University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations – Business English Certificates:
There are three BEC exams – BEC Preliminary, BEC Vantage and BEC Higher, which test English language ability used in the context of business. They are ideal if you are preparing for a career in business. The BEC exams are linked to the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and to the UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s National Standards for Literacy, within the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
List of Business English Idioms
Choose an idiom and click on it to
go directly to the explanation and example.
bail a company out, ball park figure/estimate, bang for the buck, banker’s hours, bean-counter, big gun/cheese/wheel/wig, bottom fall
out/drop out, bottom line, bottom out, boys/men in the backroom, break even, budget squeeze/crunch, buy off, buy out, by a long shot
calculated risk, captain of industry, carry over, carry the day, carry through, close out, close the books, cold call, come on strong, company man, company town, cut back, cut corners, cut off, cut one’s losses
MEANING: including everyone or everything
The computer company decided to give the workers an across-the-board
increase in their salary.
MEANING: sell something and lose money
We were forced to sell the computers at a big loss.
MEANING: help or rescue a company with financial problems.
The government decided to bail out the failing bank in order to
maintain stability in the economy.
MEANING: a rough estimate or figure
The contractor gave us a ball park figure for the cost of repairing
the new building.
MEANING: value for the money spent
We were able to get a big bang for our buck when we advertised on the
MEANING: short work hours
My sister’s husband owns his own company and is able to work banker’s
hours with his large staff.
MEANING: an accountant
We asked the bean-counters to look over the figures in the new budget.
MEANING: an important person, a leader
The new director was a big wheel in his previous company but is not so
MEANING: to fall below an earlier lowest price
When the bottom fell out of the coffee market many companies had to
stop doing business.
MEANING: the total, the final figure on a balance sheet
When they examined the bottom line of the company they decided not to
invest in it.
MEANING: reach the lowest or worst point of something
The value of the stock has begun to bottom out and should soon begin
to increase in value.
MEANING: a group of men making decisions behind the scenes
The boys in the backroom told us that we must close down the factory
as soon as possible.
MEANING: have expenses equal to profits
After only three months the company was able to break even and start
MEANING: a situation where there is not enough money in the budget
We have been going through a severe budget squeeze at our company and
must begin to stop spending money in a wasteful manner.
MEANING: use a gift or money to divert someone from their duty or
The land developer tried to buy off the politician but he was not
MEANING: buy the ownership or a decisive share of something
The company was bought out by another large company in the textile
MEANING: by a big difference, by far
The soap company was able to beat out the bids of the other companies
by a long shot.
MEANING: an action that may fail but has a good chance to succeed
They took a calculated risk when they introduced the new computer
screen onto the market.
MEANING: a top corporation officer
The president of our company was a captain of industry and after he
retired he was appointed to many government boards.
MEANING: save for another time
We were forced to carry over the sale to the Monday after the national
MEANING: transfer (a figure) from one column or book to another
Our company is still facing difficult times and we will have to carry
over last year’s losses to this year.
MEANING: win completely
The president’s new idea carried the day and everyone supported him
MEANING: put into action
The steel company carried through their plan to restructure all of
MEANING: sell the whole of something, sell all the goods
They decided to close out the store and sell all of the remaining
stock very cheap.
MEANING: stop taking orders, end a bookkeeping period
They usually close the books at the end of February every year.
MEANING: call a potential customer from a list of persons one has
When he first started to work at his company he was asked to make cold
calls using the telephone book.
MEANING: overwhelm with excessively strong language or personality
The salesman came on too strong at the meeting and angered the other
members of the team.
MEANING: a person who always works hard and agrees with his employees
My father was a true company man and was always putting in an extra
effort for his company.
MEANING: a town dominated by one industry or company
When the coal mine closed down the company town faced severe economic
MEANING: use fewer or use less
The company has been cutting back on entertainment expenses for over a
We have been forced to economize on stationary expenses during these
severe economic times.
MEANING: interrupt or stop
The speech of the president was cut off when the electricity went off
in the building.
MEANING: do something to stop losing money or something
We should sell the old machinery as soon as possible and try and cut
MEANING: succeed in doing well what is expected
The new owner of the company is not very popular but he is able to
deliver the goods.
MEANING: check something again to confirm
We were unable to double-check the costs of the new products before
the price list was printed.
MEANING: the official worth or trust of something
Although the face value of the postage stamp was very low it sold at
the auction for much money.
MEANING: justice, equal and right action to someone
The company is very good to work for as they always use fair play when
they are bargaining with their employees.
MEANING: find an answer by thinking about something
Everyone in our company is trying to figure out what our boss is going
to do with the new equipment.
