22 Business English Expressions

22 Business English Expressions You Can’t Live Without (And how to use them)

Lesson by Kerin. Updated Feb 2022

Learn Business English expressions to improve the way you work in English

This post includes a free guide: 15 Expressions to make your English more professional and sophisticated

15 usable examples business english expressions

Why is it a good idea to learn Business English expressions and idioms?

When you hear native English speakers talk about business they come across as professional and polite at the same time. That’s because they use business English expressions, idioms or business terms that are succinctconcise and suitable to express their opinions.

By learning business English expressions you will improve your comprehension and also upgrade your speaking fluency too!

Business English Expressions to make your English level advanced

For non-native speakers of English, idiomsexpressions and phrasal verbs can be really difficult to understand and sometimes even more difficult to use, especially in work contexts.

In order to reach and maintain an advanced level of English, it is essential that you make learning this kind of vocabulary part of your English study routine.

In this article, you’ll learn 22 common business English expressions that you are very likely to hear in the business world, but most of them you’ll also come across in social (general English) situations too.

Let’s get started!

1. A heads up

If you give someone a heads up, you inform or warn someone in advance of something so that they can prepare themselves. 

Business Example“Heads up Bob! The VP of Finance is coming from NY today and he’ll expect to see the office in perfect state”

General Example“Just want to give you a heads up – I don’t think Jane was very happy with what you said last night at dinner. You might want to call her and clear the air.”

2. Address an issue

When you decide it’s time to discuss a problem, you can use ‘address the issue’. It means that it’s time to acknowledge it and focus on it for a fair amount of time, hopefully to find a solution. It is fairly formal and would mainly be used in a business or in a formal setting, rather than in social contexts.

Business Example>“I think it’s time that we address the issue of budget cuts”.

General Example> “I welcome this opportunity to address an issue in which Parliament has always shown a great interest.”

3. Get the ball rolling

Get the ball rolling means to begin or start something so that some progress can be made; usually before the beginning of the implementation of a project, when it’s time to start doing some actual work rather than just talking about it!

Business example> “What can I do to get the ball rolling on the Japan project?”

General Example“Joelle got the ball rolling and booked a table for our first book-club meet-up.”

4. Pull it off

Pull it off means to succeed in doing something difficult or unexpected. You ‘pull it off’ for example, when  you weren’t prepared to answer a question but you managed to say something clever: 

Business example> “He wasn’t prepared on the subject but he pulled it off thanks to his broad knowledge of the sector and quick thinking.”

General example> “Have you heard about the surprise party Jack is planning for Marie? It’s an ambitious plan, so let’s see if he can really pull it off!”

5. Pain point

pain point is a specific problem that prospective customers of your business are experiencing. It is used widely used as synonym of problem to solve. Usually a reason to ask for consultancy or development. This is mainly a business expression and it would be unusual to hear used in a general English context.

Business examples>

Very simply used in a question such as: “What are the pain points in your department?”

“We can’t ignore that there are some pain points that need to be addressed*”.

*see number 2

6. Catch up on (something)

This phrasal verbs means to do something that you have not been able to do recently. NOTE this is a multi-word verb with two prepositions: up + on

Business example> “I’ve been so busy with endless meetings, I really need to catch up on my emails”.

General example> “I have to catch up on Killing Eve!”

7. Catch up (with somebody)

Catch up or catch up WITH means getting an update or exchanging updated info. 

Business example> “I need to catch up with Erika about her project.”

General example> “Come over tomorrow and we can catch up.”

8. Up in the air

This means when things are highly uncertain and decisions have not been made

Business example> “There are too many things up in the air at the minute so we haven’t signed the contract yet.”

General English> “We still don’t know what we’re doing this summer because things with Tom’s job are so up in the air.”

9. Get up to speed

Means to have all the latest information

Business example> “Now that Marc is onboard we need to get him up to speed on the project, so he can start working on it.”

General example> “I’m not up to speed on the latest series of Downton Abbey!”

10. I could use a … / I could do with a …

This is a very common expression to say you would welcome something, or that you wish for something. It expresses a feeling in a very polite way. 

Business example> “Are you all set Mark?”

“Actually, I could use a hand with analysing this research. There’s a lot more than we anticipated.”

General example> 

“I could use a hand in the kitchen please!”

“I could do with a holiday”

11. Ballpark figure

Ballpark figure = rough estimate

Business example > I’ll need to go away and cost this out carefully, but as a ballpark figure I’d say that it’ll be about 1.5 million euros.

12. Take it from there

(Let’s) take it from there = when you don’t know exactly how an activity will play out after a certain moment.

