10 Useful Business Idioms in English

Easy Explanations, Examples, and Exercises

In this lesson, we will cover 10 commonly used business idioms in English, along with their meanings and examples of how they can be used in a business context. We will also provide exercises for you to practice using these idioms in your own writing and speaking.
By the end of this lesson, you will have a good understanding of these business idioms and be able to use them confidently in your professional communications. Let's get started!

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses


Business Idioms in English

1. "To be on the same page": understand one another and agree on the same thing.

To be on the same page

To be on the same page means that two people are thinking about something in the same way, or have agreed with each other about something.
It can also mean that two people are working together as a team because they understand each other well enough to work together smoothly and efficiently.

Example sentences:

  • "We need everyone on board if we're going to pull this off successfully! Let's make sure everyone's on the same page."
  • "I think it would be helpful if we could talk about this issue in more depth so that we are both on the same page."
  • "The two of you need to be on the same page when it comes to budgeting."

2. "On the back burner": not a top priority at the moment.

On the back burner
In business, it is common to hear about an idea or project being put on the back burner. It means that something is not a priority at the moment, but it might be later.
It comes from the practice of placing pots or pans on the back burner of a stove when they need to cook slowly, while the front burners are used for more immediate or urgent tasks.
(Items placed on the back burner of a stove are typically cooked at a lower heat and take longer to be ready, as they are not the main focus of the cooking process.)

Example sentences:

  • "We haven't decided about our new website yet, but we'll put it on the back burner for now."
  • "I've been putting my own goals on the back burner for years, and I'm not happy about it."
  • "I'll get back to you on this as soon as possible, but it's currently on the back burner."


3. "Back to the drawing board": starting something over again.

Back to the drawing board
When something does not work out as expected, you can go back to the drawing board. This idiom means that you will have to start from scratch again and think of new ideas based on your experience.
(A drawing board is a flat surface used for drawing or drafting.)


Example sentences:

  • "The design we came up with last week wasn't very good so we're going back to the drawing board."
  • "We thought this would be a good idea, but it turned out to be a disaster so we're going back to the drawing board."
  • "We need to go back to the drawing board and see if we can come up with a better plan."


4. "To get the ball rolling": to start something or begin a process.

To get the ball rolling
When you want to get things done, this idiom is a good one to use. You can use it to refer to starting a project or even getting a meeting started. To get the ball rolling means to start something, especially something that will take a lot of effort and hard work.

Example sentences:

  • "I see you've got a new client. That's great! But don't stop there. You need to get the ball rolling on this project."
  • "I've been thinking about starting a business for some time now, but I never seem to get the ball rolling."
  •  "Let's get the ball rolling with a discussion on what makes your company unique."


5. "In the red": being in debt or having a negative balance.

In the red
A company is said to be in the red when it owes more money than it has. You can also use it to refer to losing money.
In other words, it means you owe more money than you have available. This can apply to both individuals and businesses.
The phrase comes from the practice of recording debts in red ink in accounting books.

Example sentences:

  • "We are in the red this month because we just started."
  • "The company was losing money every year and was in the red."
  • "The small business has been struggling to turn a profit for the past year, and according to their latest financial report, they are currently $50,000 in the red."
  • "After overspending on his credit card and not being able to pay off the balance, John found himself in the red for the first time in his life."
  • "The stock market took a downturn last quarter, and many investors found themselves in the red as a result."


6. "In the black": financially successful or profitable.

In the black
The opposite of "in the red" is "in the black."
This term is used to refer to being financially well or having a positive balance, meaning that you have more money than you owe.
For example, if a company is operating at a profit and has positive earnings, it is said to be in the black.
The phrase "in the black" comes from the practice of recording profits in black ink in accounting books.

Example sentences:

  • "The business is doing well and we are in the black for this quarter."
  • "The company is in the black this year, so they can give bonuses to their employees."
  • "After the company's first year, it was finally in the black."


7. "To break even": neither make a profit nor lose money.

To break even
To break even is an expression that is used in accounting and finance. It means to get back what you invested or to make neither a profit nor a loss.
For example, if you own a small business and you spend $1,000 on supplies and labor to create a product, and then you sell that product for $1,000, you have broken even. You have earned the same amount of money that you spent to create the product, so you are not making a profit or a loss.

Breaking even is important because it means that you are not losing money on a particular investment. However, breaking even is not the same as making a profit. To make a profit, you need to earn more money than you spend.

Example sentences:

  • "The economy has been struggling lately but it looks like we're finally starting to break even again."
  • "The new sales director was able to turn around our business so that we stopped losing money and now we're at least breaking even each month."
  • "We invested a lot of money in marketing and advertising for our new product, but we were only able to break even in the end. We didn't make a profit, but at least we didn't lose any money."
  • "After years of operating at a loss, the small business was finally able to break even last quarter."


8. "Under pressure": feeling stressed or anxious.

Under pressure
When you are under pressure, you feel stressed and pressured by something that is happening around you. It may be due to deadlines, tight budgets, or other things that put stress on you at work or home.

Example sentences:

  • "The marketing department was under pressure because their new product launch had been delayed by several months due to production issues abroad."
  • "The deadline for the report was approaching and I was feeling really under pressure to finish it on time."
  • "I am under pressure at work these days because the boss gave me so much work to do."

9. "To get down to brass tacks": focus on the most important or essential aspects.

To get down to brass tacks
To get down to brass tacks means to begin discussing or thinking about the most important information. It can be used in any context where people are talking about something that needs to be done or discussed, but it is especially common in meetings and negotiations.
It is often used to refer to getting to the heart of a matter or focusing on the main points of a discussion or situation.

