Idioms are an extremely important part of learning a language. They’re used all the time among native speakers, and more importantly, are understood almost immediately by other native speakers. If you want to improve your business English and fluency, learning these ten business English idioms may be the way to go.

We’ve put together some business English idioms that you’re likely to hear around the office. Add these to your business English vocabulary, and you’ll be sounding more like a native speaker in no time. And check out these sports idiomsless common idioms, or these 7 English idioms you should know!

To be ahead of the pack

Whether a pack of wolves or colleagues, being ahead of the pack can be extremely beneficial, especially if you’re gunning (trying, aiming) for a new position or promotion. Work hard and you’ll be on the right track!

Meaning: to be first, or ahead of others

For example:

  • She’s really ahead of the pack. She’s already two weeks ahead of schedule on her part of the project.

Ballpark figure

Are you not sure exactly how much something costs? That’s okay- sometimes giving someone a ballpark figure can be all you need. You don’t always have to be so exact!

Meaning: a guess or roundabout number for a figure

For example:

  • Can you give me a ballpark figure of our company’s budget for English training?


Some workplaces are really relaxed, and some are much more fierce (tough, hard) and ruthless (have no sympathy) when it comes to competition and the daily business of the office. If your workplace sounds like the latter (second option), cut-throat may be the right business idiom to describe it.

Meaning: fierce, intense, or ruthless

For example:

  • People usually think that both Wall Street and politics can be very cut-throat.

Go down the drain

This is an idiom that is usually used with money and funds, so keep your eyes peeled (be looking, pay attention) for it!

Meaning: to waste something

For example:

  • The company’s funds have gone completely down the drain since the new CEO took over.

In full swing

The business English idiom in full swing can be used in the office (or parties!) when things are very busy or are being done to the fullest. If you have a large project or meeting ahead of you, you can use this idiom to describe when you’re at your busiest point.

Meaning: at the height of an activity

For example:

  • The meeting was already in full swing by the time he showed up.

No strings attached

Have you ever received something like a contract or an offer from someone that had no conditions (special rules, stipulations) at all? Then it came with no strings attached.

Be careful though because sometimes the person who gave something to you will want something in return. We always say, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Meaning: no special conditions or restrictions on something

For example:

  • He offered to sell me his car for $1 with no strings attached. There must be some kind of catch, right??

Put the cart before the horse

This is something some people have a bad habit of doing. They will frequently plan the details of something out before it is confirmed that it will actually happen (take place, be). Of course it’s good to have a plan for the future, but one should be careful before making big moves (paying money, making a reservation, etc.) if you are not 100% sure it will happen.

Meaning: to do something in the reverse order

For example:

  • Getting a new puppy before knowing if your landlord accepts pets is putting the cart before the horse.

Red tape

Have you ever had to deal with a lot of bureaucracy, either at work or in your private life? Then this is the idiom for you!

Meaning: bureaucracy

For example:

  • I hate having to deal with all the red tape when I get a new job! It’s so time consuming!

Stand one’s ground

Sometimes you need to stand up for yourself in the office, and if you need to do so, this is one of the best business English idioms to know. It sounds like a very powerful phrase to me, and is very descriptive.

Meaning: to hold your position in the face of opposition

For example:

  • Anne really stood her ground in front of her boss when she knew she was right.

Twist someone’s arm

This phrase can be used in either a friendly way, or a more cut-throat way, so be careful how (and with whom) you use it.

Meaning: to get someone to do something they might not want to do

For example:

  • He didn’t want to fund the project, so I had to twist his arm a little bit to get him to approve the funds.

Do you know any other useful business English idioms? Share them with us and the community in the comments below!

Buy Lessons

Did you like this blog? Share it with others! Let us know what YOU think!

Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English, 7 Synonyms for Being Drunk, 7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and you don’t have to twist her arm – she loves helping people and is always willing to help a student in need, whether it be for English, yoga, life, or otherwise! 

Looking for more phrases, ways to use English everyday, or get the conversation started? Sign up for our newsletter or check out the website!