English is a language full of idiomatic phrases that sometimes don’t make sense to a non-native speaker, so learning the language fully can be hard!
What is an idiom?
An idiom is a group of words put together to create a phrase with a ‘figurative’, not literal, meaning. The words that make up an idiom will often form a picture in your mind. Idioms are often known as wise sayings relating to culture, and are found in many languages.
Why is knowing common English idioms important?
In English, idioms are used every day, in both casual exchanges and professional business conversations. It is very important for somebody learning the English language to become familiar with the most popular idioms so they understand the full meaning of the conversations they are having.
For somebody learning Business English, learning the most popular idioms is even more important as this knowledge could make or break a deal.
Our top 15 Business English idioms
There are hundreds to learn, but what are the most common Business English idioms? We have chosen our top 15 idiomatic phrases for you and have a quick guide on how to learn them.
1. Back to square one
Meaning: To go back to the beginning.
In a sentence: The campaign was a failure! I guess it’s back to square one!
2. Back to the drawing board
This is similar to back to square one but has more to do with planning something.
Meaning: To begin planning again.
In a sentence: That idea is never going to work so it’s back to the drawing board.
3. Cut to the chase
Meaning: To be direct.
In a sentence: Please can you cut to the chase? How much is this really going to cost me?
4. Hit the nail on the head
Meaning: To identify and express something in a completely correct way.
In a sentence: She hit the nail on the head when she told the team they were managing the project the wrong way.
5. Once in a blue moon
Meaning: Something that happens very rarely.
In a sentence: A job role opening up at that company happens once in a blue moon!
6. The ins and outs
Meaning: To go into great detail about something.
In a sentence: I want you to learn the ins and outs of this deal and provide me with a full summary in the morning.
7. To be on the same page
Meaning: To have the same opinion or thinking.
In a sentence: We are both on the same page about this new office space – we think it’s amazing!
8. In a nutshell
Meaning: To summarise in few words.
In a sentence: I could say a long list of why I am promoting her. In a nutshell: she is amazing.
9. Ballpark figure/ number
Meaning: An estimated amount.
In a sentence: She gave me a ballpark number of £50,000 as she wasn’t sure on the details.
10. Hit the ground running
Meaning: To begin well and with speed.
In a sentence: Their new venture hit the ground running and was a complete success so far!
11. Raise the bar
Meaning: Set high expectations.
In a sentence: You really need to raise the bar on the next project as it’s the most important one we’ve ever done.
12. By the book
Meaning: To follow the rules.
In a sentence: We really need to be by the book in this meeting – these new clients are very serious and professional.
13. It’s your call
Meaning: It’s your choice.
In a sentence: We have told them what we need so it’s their call whether we continue now.
14. The ball is in your court
This is when a task or responsibility has been passed on to someone else, and it is their turn to take action.
Meaning: It’s your turn to make the next step/move.
In a sentence: The ball’s in your court now, I’ve already made my offer to the agent.
15. See something through
Meaning: Continue until something is finished.
In a sentence: You really need to see this notice period through, even if you don’t like the job!
How to learn popular Business English Phrases
Write 3 sentences for each idiom
Go through each idiom and create 3 or more of your own sentences that include the idiom. Make sure you change the pronouns and structure of the phrase each time.
For example, for “it’s your call” you could write these 3 sentences:
- It’s her call about what we need to do.
- They told me that it’s my call when it comes to decisions like this.
- The direction this project goes in now is his call.
Practice, practice, practice
Use these idioms every single day until you feel comfortable using them.
- Read different sentences with them in.
- Write them down, many times!
- Speak them out-loud to yourself and others.
Visualize the idioms in your mind
If you picture “in a nutshell in your mind, you should see something very small. As a nutshell is a small item, this picturing of it should help you remember that “in a nutshell” is to summarise something in only a few words.
Keep an idioms notebook
If you hear a phrase that doesn’t make sense, it might be an idiom! Write it down and find out its meaning as soon as you can!
Find idioms in songs
Music is one of the best learning tools and songs are full of popular idioms! Find some songs with idiomatic phrases, play them, and keep singing them to yourself.
Finding similar idioms in your native language
There are many similar connections between languages, and some are shared or similar idioms! Think of some idioms in your native language and see if you can find some in English that are similar.
There are hundreds of idioms!
But don’t worry – you don’t need to learn them all at once. Remember to learn several, in detail, at a time and you will soon become a master of Business English idioms.