Let’s take a look at some of the most common business idioms and expressions used in English in alphabetical order. This page contains the idioms from S – W with picture examples.
Don’t forget to click on the links at the bottom for the rest.
business idioms and expressions beginning with S
Let’s kick this huge list off with common business idioms and expressions beginning with ‘S’.
- safe bet – certain to happen/win/succeed, confidence can be placed in the outcome
Getting an engineering degree is a safe bet, it’s a good profession.
- screw up – do something bad or twist something into a smaller shape
I have screwed up the offer and thrown it away, it was way too low.
- seal of approval – proof something is acceptable
The chief has given my project his seal of approval.
- second nature – something that comes easily to you as you do it often
I wouldn’t trust a word he says. Lying is second nature to him.
- see eye to eye – fully agree with someone
Me and my siblings see eye to eye about putting our great aunt into a home.
- see something through – persevere, continue with something until it’s finished
I stared the project so I’m going to see it through.
- sell down the river – badly betray someone
We’ve been sold down the river. The bank told us our money was safe, but it’s all gone.
- separate the wheat from the chaff – separate the good from the bad
My shed is full. I’m going to spend the afternoon separating the wheat from the chaff.
- set the pace – determine the seed/rate
Ethel sold 20,000 units this week, she’s set the pace for the rest of us.
- set the record straight – give a truthful version of events
Everyone is saying I’m a cheater. I need to set the record straight, we’ve separated.
- settle a score – get revenge/punish someone
The reigning champion ha a score to settle with the youngster.
- sever ties – end a friendship/partnership/relationship and stop contact
I don’t like the way he does business. I’ll be severing ties with him after this deal ends.
- shape up or ship out – start improving/behaving or leave
My husband’s drinking is out of control. I told him to shape up or ship out.
- shed light – clarify, help answer questions
Hopefully Max can shed some light on why there is money missing from my purse.
- shoot someone/something down – reject
The council shot down plans for a new entertainment complex.
- show someone the ropes – teach someone how to do a particular job/task/activity
I’ve spent three weeks showing her the ropes but she’s still useless.
- side-tracked – cause someone to be distracted from what they’re doing
Turn the TV off! I don’t want Jacob to get side-tracked, he needs to revise.
- signed, sealed, and delivered – completed satisfactorily, a signed official/formal document
The contract has been signed, sealed, and delivered. That’s five new clients in a week.
- silent/sleeping partner – a person who provides money but is not involved in operating the business
A well-known businessman wants to be a silent partner in my restaurant.
- sing from the same hymn sheet – have the same opinions/understanding as others especially in public
The gunners were singing from the same hymn sheet last night securing them a 4-0 victory.
- sink or swim – fail or succeed
I finally kicked my son out. His behaviour was terrible. It’s sink or swim now.
- sky’s the limit – anything is possible, there is no limit
Let’s jump on a plane and go somewhere, the sky’s the limit.
- skyrocket – increase very rapidly/steeply
If we leave the EU, prices will skyrocket.
- slack off/be a slacker – lazy, do less work
Leanne is such a slacker, she expects everyone else to do all the work.
- slave driver – a person who makes other people work very hard
I quit my job today, my boss is a slave driver.
- slice of the pie – a portion of the profits
Our boss is great. We all get a slice of the pie, five extra days holiday.
- small fry – unimportant/insignificant people or things
The managers will get a juicy bonus, the small fry will get nothing.
- small print – text written in small font in the hope it won’t be noticed
Make sure you read the small print before buying your holiday insurance.
- small talk – casual/trivial conversation
Can you make small talk with the clients until we’re ready to start the meeting?
- stand one’s ground – face a situation bravely, don’t retreat
Stand your ground, the bullies will soon get bored.
- state of the art – the latest technology, new, modern
I can’t wait to get my state-of-the-art kitchen fitted.
- step up a gear – become more intense better
Francis needs to step it up a gear in the second set or he’ll be knocked out.
- step up to the plate – come forward and take responsibility especially in times of crisis
Two employees have quit. I need everyone to step up to the plate to ensure orders are done.
- sticky wicket – a difficult/delicate situation
I found myself on a sticky wicket. I got to the till and realised I had forgotten my wallet.
- swamped – inundated, overwhelmed
I’ve been swamped for weeks at college. I can’t wait for a holiday.
Business idioms and expressions beginning with T
- tackle something – deal with a task/problem/issue
I’ll tackle the pile of paperwork on my desk after lunch.
- take a leaf out of someone’s book – copy, follow someone’s example as it will be to your advantage
You should take a leaf out of Reece’s book and study. He got 98% in the last exam.
- take the bull by the horns – confront a problem head on, be brave and direct
I’ve had enough of his bad attitude, I’ll take the bull by the horns and fire him.
- talk shop – discuss work
Our husbands are mechanics, so they’re always talking shop when they’re together.