"Brass" is a strong, yellow metal that is often used in door handles, locks, zippers, etc.
"Tacks" are small, sharp nails with a flat head that are often used to fasten fabric or other materials to a surface.


Example sentences:

  • "The meeting was going nowhere until we got down to brass tacks and discussed our budget."
  • "I've been working on this project for a long time, so let's cut to the chase and get down to brass tacks."
  • "We need to get down to brass tacks and decide what we're going to do about this situation."


10. "To go the extra mile": to do more than what is required.

To go the extra mile
To go the extra mile is an idiom that means to go beyond what is required or expected in order to achieve something.
It can be used in a variety of situations, such as when trying to do a good job, help someone, or achieve a goal.
Going the extra mile is generally considered to be a positive quality because it shows dedication, commitment, and a willingness to put in extra effort to achieve a goal or task.
When you go the extra mile, you demonstrate that you are not just putting in the minimum amount of effort, but that you are willing to put in additional time and effort in order to achieve a higher level of quality or success.

Going the extra mile can also be beneficial in a professional setting, as it can help you stand out from others and show your dedication to your work.
It can also help you build strong relationships with coworkers and clients, as it demonstrates your willingness to go above and beyond to help others.

Example sentences:

  • "You went the extra mile to help me with my project, staying late and offering to present it to the team. Your hard work paid off and I couldn't have done it without you."
  • "The customer service at this store is always top-notch, going the extra mile to make sure that I have a great shopping experience."
  • "Our company values employees who go the extra mile to ensure that our clients are satisfied. Your dedication and hard work have not gone unnoticed."


Dialogues to Practice for Business English Idioms

Dialogue A

David: "I know we've been trying to get the ball rolling on this project for a a while. But I think it's time we went the extra mile. The client is really pushing for a final product by the end of the week."

Richard: "I'm on the same page as you 100%. We can't afford to delay our schedule now. Otherwise, we risk being breaking even again."

David: "Or even ending up in the red. I've been thinking about it. I'm sorry to put you under pressure. But what if we work even longer hours? We could get this done by the end of the weekend."

Richard: "That's a good idea, but we need to get down to brass tacks with the team. If we can pull this off, we'll be back in the black and on track for the rest of the year!"


Dialogue B

Alice: "Bob, I've been wanting to get the ball rolling on this project for a while now. I think we've got a real opportunity to make a big impact in this industry."

Bob: "I'm not so sure, Alice. I actually think we should keep this on the back burner for now. We don't want to risk ending up in the red."

Alice: "But we can't afford to break even either. We need to get down to brass tacks and come up with a solid plan if we want to make this a success."

Bob: "I'm sorry, but I disagree. We should go back to the drawing board and reassess our options. We don't want to put ourselves under too much pressure."

Alice: "I guess you are right. We don't want to put ourselves in a position where we're struggling to stay in the black..."


Dialogue C

Maria: "I've been thinking about starting my own business, but I'm not sure where to begin."

Susan: "Well, have you done any research or made a business plan yet?"

Maria: "Not really, I've been under so much pressure lately, so I've just been thinking about it. I guess I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed."

Susan: "I see. If you want, we can sit down and work on a business plan together. That way we can get the ball rolling on your business idea."

Maria: "That would be great! I just don't want to invest a lot of time and effort into something that might not work out."

Susan: "I understand, but sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk. And if your business doesn't work out, we can always go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan."

Maria: "You're right. Let's get started on a business plan. I don't want to put my dream of starting a business on the back burner any longer!"


An Exercise with Business Idioms

Complete the sentences with the correct option:

  1. I'm glad we're on the ______________ (one / same) page about this project. Let's get started on the next steps.
  2. We've had to put our plans for expansion on the ______________ (front / back) burner for now due to the pandemic.
  3. Our marketing campaign didn't go as well as we had hoped, so it's back to the drawing ______________ (board / table) for us.
  4. It's time to ______________ (have / get) the ball rolling on this project. Who can volunteer to lead the team?
  5. If we don't increase sales soon, we'll be in ______________ (a / the) red for the third quarter in a row.
  6. We've been in the ______________ (black / gray) for the past two years, thanks to our successful expansion into new markets.
  7. We were able to ______________ (split / break) even on our investment after three years of hard work.
  8. We're ______________ (under / off) a lot of pressure to meet this deadline, but I know we can do it if we work together.
  9. Let's get down to brass ______________ (tacks / tracks) and figure out a plan to increase productivity.
  10. I know we're all tired, but if we go the extra ______________ (kilometer / mile) and put in a few more hours of work, we'll be able to finish this project on time.

Resources on English Idioms:

- English Idioms

- English Idioms Exercises and Videos

- British English Idioms

- Idiom Examples

- Teaching Idioms: How to Teach Idioms in 4 Steps

- A Guide to Understanding and Using Idiomatic Expressions

- Idioms of "Happy": The Top 10 You Should Know

- 10 Useful Business Idioms in English




Answer Key

  1. I'm glad we're on the same page about this project. Let's get started on the next steps.
  2. We've had to put our plans for expansion on the back burner for now due to the pandemic.
  3. Our marketing campaign didn't go as well as we had hoped, so it's back to the drawing board for us.
  4. It's time to get the ball rolling on this project. Who can volunteer to lead the team?
  5. If we don't increase sales soon, we'll be in the red for the third quarter in a row.
  6. We've been in the black for the past two years, thanks to our successful expansion into new markets.
  7. We were able to break even on our investment after three years of hard work.
  8. We're under a lot of pressure to meet this deadline, but I know we can do it if we work together.
  9. Let's get down to brass tacks and figure out a plan to increase productivity.
  10. I know we're all tired, but if we go the extra mile and put in a few more hours of work, we'll be able to finish this project on time.