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5 Idioms You Will Hear in Professional Business Environments

The Many Business Idioms

An idiom is a kind of phrase that you find in almost every language. It is completely meaningless unless you have prior knowledge of its implications. You would read the phrase and know what the individual words mean, but together they have a meaning that you would have to learn to understand. Business idioms are especially important to learn so that you can feel comfortable in an environment where idioms might be the norm.

The Many Business Contexts

All of the following phrases will make a lot more sense when you understand their applicable contexts, so we’ll provide you with a few examples and an explanation. Here are 5 of the most common idioms you will come across in a professional business environment.

1) Hands are tied

Example sentence: “I wish I could help you, but my hands are tied”. This phrase implies that there is something preventing a person from carrying out a specific action. Typically this would be regulations or an authority figure that has given particular orders.

2) Up in the air

Example sentence: “I was hoping to have this done before tomorrow but so much is up in the air right now”. This phrase wants to convey that there is much uncertainty about the future, or too much out of a person’s control, in order to proceed with a desired action or idea.

3) A learning curve

Example sentence: “This job has a steep learning curve”. A learning curve refers to the time it takes for someone to learn something through trial and error. When the learning curve is steep, it implies that there is pressure on a person to ‘climb the curve’ quickly; in other words, you have to learn the ropes quickly.

4) To learn the ropes

Example sentence: “Today I’m going to show you the ropes”. This means that you are going to learn the basics, the common things, the activities that are easy and accessible to everyone in the business. You know how to do things in the business, you have ‘learned the ropes’.

5) By the book

Example sentence: “If you want to do it correctly, you have to do it by the book”. If you do something by the book, it means you are following rules, and you are doing it in a way that has been practiced many times by other people, it is a ‘tried and tested’ method.

Non-Native Mastery

Every English speaker can deduce the meaning of these casual phrases that might be incomprehensible to a non-native. We have now shown you that you do not need to be a native to have mastery over business English, especially in places where such knowledge is commonplace. Click here for a video on how to pronounce these phrases correctly and use them in different contexts!

By Thomas Marais

Thomas is a native English speaker from South Africa, who graduated cum laude and uses his honors bachelor’s degree in the Humanities to provide professional English tutoring to children and adults. He is a TEFL certified teacher and teaches teach both children and adults at any language level

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