12 Common Business English Expressions and What They Mean

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thomas-drouault-IBUcu_9vXJc-unsplashMany of our students reach out to us in order to improve their business English skills. If you want to be successful in a business environment, you need to be able to communicate effectively with other people. 

One of the more challenging parts of business communication for non-native English speakers can be understanding different expressions and idioms. There are many common expressions used in business environments that are made up of words that do not necessarily mean what they might imply. Part of speaking English fluently includes properly understanding and using these common expressions.

We’ve come up with a list of 12 of the most common business expressions in English that are important to understand if you want to improve your business English:


 1.) Big Picture


The term “Big Picture” is used to describe the main point or long-term goal of something.

Example: “While it is important to work on the small details of this project, we can not lose focus of the big picture.”


2.) Bring to the Table


The question of “What can you bring to the table?” is an expression referring to what you have to offer. This phrase is commonly used during interviews because the interviewer wants to know how his/her company could benefit from your skills.

Example: “If we were to hire you, what would you bring to the table for our business?”


3.) Gray Area


“Gray Area” is a term used to describe a situation or area that is not clearly defined. The area typically exists in between two well-defined areas or extremes.

Example: “We have an idea for a new security camera, but whether or not it will meet legal restrictions is a gray area.”


4.) Back to the Drawing Board

When somebody says it is time to go “back to the drawing board” they probably do not mean it literally. This is a figurative expression that means starting over. 

Example: “This campaign was not successful. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better one.”


5.) Back to Square One


This common phrase is also used to express starting over. It refers to going back to the beginning of a project and starting over.

Example: “This project did not turn out the way we planned. Let’s go back to square one and try again.”


6.) Cut Corners

“Cutting corners” refers to the act of doing something the “easy” way in order to get it done faster. Often, someone who is cutting corners is not putting in the appropriate amount of care or effort.

Example: “You cut corners to get this paper done faster, but as a result, it does not meet our standards.” 


7.) Go the Extra Mile


If someone says you have “gone the extra mile”, they are praising you for putting in the extra effort. You were not expected to put in that extra work, but you did.

Example: “Thank you for going the extra mile by calling back that customer and checking up on her experience with the product after you sold it to her.” 


8.) Foot in the Door

If someone has a “foot in the door” it means that they have taken the first small step in something that will likely lead to something greater in the future.

Example: “The internship position is unpaid but it is a good opportunity to get your foot in the door at the company.”


9.) I Need it Yesterday

This phrase could be really confusing if you were to take it literally. If someone says that he “needs something yesterday”, he means that he needs it as soon as possible. He is referring to the fact that it should have already been done, probably yesterday.

Example: “This business plan should have already been done, please finish it immediately. I need it yesterday!”


10.) Fifty-Fifty

“Fifty-fifty” is an expression meaning half and half. It comes from the idea of dividing 50% of something to one party, and the other 50% to another.

Example: “Let’s go fifty-fifty on this project: I’ll do the writing and you can do the illustration.”


11.) Eleventh Hour


The “eleventh hour” refers to the latest possible moment for getting something done.

Example: “I can tell you waited until the eleventh hour to do this report because there are so many errors!”


12.) Go Belly Up

If something has “gone belly up” it means it has failed completely or malfunctioned. The expression alludes to the process of a fish floating with its belly up once it has died. 

Example: “That company wasn’t making any sales and unfortunately they went bankrupt… they really went belly up.

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