English is filled with different idioms, sayings, and expressions. American business English has it’s own common idioms that may not make sense to someone who isn’t a native English speaker. Learn these 22 business-related, American idioms to help you communicate at your job or improve your comprehension of the English language.
The phrase 24/7 (pronounced twenty-four seven) stands for “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” In business, it usually refers to businesses that never close, and are open every day of the week, such as convenience stores.
“Back to the drawing board” refers to when something needs to be started from the beginning. For example, if a business project doesn’t succeed, a company may have to “go back to the drawing board” and plan the whole project over again.
This phrase means to stop working for the day. Employees usually use this American business English idiom when they have decided to head home.
“Fifty-fifty” (sometimes written as 50/50) is referring to splitting something in half, or by 50%. For example, if a business partner wants to work with you on something, they may say, “Let’s split the work fifty-fifty”, meaning you would do half of the required work.
ASAP stands for “As soon as possible.” If your boss comes up to you and says, “I want this proposal ASAP,” it means they want it very soon and you need to get to work! This is a very common American business English phrase, so it is important to remember.
This expression means to begin or start something, usually a project of some sort.
“Hold your horses” means to slow down or calm down. People use this American idiom to tell others to think rationally, instead of rushing.
This expression means to set a higher standard or expectation. When someone says “Let’s raise the bar,” they want to make something even better than compared to previous versions.
“Ahead of the curve” refers to when someone is trying to stay ahead of their competition.
When you follow a company’s procedures or rules exactly as they are described, you are doing things “by the book.”
“The big picture” is defined as the important facts of a situation. If your boss tells you to look at the big picture, they are telling you to look at the situation as whole, and to not focus too much on small details.
This phrase refers to when two people are experiencing the same situation. If you and a colleague are both behind on a project, you would both be “in the same boat.”
To “cut corners” means to take shortcuts or do things the easy way, without putting into all of your effort into something.
A “game plan” is a plan or a strategy used to achieve something. This is very common expression used in American business English and daily life.
When you work every day, you can become bored or stressed of always doing the same thing. “A change of pace” is when you make some kind of adjustment to your routine so you get a break from the boredom.
A “diamond in the rough” is someone who is very talented or has good qualities, but has other qualities that overshadow them. In other words, it can be difficult to see their talent from the outside.
To be “burned out” is a very common American business English idiom. It means when you have done something so many times or for so long that you become tired of doing it and have no motivation to continue. Working long hours every day is common reason why some employees burn out.
This expression is not literal. It means to go out of your way to help someone or to do something. If you put in a lot of hard work or effort into a project, you could say that you “bent over backwards” to complete it.
A business that is “brick and mortar” is a business that has a physical location, such as a book store or a clothing store that customers can visit. Nowadays, many companies do not have a brick and mortar location, and are based entirely online.
To “think outside of the box” means to be creative and innovative. If your boss tells you to think outside of the box, they want to you come up with an idea that is original and hasn’t been done before.
This American business English idiom is referring to when coworkers or acquaintances have casual, polite conversation about things that aren’t related to business. Talking about the weather is a very common form of small talk.
To “throw in the towel” means to give up on something or admit failure. For example, if a potential business contract doesn’t work out, you might have to “throw in the towel.”
After you learn all of these American Business English idioms, you should practice using them. Don’t have an English speaking partner? Go to Spoken English Practice to help you find a native English speaker who can help you master these idioms and improve your spoken English.