- talk someone into – persuade someone to do something
We need to talk Alex into driving us to that rave in Bristol.
- talk someone out of something – persuade someone not to do something
I talked myself out of running the marathon, I’m just too lazy.
- team player – a person who works well as a member of a team and puts personal goals aside
Shaun isn’t a team player, he only cares about himself.
- the eleventh hour – the latest possible moment
Tina pulled out at the eleventh hour. Now there are only three of us going.
- the straw that broke the camel’s back/the last straw – the final small thing that causes failure
Callum arrived late again. That was the last straw, he was fired immediately.
- there is no I in team – don’t work alone, work together to achieve a result
There’s no I in team, remember that on the pitch today boys.
- think outside the box – think of creative/original/imaginative/unusual ideas, forget about the rules
I need to think outside the box for my next crime novel. I want to keep my fans interested.
- throw a curveball – surprise someone with a problem/situation/issue etc. which causes difficulties
She threw me a curveball and told me she was 4 months pregnant.
- throw cold water on – discourage, reduce enthusiasm
I hate my job; my boss is always throwing cold water on my ideas.
- throw in at the deep end – make someone do something difficult without preparing them for it
I’ve never baked, and I’ve got to make a wedding cake. I’m being thrown in at the deep end.
- throw money at someone/something – spend a lot of money to try and improve the situation
We need to stop throwing money at the project and look for a solution instead.
- thumbs down – a sign of disapproval/rejection
The manager gave the thumbs down to my new marketing idea.
- thumbs up – a gesture of approval
My mum gave me the thumbs up when she met my hunky boyfriend.
- toe the line – follow the rules
You’ve got to start toeing the line or you’ll get kicked out of school.
- too close to call – you can’t predict the outcome, it will be by a small margin
The election is too close to call, either of the 3 could win.
- toot one’s own horn – boast about your own skills/achievements
Lucas has every right to toot his own horn, he’s a self-made millionaire.
- touch base – communicate with someone
The camping trip was great, I got to touch base with some old friends.
- train of thought – a series of thoughts/ideas
Joe is a complicated guy, I never follow his train of thought.
- tricks of the trade – clever techniques/methods known and used by professionals
My uncle taught me all the tricks of the trade. He was a mechanic for over 40 years.
- turn the tables – reverse a situation
We were 3-0 down, now we’re 5-2 up. We turned the tables in the second half.
- tweak something – slightly adjust/alter/fine-tune something to improve it
I need to do a few tweaks to next week’s rota. Jimmy and Jade can’t work together.
- twenty-four seven (24/7) – something is open/available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
If you need me just call. I’m available 24/7 to help you.
- twist someone’s arm – persuade someone to do something they are reluctant to do
Please come out for a drink, I’ll keep twisting your arm until you do.
- two-horse race – a competition where there are only two teams/candidates with a chance of winning
The election is turning into a two-horse race.
- two-way street give and take in equal amounts You have to give respect if you want it in return, it’s a two-way street.
business idioms beginning with U
- under the table – in secret as it’s usually illegal
I gave the interviewer some money under the table. Hopefully I get the job.
- up for grabs – available to win or buy
There is a pub up for grabs in my village. It’s a bargain, I might buy it.
- up in the air – unresolved/uncertain/not decided
We should be going to Prague tomorrow, but Tanya is sick so it’s up in the air.
- up to par – satisfactory, acceptable
The main course was nice, but the dessert wasn’t up to par
- up to speed – fully informed, up to date
I missed 3 weeks of classes. It’s going to take me a while to get back up to speed.
- up-and-coming – likely to become successful in the future
The blues have signed some up-and-coming players for the new season.
- uphill battle/struggle – a continuously challenging task
Having three kids and four pets is an uphill battle. I’m constantly tired and skint.
Business expressions beginning with W
- water under the bridge – incidents in the past are no longer important
We didn’t speak for years, but it’s water under the bridge now.
- wheel come/fall off – something suddenly/unexpectedly fails
We were 3-0 up, then the wheel came off.
- where there’s smoke there’s fire – there is usually some truth in a rumour
There’s no way James embezzled thousands, but where there’s smoke…
- white-collar – professionals or office workers
All my family are white-collar workers.
- whole different/new ballgame – a totally different situation from what you’re used to
I used to ride horses, but playing polo is a whole new ballgame.
- win-win (situation) – both outcomes are beneficial
I’ll let you have some of my pizza if you give me some of your fries. It’s a win-win.
- word of mouth – hear about something from people not through adverts
Most of our business comes from word of mouth.
- work one’s fingers to the bone – work very hard
My dad worked his fingers to the bone then died a week after he retired.
- work one’s socks off – work very hard
Harley worked his socks off and bought his dream car.
- writing on the wall – signs that something bad will happen in the future
Can’t you see the writing on the wall? The company is going bankrupt.
If you’ve enjoyed these business idioms and expressions S – W, click the links below to learn some more.