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 A – C with picture examples.
Don’t forget to click on the links at the bottom for the rest.
Business idioms and expressions beginning with A
Let’s kick this huge list off with common business idioms and expressions beginning with ‘A’.
- a big fish in a small pond – someone who is important in a small area
Joe was a big fish in a small pond, when he went to uni, that all changed.
- a drop in the ocean – A small amount compared to what is required
My signature is only a drop in the ocean. The campaign needs 100,000.
- A for effort – someone has tried hard even though they might not have succeeded
I’ll give you an A for effort but cook the pasta a little more next time.
- above average – better than normal
The film wasn’t even above average, it was below average in my opinion.
- above board – legal, honest
I’ve got a new business opportunity. It’s all above board, would you like to know more?
- across the board – including everything and everyone in a particular group
New punctuality rules apply across the board. If your late, your wages will be docked.
- add fuel to the fire/flames – do/say something to make a bad situation even worse
The burglar added fuel to the flames by resisting arrest.
- add insult to injury – something happens to make a bad situation worse
I had to work bank holiday Monday. To add insult to injury, I didn’t get paid time and a half.
- against all odds – something happens although it seemed very likely to fail
Against all odds, he made a full recovery,
- ahead of the game – gain/maintain an advantage over your competitors
The Japanese are always ahead of the game when it comes to technology.
- ahead of the pack – in front of/more successful than your competitors
In tomorrow’s meeting, we’ll discuss some new ideas. We need to stay ahead of the pack.
- all done and dusted – completely finished
I’ll have the report all done and dusted and on your desk by the end of the day
- all ears – ready and eager to listen
I’ve got a proposition for you, when you’re all ears, I’ll begin.
- all hands on deck – everyone is needed to help
The order has to be finished by Monday so it’s all hands on deck to complete it.
- another bite of the cherry – another chance/opportunity to do something
You don’t often get another bite of the cherry. Don’t mess up this time.
- appeal to someone’s better nature – ask for mercy/sympathy
I spoke to your dad and appealed to his better nature. He’s agreed to let you go to the concert.
- asleep at the wheel – not paying attention to one’s work/responsibilities
We missed the deadline because you were asleep at the wheel.
- at sea – confused about something
We’re at sea about whether to stay in our house or buy a bigger one.
- at sixes and sevens – confused/disordered
The country is at sixes and sevens. No one knows what state it will be in next year.
- at stake – at risk of being lost/stolen/damaged etc.
More than 3,000 jobs are at stake if the airline goes into liquidation.
- at the drop of a hat – do something without hesitation/immediately
If Hannah becomes single, I’d ask her out at the drop of a hat.
- at this stage in the game – the current point in a situation/process
I can’t say anything at this stage in the game. All will be revealed in a few weeks.
Business idioms and expressions beginning with B
- back on one’s feet – healthy after being unwell or have money after being in financial difficulties
Libby has a job, she’ll be back on her feet in a few months.
- back to basics – revert to simple ideas/activities
We’re going back to basics this week; you all failed the advanced grammar test.
- back to square one – start again from the beginning because of failure
My fiancé and I split after 12 years together. It’s back to square one.
- back to the drawing board – start again at the beginning after an attempt has failed
We were gazumped on the house we wanted, looks like it’s back to the drawing board.
- backbreaking – physically demanding
We’ve done a lot of backbreaking work in the garden. We deserve a beer
- bags of time – have lots of time
Hurry up and get in the car. We haven’t got bags of time.
- balance the books – ensure the credit/debit figures are correct
I balance the books for a top beauty company.
- ball in one`s court – someone else has to make the decision or deal with the problem/responsibility
I paid for his rehab and got him a job, the ball is in his court now.
- ballpark figure – an approximate figure
The ballpark figure is 500 guests, it could be a lot more.
- bang for one’s/the buck – good value for money
Let’s go to the curry house on Vincent Street. We’ll get more bang for our buck there.
- bank on someone/something – rely on someone/something happening
I’ve just lost my job; I’m banking on my family to help me.
- bark up the wrong tree – pursue the wrong thing
I think you’re barking up the wrong tree, James is definitely gay.
- bat for someone – support/help/defend someone
Do you think you could bat for me and speak to your boss? I really need this job.
- beat someone at their own game – use a similar strategy to your competitors/enemies
I’m offering weekend discounts at my salon to beat the competition at their own game.
- behind the scenes – things that happen out of the view of the public
Watch the news at 7, we’ll be going behind the scenes at an abattoir in Devon.
- bend over backwards – make a great effort to help someone
I’ve always bent over backwards for my neighbours, but when I need a favour, they say no.
- between a rock and hard place – in a predicament, faced with two unpleasant alternatives
Nigel is between a rock and a hard place. It’s divorce or stay together and be miserable.
- big cheese – a very important person
The big cheese is coming tomorrow. please make sure you arrive on time.
- big picture – the whole perspective of an issue/situation
Look at the big picture. If you keep giving him chocolate, you’ll have huge vet bills down the line.
- bigwig – an important person
Make sure you’re polite to that guy in the pink shirt, he’s a government bigwig.
- black and white – something is clear, straightforward
The rules are black and white. If you cheat, you will be removed from the school.
- black market – buying and selling illegal goods
A girl in my uni sold her kidney on the black market to pay for her course.