Business example > Let’s complete the the initial analysis of the new product and then we will take it from there.

13. Stay afloat

To stay afloat = having enough money to pay what you owe.

Business example > When a company is at risk or the market is particularly adverse, it is important to stay afloat to survive.

14. Not going to fly

Not / ain’t going to fly = a proposal or something else, that we know is not going to be approved.

Business example > I doubt this proposal is going to fly with the boss.

15. I see your point

This is a polite business English expression; a good way to use polite and diplomatic English to interrupt someone.

Business example > I see your point, but allow me to express my view = useful when someone is hijacking the conversation or is not letting you talk! 

16. Keep one’s eye on the ball

Keep one’s eye on the ball = when you want someone to focus on the goal

Business example > Keep your eye on the ball and you won’t miss out.

17. Push back

Push back = to delay something so that it happens later than planned

Business example > I had to push back the request to increase the effort by 20%, we are already at full capacity and we don’t have room for a further increase of the workload.

Check your learning

18. Move forward or push forward

Move forward or push forward = when a meeting or something else, should be done sooner than planned.

Business example > I’ve pushed forward the meeting to Wednesday so that Elena can attend.

19 Tackle a problem

This phrase is similar to the phrase above, so to deal with/confront a problem.

Tackle is one of the several expressions that are derived from the football field. See also keep an eye on the ball or get the ball rolling. 

21. What do you make of ….?

What do you make of ….? = when you want to enquire about the view of someone on something, but it is usually something that you don’t fully understand or not agree with.

Business example > “What do you make of the new guy?” “He’s a little quirky, but I think he’s nice enough.”

22. Be on top of it!

Be on top of it! = to be able to control a situation and deal with it successfully. You need to be on top of the project to ensure its success.

Business example > “You really have to be on top of things if you want the project to be a success!”

Your turn to use these Business English Expressions

Hi! I hope you found this post useful. Are you feeling up to a challenge?! 

Choose expressions that you liked from the list and write sentences demonstrating how you would use them. Try to think of situations from work and also from social contexts. 

If you feel brave, share one of your sentences with us in the comments

And don’t forget to download our cheat sheet! You’ll get 15 examples of how to use these expressions so that your English is more sophisticated and professional.

15 usable examples business english expressions

Speak soon,

Kerin Goodall Founder English Digital Academy

ps. Check out my courses for business English, advanced English and proficient English here.

6 thoughts on “22 Business English Expressions You Can’t Live Without (And how to use them)”

  1. 1) I need to know which are the pain points in this project, in order to sort out all the difficulties and to avoid all risks.

    2) His explanations about resignation are completely up in the air.

    3) We absolutely need to stay afloat in order to start this new activity.

    4) I don’t think this course is going to fly since we are not reaching the mininum quantity.

    5) It is important for us to get the message across, so as to start a new collaboration.

  2. 1. I’ ve been run off my feet with an endless training session, I absolutely need to catch up on my homework

    2. Every manager who wants to lead successfully his business has to be on top of its financial management

    3. The administrator tackled the problem of the economic decline firing part of the senior personnel

    4. Your proposal is not going to fly, as the boss thinks that your ideas are not coherent with the company’s principle.

    5. Every leader needs to get him up to speed in order to take the better decision in the smaller range of time

    1. Great job Andrea. I would change the word order here:
      > Every manager who wants to lead his business successfully has to be on top of its financial management
      and I suggest:
      > Every leader needs to get himself or herself up to speed in order to make the best decision in the shortest amount of time.
      Clear? Let me know 👍

  3. 1- Just to give you a heads up, tomorrow is the last day you can submit the form
    2- I need you to sign the contract so we can get the ball rolling on the project
    3- It was a hardous negotiation, but they managed to pull it off
    4- Brain drain has always been our company´s main pain point
    5- There are many options up in the air, but we haven´t made our mind yet
    6- I could use a hand in preparing the presentation. I´m not really good at using power point!
    7- I don´t know the exact number, but as a ballpark figure we closed 10% behind budget
    8- I spent a lot of money on my holidays but I´ll stay afloat
    9- You can ask for a salary raise, but I don´t think it´s going to fly
    10- We need to address this issue asap, so I moved forward the meeting to this week

    1. These are lovely, natural sounding phrases and you’ve used the vocabulary in a fluent way. Here are some notes to consider:
      – no.3 replace hardous with hard (to mean challenging)
      – no.5 we need to add the preposition ‘up’ to this expression = to make your mind up: … but we haven´t made our minds up yet

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