On today’s episode I want to introduce you to eight incredibly useful business English idioms! These idioms will make you sound like a native speaker in no time!

(If you can’t see the podcast player click here to listen!)

Vocabulary List

crucial (adj) – extremely important or necessary

Her work has been crucial to the project’s success

To appreciate (v) – to recognize how good someone or something is and to value him, her, or it

There’s no point buying him expensive wines – he doesn’t appreciate them

Norm (n) – an accepted standard or a way of behaving or doing things that most people agree with

Europe has a variety of cultural, political and ethical norms

Auditor (n) – someone whose job is to carry out an official examination of the accounts of a business and to produce a report

The external auditors come in once a year

Engage in small talk (idiom) – to chat with someone about simple topics such as the weather or one’s career

If you think that girl is pretty, why don’t you go over and engage in small talk?

To arise (v) – to happen

If any complications arise, let me know and i’ll help

So I have recently started a Thinking in English Instagram page. If you haven’t checked it out already please do! And follow me while you’re over there! One of the main types of content that i’ll be regularly posting on the page are idioms! An idiom is a group of words that have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own. For example, to “have bitten off more than you can chew” is an idiom that means you have tried to do something which is too difficult for you. It has nothing actually to do with biting, chewing, or eating! Learning and studying idioms is one of the best ways to boost your vocabulary and sound more like a native speaker. 

Idioms are used all the time in the English language. They’re so common that native and advanced speakers use them without even thinking. On the radio, on TV, in the New,, in magazines,  in movies, on talk shows, in books, in daily conversations, on the internet…idioms are everywhere! The correct use of idioms is an easy way to tell the difference between a beginner and an advanced speaker of English, as becoming an advanced speaker of English means you have a good understanding of many idioms.

In particular, idioms are absolutely essential for business professionals when it comes to understanding others, expressing yourself, and working in an English language workplace. If you are lacking a good understanding of English idioms, you will easily get lost in a business conversation. For this reason, today’s episode will introduce eight incredibly useful business idioms that could be crucial for you in the future! Even if you aren’t interested in business, these idioms are useful in a whole range of situations, careers, and even everyday life. And if this episode performs well, i’ll definitely make this into a series in the future!

Big picture

Our first idiom today is ‘big picture’. The big picture is everything that is involved with a particular situation including the most important facts and the effects of that situation on other things. We use this phrase usually to imply that one should think of the future, or the entire story, and not focus on the small details. This is because the small details don’t always tell you all the information. Imagine your looking at the details of a painting very closely. It is very difficult to see and appreciate the painting unless you stand back and look at the big picture! For example, “don’t worry about losing out on that deal. In the big picture, it’s not so important.”

By the book

Next we have “by the book”. If you do something by the books, you are doing it exactly according to the rules or the law! These rules could be written in an actual book, but they might also be social norms that are widely accepted, even if not written. For instance, the phrase “we told our auditors that we do everything by the book” means that we told our auditors we always follow the rules and do everything legally! It can also be used to describe a person who never deviates from what is expected of him, such as “He is very by the book”.

Get down to business

If you get down to business, you stop making small talk and start talking about serious business topics. When you meet someone for professional reasons, it is often polite to engage in greetings and small talk before you start talking about the real issue you are meeting to discuss! This is especially true if you are waiting for another person to join your meeting – sometimes it’s polite to wait for everyone to arrive before you ‘get down to business’. Here is an example sentence! “Now that everyone’s here, let’s get down to business and start with the presentation”

Hands are tied

What does it mean if your hands are tied? Simply put, it is not being free to behave in the way that you would like. You’re unable to act freely because something (such as a rule or law) prevents it. Your boss might say to you “I’d like to raise people’s salaries but my hands are tied.” THis means he wants to raise your salary but can’t. Maybe for financial reasons, or because the company executives don’t want to. However, it is important to realise that sometimes people use this phrase to be polite when they are refusing something you requested! Especially sales people when they are negotiating!

Learn the ropes

Next we have “learn the ropes!” It means to learn how to do something like a new job or position. Especially understanding all the tricks and specific parts of a job. Here are a few examples! “The manager had to learn the ropes before she was handed the responsibilities for all of the teams” and “As a professional, you have to constantly learn the ropes in order to do really well in your career.”

On the same page

If you are on the same page as someone, you are in agreement about something. It could be a business situation or a future plan; if two people have the same opinion about it they are on the same page. It is also used if everyone has the same information or knowledge, or is thinking in the same way. In the sentence “Let’s go over the contract details once more to make sure we’re on the same page”, the speaker wants to confirm that everyone is agreeing about the topic and has all the information! Here is another example “The confusion arose because they were not on the same page. He was talking of one thing and was referring to something else.”

See eye to eye

Seeing eye to eye with someone is similar to being on the same page. It means that you agree with somebody or have the same views as someone! This idiom is often used in the negative, for example ‘don’t see eye to eye’, meaning that you don’t agree with someone. Here are two examples, one negative and one positive. “My boss doesn’t see eye to eye with me about our marketing campaign” means my boss and I don’t agree on the marketing campaign. On the other hand, the sentence “It’s good that you finally have a new team member who sees eye to eye with you on most things” means that you and your new team member agree on most things and have similar views or opinions.

Touch base

Our final idiom today is “touch base!” Essentially, it means to briefly make contact with someone. It is to talk to someone for a short time to find out how they are or what they think about something. In business English, it is used when you want to catch up quickly to get some new information or ask a question. For example “I just wanted to quickly touch base with you: did you get an email from my secretary about the meeting?”

By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

One thought on “19. Eight Useful Business English Idioms”
  1. Thanks a lot for this lesson! I have heard some of these idioms but I never looked up their meaning! That’s why this lesson really hit the spot! I will try to make some example sentences because I think that this way I will more likely retain the new expressions that you taught me. 😁😊

    You are paying too much attention to the little details ! If I were you, I would look more at the big picture.

    My boss Sarah is not flexible at all. She wants everything to be done by the book

    Its Ok if you don’t bake the cookies made by the book! You can change the ingredients for something similar and it would taste good all the same.

    Lets stop rambling about trivial things and get down to business

    I would love to help you out but my hands are tied.

    I also think that you should get a promotion. However, that’s up to the boss! My hands are tied

    I am still learning the ropes of surfing! I am a total amateur.
    He is still learning the ropes of how to manage the company.

    Although I often disagree with her, this time we are on the same page. We both believe that all the employees of the company should be given a raise.

    I normally see eye to eye with my father! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
    I don’t see eye to eye with her! He has a total different view of things than me.

    Lets meet up to touch base. I went on vacation for a few days and I need to catch up with the recent news.

    A million thanks again!

Leave a Reply