MEANING: be just what is needed
That new machine should fill the bill as to what we need to finish the
MEANING: involved in what is happening, receiving money for something
The new manager has his finger in the pie in all aspects of our
MEANING: go forward, make progress
Our company has been gaining ground in our attempt to be the best in
MEANING: get an opportunity or good deal
We were able to get a break on the price of the paint and saved a lot
MEANING: make a successful beginning, go ahead
We were unable to get the new product off the ground and will have to
wait until next year.
MEANING: give permission to go ahead with a project
Our boss gave us the green light to begin work on the new sales
MEANING: sell shares of a privately owned company to the public
The stock of the Internet company rose very quickly when they went
MEANING: finish, do as planned or agreed
We have decided not to go through with our plans to launch the new
product until we have solved all of its problems.
MEANING: sell something by being very aggressive
The car salesman gave us a hard sell so we decided to go to another
MEANING: someone will be punished
Heads will roll when our boss learns about the money that we have lost
MEANING: in writing
The company refused to deal with the customer’s complaints until they
saw them in black and white.
MEANING: in control of, responsible for
My sister has been in charge of buying supplies at her company for
MEANING: not enough, in less than the amount or number needed
Experienced computer programmers are in short supply at our company.
MEANING: have something ready to sell or use
They didn’t have any computer printer ribbons in stock at the store.
MEANING: successful or making money
The new company has been in the black for over a year now.
MEANING: in the final result
The company has been losing money recently but in the long run they
should do very well.
MEANING: ready to buy something
We have been in the market for a new computer for a long time but
still we haven’t bought one.
MEANING: losing money, unprofitable
The company began to go into the red when the price of oil began to
MEANING: in preparation, being planned or worked on
The camera company has a new automatic camera in the works but nobody
knows about it yet.
MEANING: make a price higher
The steel companies decided to jack up the price of steel at the
beginning of the year.
MEANING: keep records of money gained and spent
The new assistant to the sales manager has no experience keeping books
and has made many mistakes.
MEANING: keep a count or record, stay informed
They have been making a great effort to keep track of the number of
visitors to their store.
MEANING: money paid illegally for favourable treatment
The construction company was taken to court for giving kickbacks to
the local politicians.
MEANING: produce good results, succeed
Although he works very hard in his small business he has been unable
to make a go of it and may soon go out of business.
MEANING: be serious
Our boss means business when he tells everyone to try and work harder.
MEANING: an accountant, someone who works with numbers
Our president is a good number-cruncher and understands about the
finances of our company.
MEANING: in one’s possession, ready
We didn’t have any supplies on hand and were unable to finish the job.
MEANING: buy something without paying cash
My friend had no money so he decided to buy the furniture on credit.
MEANING: for sale
As soon as they purchased the company they began to put some of the
equipment on the block.
MEANING: make a profit, be successful
The furniture manufacturer was unable to pay off their loan and had to
go out of business.
MEANING: a share in the activity or the profits of something
The inventor wanted a large piece of the action of the profits from
the new computer that he had invented.
MEANING: debt (red ink on a financial statement)
The automobile company has been drowning in red ink since the US
dollar began to rise.
MEANING: not have enough in quantity
They ran short of gasoline at the gas station and had to close early.
MEANING: burdened with debt
Our sister company is saddled with a great amount of debt and should
be sold as soon as possible.
MEANING: sell very quickly
The children’s toys were selling like hotcakes at the end of the year.
MEANING: sell all of a product
Every year at least one company sells out all of their products which
frustrates many customers.
MEANING: take advantage of an opportunity
We decided to strike while the iron was hot and began to market the
product around the time of the Olympics.
MEANING: a deal made between friends so that both may make a big
We were able to make a sweetheart deal with our landlord and got the
rent greatly reduced.
MEANING: collapse, fail, decrease in value
The stock market took a nosedive when the earnings of the oil company
began to weaken.
MEANING: to give a job to or hire someone
The company took on many new workers during the busy holiday season.
MEANING: take control or possession of something, take charge or
The government decided to take over the bank after it declared
MEANING: sell shares in a company to the general public
We decided it was necessary to take our company public in order to
raise money to expand our facilities.
MEANING: count the items of merchandise or supplies in stock, take
The department store closes down for 3 days every March in order to
MEANING: discourage, forbid
The managers threw cold water on the plans to close down the factory
for one week in August.
MEANING: try to solve a problem by spending money on it
The president of our company is willing to throw a lot of money at the
problem in the hope of solving it.
MEANING: a difficult situation
The computer manufacturing company has been in a tight spot since the
shortage of computer chips appeared.
MEANING: to buy and then sell something to customers
The turn-over at that discount store is very rapid.
MEANING: plan, develop
I spent the weekend trying to work out the budget estimates for next
MEANING: remove from a business record, cancel a debt
It was impossible for the bank to collect the money so they were
forced to write off the loan.
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