- blank cheque – a signed cheque where the amount of money can be inserted
My parents gave me a blank cheque so I can buy furniture for my new flat.
- blindside – be surprised in a negative way
We were all blindsided by his decision to quit the panel.
- blow by blow account – a detailed description of an event
Sit down, I want a blow by blow account of your date last night.
- blow one’s own trumpet – boast about one’s own skills/achievements
Grace is always blowing her own trumpet. She’s not even good at acting.
- blow someone away/be blown away – amaze someone
I watched a really good film about aliens, the special effects blew me away.
- bottom falls out – something suddenly ends/stop being successful
You need to close the deal today; the chief won’t be happy if the bottom falls out.
- bottom line – the most important factor
The bottom line is that she wants kids, and I don’t. I can’t see a future for us.
- brainstorm – a group discussion to think of ideas
We’re having a meeting tomorrow to brainstorm ideas for the business.
- break even – the minimum number of sales needed to cover costs
The business is running at a loss; I’m not even breaking even.
- breathe down someone’s neck – monitor someone closely in an irritating way
My mum caught me smoking so she’s been breathing down my neck ever since.
- bring something to the table – provide something useful/beneficial
We’ll arrange a meeting where everyone can bring their ideas to the table.
- bring the curtain down on – end something
She brought the curtain down on her 40-year career in showbusiness.
- broke/flat broke – have no money
I can’t come on holiday this year. I’m flat broke.
- build bridges – improve relationships/reconcile hostile people/groups
I need to build bridges with my neighbours, I hate falling out with people.
- burn bridges – behave badly so there is no chance to return to that situation in the future
I shouted and swore at the boss. He won’t have me back; I’ve burnt my bridges.
- burn the midnight oil – work late into the night
I’ve burnt the midnight oil a lot recently, I’ll be glad when my exams are over.
- business as usual – things continue as normal even in difficult circumstances
The office was broken into. Let’s clean up what we can and it’s business as usual.
- buy someone off – pay someone to do something for you, bribe
The gangster bought off the jury so he wouldn’t be charged with money laundering.
- buyer’s market – a market where there are more sellers than buyers and prices are low
Let’s buy a car, prices are at rock bottom. It’s a buyer’s market at the moment.
- by the book – strictly follow the rules and regulations
Jax does everything by the book, he’s so boring.
business expressions beginning with C
- calculated risk – a risk that is worth taking as the result would be great
It’s a calculated risk partnering with Richards and Co., but the profits would be immense.
- call it a day – stop working on a job/task/relationship because you’re tired or it’s not working
Let’s work for another 15 minutes then we’ll call it a day.
- call the shots – be in charge, make the decisions
Luke is in charge of the project. He’ll be calling the shots.
- can’t see the wood for the trees – can’t see the whole situation as you are too preoccupied with minor details
I hate the people who run this country, they can’t see the wood for the trees.
- carve out a niche – develop expertise in a particular area
We need to carve out a niche for our business if we want to succeed.
- cash cow – something that generates income
Donald’s parents are rich! He has a constant cash cow.
- cash in on – take advantage of/capitalise on
Every magazine in the country will be cashing in on the upcoming royal wedding.
- cash in one’s chips – quit or exchange your winnings for money
The business isn’t making money, we should cash in our chips in and move on.
- catch off guard – something/someone surprises you as you weren’t expecting it
I’ll tell the boss about my holiday at the end of the day. I want to catch him off guard.
- chair a meeting – be in charge of a meeting
My boss has asked me to chair our annual pensions meeting.
- change of pace – different from the normal
I’m moving to Canada, it’ll be a complete change of pace for me.
- class act – a person/object that is impressive/outstanding/high quality
The new manager is a class act, we’ve seen vast improvements since he arrived.
- climb the corporate ladder – the hierarchy of power in a big company
I work for a big company. Hopefully, I can climb the corporate ladder and earn mega bucks.
- clinch a deal – succeed in getting a deal
If we clinch this deal, we’ll need to employ lots more staff.
- close call – a narrow escape from danger/disaster It was a close call, but we got to the gate a minute before it closed.
- come out swinging – go immediately of the offensive
The young boxer came out swinging and knocked out his opponent in 30 seconds.
- come out/up smelling of roses – still have a good reputation despite being involved in something negative
It was Connor’s idea to rob the safe, but he still comes out smelling of roses.
- come up short – insufficient, lacking what you need, unsuccessful
I keep coming up short on auditions, maybe I should quit singing.
- cook the books – illegally manipulate official financial records
I think someone has been cooking the books, the business looks much better on paper.
- cream rises to the top – the best person/idea will always be recognised in the end
Tucker cheated and won the race. I’ll win next time, cream always rises to the top.
- cross the finish line – finish a job/task
After 3 years working on a high-profile case, I’ve finally crossed the finish line.
- cut corners – take shortcuts to save time/money/effort
If we cut a few corners, we could finish the project by the weekend.
- cut it fine – a very slight margin
If we leave at 6, we’ll be cutting it fine. We should leave earlier.
- cut one’s losses – withdraw from a losing situation
Gary and I have cut our losses, we’re getting divorced and selling the house.
- cut to the chase – get to the point
She cut to the chase and asked me to lend her £1,000.
- cut-throat – ruthless/relentless people or companies
The fashion industry is cut-throat.
- cutting-edge – the most modern/advanced
Cutting-edge technology means we can now go into space.