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BUSINESS IDIOMS - common phrases

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Warm Up Discussion:

  1. What are some of the tactics you use in your daily work?

  2. Have you noticed any interesting idioms that are frequently used by your coworkers?

  3. Can you think of any idioms that are popular in your business sector?

Business idioms:

Business idioms are expressions that are commonly used in the context of business and work. Here are some examples:

  1. Think outside the box: To think creatively and approach a problem in a new and innovative way.

  2. Get the ball rolling: To start a process or an activity.

  3. Hit the ground running: To start a new project or job with a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

  4. Cutting corners: Doing something in the easiest or cheapest way, often sacrificing quality.

  5. The bottom line: The most important thing or the essential point.

  6. Bite the bullet: To face a difficult situation with courage and determination.

  7. Break the ice: To initiate a conversation in a social or business setting.

  8. Go the extra mile: To make a special effort to achieve something beyond what is required.

  9. In the red: To be in debt or operating at a financial loss.

  10. At the end of the day: Ultimately; when everything is considered.

  11. Jump on the bandwagon: To adopt a popular activity or trend.

  12. Cross that bridge when you come to it: Deal with a problem when it arises, not before.

  13. Keep your nose to the grindstone: To work hard and diligently.

  14. Keep your nose down: work hard and stay out of trouble.

  15. Burn the midnight oil: To work late into the night.

  16. Put all your eggs in one basket: To risk everything on a single venture.

  17. Don't put all your cards on the table: Don't reveal all your secrets or plans.

  18. Cut to the chase: Get to the main point without unnecessary details.

  19. Throw in the towel: To give up; surrender.

  20. A piece of cake: Something very easy to do.

  21. Learn the ropes: To become familiar with the basic tasks or procedures.

  22. That ship has sailed: It is done, I'm not considering that anymore. An opportunity has already passed and is no longer possible

  23. Spill the beans: To disclose a secret or reveal information prematurely. Example: "Come on, don't keep us in suspense. Just spill the beans about the new project."

  24. On the same page: To be in agreement or have a shared understanding. Example: "Before we proceed, let's make sure we're all on the same page regarding the project timeline."

  25. Wrap your head around something: To understand or comprehend something challenging. Example: "It took me a while to wrap my head around the complex data, but now I see the patterns."

  26. The ball is in your court: It's your turn to take action or make a decision. Example: "I've presented the proposal, and now the ball is in the client's court."

  27. Cut to the chase: Get to the main point without unnecessary details. Example: "Let's cut to the chase and discuss the key issues affecting the project."

  28. Burn the candle at both ends: If you burn the candle at both ends, you try to do too many things in too short a period of time so that you have to stay up very late at night and get up very early in the morning to get them done.

  29. Working to the bone: to work extremely hard, especially for a long time. example: She worked her fingers to the bone to provide a home and food for seven children.

  30. Lay the groundwork: To establish the basic foundation or preparation for something. Example: "Before we start building, we need to lay the groundwork and ensure the site is ready."

  31. Nail down: To finalize or secure something. Example: "We need to nail down the specifics of the construction schedule before we proceed."

  32. Raise the roof: To construct or build the upper part of a structure. It also means: to make or cause someone else to make a great deal of noise, especially through cheering. "when I finally scored the fans raised the roof" Example: "Once we finish laying the foundation, we can start raising the roof of the new building."

  33. Built like a brick house: Sturdy and well-constructed. Example: "The new bridge is built like a brick house; it can withstand extreme weather conditions."

  34. Smash the glass ceiling: The glass ceiling is a metaphor for the invisible barrier that prevents some people from rising to senior positions. It's a subtle but damaging form of discrimination , where you cannot take the opportunities you see in front of you – despite your suitability and your best efforts.

  35. Take it and run: to continue an activity or process that someone else has started, often when that person could not finish it or make it work.

  36. Bottleneck: A bottleneck is a point of congestion in a production system that slows or stops progress. Short-term bottlenecks are temporary and often caused by a labor shortage. Long-term bottlenecks are more incorporated into the system itself and characterized by inefficient machinery or processes.

Working On a Site:

Once upon a time in the bustling city, a construction team was tasked with building a state-of-the-art office complex. The project was ambitious, and the architects encouraged the team to "think outside the box" when it came to the building's design. The challenge was to create a structure that was not only visually appealing but also structurally sound.

As the construction crew "hit the ground running," they faced the initial hurdle of sourcing high-quality steel for the framing work. The project manager knew that cutting corners on materials would compromise the building's integrity, so they decided to invest in top-notch steel, even though it meant higher costs.

The team members, realizing the importance of collaboration, decided to "keep their noses to the grindstone" and work diligently to ensure that every steel beam was placed with precision. The lead engineer encouraged everyone to "go the extra mile" to guarantee the building's stability, emphasizing that the client's satisfaction was the "bottom line."

However, as construction progressed, unforeseen challenges emerged. A sudden shortage of skilled labor threatened to slow down the project. Instead of throwing in the towel, the project manager decided to "burn the midnight oil," working late into the night to keep the construction on track. The team members, inspired by the manager's dedication, followed suit, ensuring that the project stayed on schedule.

As the building started to take shape, the project manager faced a financial setback. The costs had gone higher than anticipated, and the project was "in the red." Rather than panicking, the team decided to "cut to the chase" and make strategic adjustments to the budget. They were determined to overcome this obstacle and "cross that bridge when they came to it."

