  1. Twist someone’s arm

This idiom sounds painful, but don’t worry—it doesn’t mean to physically twist someone’s arm. It means to convince someone to do something or to change someone’s mind about something in your favor.

Here is an example sentence:

“I didn’t want to go to the party but he twisted my arm.”

(Translation: He persuaded me to go).

Here is another example in a business context:

“I didn’t want to apply for the promotion but my colleague twisted my arm.”


  1. Upper hand

If someone has the “upper hand,” they have the most power and control in a situation.

“I am happy with the campaign but my manager has the upper hand so she must approve it first.”

(Translation: My manager has the most power and control so she makes the final decisions about everything).

A company can also have the upper hand in the market in which they operate. In other words, something it does gives it a competitive edge over other similar companies.

For example:

“Our market research provides the upper hand in tailoring products to customer preferences.”


  1. Game changer

If we say something is a “game changer” we are saying that it changes the outcome favorably; for the better.

For example, “that new intern is a game changer.”

Here, we are saying that the new intern has changed things for the better. Perhaps the intern goes the extra mile, taking on extra tasks and helping out fellow employees! Or maybe they bring fresh perspectives that help the company stay relevant and modern.

Watch Lizzie Jane’s video about this expression right here or on the MosaLingua Youtube channel.

And if you liked this short, there are plenty more where that came from! Subscribe to our channel for more free videos on business English and other language-related topics. Plus, find exclusive videos and articles about business English on our LinkedIn page.


  1. Call the shots

This idiom means to make all the important decisions—the decisions that will influence a situation.

“My manager always calls the shots so I have to check with her first.”

“As the project manager, you’ll be the one calling the shots on resource allocation and project timelines.”

“The board of directors will ultimately call the shots on whether to approve the proposed budget and investment strategy.”

This idiom, which is now mainly used in the business world but can be helpful for all kinds of situations, is yet another example of an English expression that probably originated in sports contexts.


  1. Make a killing

Now, like “cut-throat,” this idiom might sound a little strange. No, it doesn’t literally mean to kill someone or something. Instead, it means to make a LOT of money. 🤑

“I heard he’s making a killing at that new company.”


  1. See eye to eye

If you “see eye to eye” with someone, you agree with them about something. This idiom is similar to “be on the same page,” which we looked at earlier.

“I find it difficult to work with my colleagues as we often don’t see eye to eye when it comes to making important decisions.”


Next Steps…

Learning business expressions and workplace idioms is a great way to help you sound more native-like at work. It should also help you feel more confident when communicating with native speakers as they use idioms a lot not only at the office, but also in everyday conversation.

These common business phrases and idioms are a great starting point if you want to advance your professional vocabulary. Try to memorize 5-10 business English idioms a week and use them in real situations. This is the best way to remember them and before you know it, you will be using these business expressions like a real native speaker!

To develop your business English skills further, here is some more recommended reading:

And to learn some more general English expressions, read about 10 common English idioms that will give your speech a native touch.