12 Business English Idioms

If you have been in an English work environment, you’ve probably heard and learned lots of English business vocabulary—from technical terms to phrasal verbs. But there’s always room to learn more!

Below, we’ll focus on some English idioms you might hear in a business setting.

1. The big picture 

→ The larger, overall view of a situation  

I know this seems like a lot of work, but look at the big picture: Doing the work now will make our jobs easier later.

2. The bottom line

→ A company’s total income or loss

I wouldn’t recommend working for her—she doesn’t care about her employees. She’s only focused on the bottom line.

3. To bring (something) to the table

→ To provide something useful or beneficial, like a skill or quality

We’ve hired a new developer who brings a lot of experience to the table.

4. By the book

→ According to the rules

You can’t just verbally ask for a day off—you have to submit a request form. Our new manager does everything by the book.

5. To cut corners

→ To complete a task in the easiest or cheapest way

That construction company is in a lot of trouble for cutting corners when building those new condos. They leak every time it rains!

6. To get the ball rolling

→ To start a process; to do something that encourages others to do the same thing 

We’ve invited you to this meeting so we can all share our ideas for the marketing campaign. To get the ball rolling, I’ll go first.

7. To get (someone’s) foot in the door 

→ To join an organization in a low-level position with the goal of moving to a higher position

If I can get my just get my foot in the door at a software company, I’m sure I can be a project manager in a year or so.

8. To go back to square one 

→ To return to the beginning (of a project, for example) and start again.

It looks like our plans for the event are way over budget. We have to go back to square one and think of a less expensive idea.

9. To hit the nail on the head

→ To be completely correct about something 

When you said our department needs to focus more on teamwork, you hit the nail on the head!

10. On the ball

→ Focused, alert, and able to complete tasks efficiently 

Wow! I expected this project to take two weeks, but we finished in five days. Everyone was really on the ball!

11. To pull the plug

→ To stop something; to decide not to continue doing something 

The client is no longer interested in the app so we’re pulling the plug on it.

12. To raise the bar

→ To set high standards or expectations 

Our new team member met her annual sales target in just six months. She’s raised the bar for all of us—we’ll have to work harder!

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.