In the end, the construction team successfully completed the steel framing work, and the building stood tall as a testament to their hard work and dedication. The client was thrilled with the results, and the construction project became a symbol of how a team can overcome challenges and "build the bridge" to success when everyone works together.


Here are some fill-in-the-blank sentences using the business idioms:

  1. The team brainstormed for hours to ________________ and come up with a revolutionary marketing strategy.

  2. We need to ________________ on the new project if we want to meet the deadline.

  3. Our company decided to ________________ and implement a cost-cutting plan to improve profits.

  4. Despite ________________, the company managed to deliver the product on time.

  5. The CEO emphasized that ________________ is to increase shareholder value.

  6. We faced many challenges during the merger, but we had to ________________ and move forward.

  7. During the networking event, I tried to ________________ by initiating conversations with various professionals.

  8. The team decided to ________________ by working overtime to meet the client's expectations.

  9. The company has been ________________ for the past few quarters due to economic downturns.

  10. ________________, customer satisfaction is our top priority.

  11. With the new trend in technology, it's crucial for our business to ________________ and adapt to the changes.

  12. We'll have to ________________ and find a solution to the production issue before it escalates.

  13. The success of the project was a result of everyone's willingness to ________________ and meet tight deadlines.

  14. The team had to ________________ to complete the proposal before the important meeting.

  15. It's risky to ________________ and invest all your money in one stock; diversification is key.

  16. When negotiating with the client, it's important not to ________________ and reveal all our negotiation points.

  17. Let's ________________ and focus on the key issues during the presentation.

  18. Despite facing numerous setbacks, the entrepreneur refused to ________________ and continued pursuing his business goals.

  19. Completing the task turned out to be ________________ as the team had the necessary expertise.

  20. As a new employee, it's essential to ________________ and understand how things work in the company.

Here are some fill-in-the-blank sentences using the conversation and construction idioms:

Conversation Idioms:

  1. After weeks of speculation, John finally ________________ about the upcoming changes in the company.

  2. Before we proceed with the project, let's make sure everyone is ________________ regarding the new safety protocols.

  3. The training session was intense, but eventually, I managed to ________________ the new software.

  4. I've presented the initial design proposal, and now ________________ to provide your feedback.

  5. Instead of going into unnecessary details, let's ________________ and focus on the critical issues at hand.

Construction Idioms:

  1. Before we start the construction, we need to ________________ by preparing the construction site.

  2. We've discussed the project timeline; now it's time to ________________ the schedule and allocate resources.

  3. The crew is ready to ________________ on the next phase of the building once the foundation is set.

  4. Safety is our top priority; we can't afford to ________________ when it comes to implementing the new regulations.

  5. The new apartment complex is designed to be ________________, able to withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Common idioms in business Match the underlined idiomatic expressions with their correct meaning below.

  1. There is more demand for the product than supply. This is causing a bottleneck in our production.

  2. Outsourcing customer service can improve the bottom line by reducing costs.

  3. She was a bit cold, so he made a little small talk to break the ice.

  4. We need to get on board with social media. Everyone else is doing it.

  5. We need to reduce budgets in every single department. There will be cost cutting across the board.

  6. The meeting is not over yet, but I’m a bit tired. Let’s call it a day and continue tomorrow.

  7. We’ve been running the project for two years and there’s still no profit. I think we should just cut our losses and start something new.

  8. They tried to cut corners during the construction of the bridge. Now it is falling down.

  9. net income or loss

  10. make someone who you have not met before feel more relaxed

  11. finish for today

  12. agree or accept something

  13. everywhere, applying to everybody

  14. save money or effort by finding cheaper or easier ways to do something

  15. stop doing something that is already failing in order to reduce the amount of time or money that is being wasted on it

  16. creating an obstacle or delay in progress or production

Talking point Discuss any of the following questions.

  1. Have you ever needed to cut corners in your work? What happened?

  2. What do people talk about when they want to break the ice in your country?

  3. What things can cause a bottleneck in your work or business?

  4. Is your company getting on board with new Internet marketing methods?

  5. In what ways can your company improve the bottom line?

  6. Have you ever decided to cut your losses following a bad investment decision?

UPPER-INTERMEDIATE (B2-C1) BUSINESS IDIOMS More business idioms Study the following idioms and complete the sentences below.

  • take somebody on board - employ someone

  • on boarding - to show a new employee around

  • a can of worms - a source of many unpredictable and complicated problems

  • close a deal - complete a negotiation

  • breathe down someone’s neck - watch someone’s activities very closely

  • keep a cool head - stay calm

Now complete the sentences below with the idioms above.

  1. We’ve negotiated all the terms of the agreement. We are ready to .

  2. I’m sure that there is a lot of corruption in that country. The investigation may open up.

  3. During intense and stressful negotiations, it is important to

  4. She seemed like a good fit for our company, so we decided to .

  5. Since she became a director, she no longer has a boss .


  1. Is it efficient to breathe down people’s necks? How much freedom should a business allow its employees?

  2. How stressful is your work? Is it difficult to keep a cool head sometimes?

  3. What kind of people does your company or department take on board?

  4. Can you think of any situation that could be described as ‘opening a can of worms’?

Answers: Common idioms in business 5 mins. Ask students to look at the words and think about what they mean. They then match the underlined parts of the questions with the meanings below. Correct as a whole class. 1.→ h. 2.→ a. 3.→ b. 4.→ d. 5.→ e. 6.→ c. 7.→ g. 8.→ f.

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