5 American Business Idioms


Did you know that English speakers use 3 idioms per minute when speaking natively?

If you aren’t studying idioms, you are missing out on a large part of speaking naturally! Most of the time, idioms are complex, abstract, and culturally-bound. Because of this complexity, I teach idioms on an abstract level first and then try to ground them for you with examples. I describe the images that these idioms give us and then put them in context with example sentences for you to better understand them.

Here are 5 idioms specific to business to add to your vocabulary:

1 | Get your ducks in a row

Get your ducks in a row is an idiom that means to become organized. Depending on who you talk to, this idiom can have a few images associated with it. Usually people imagine little ducklings following their mother duck in a straight and organized line. (A row is another word for straight line.) Another image people associate this idiom with is having fake ducks lined up as targets for shooting practice. Nevertheless, to get your ducks in a row requires paying attention to detail and can require effort because—well, ducks have wings. You can move them in a row, but they may fly away. So, really this idiom is about being prepared in advanced and organized.

We need to get our ducks in a row before we give this report to the CIO.
I have to get my ducks in a row before I can even start on that new project.
I can tell that the team doesn’t really have their ducks in a row.


2 | Touch base

To touch base is an idiom that means to contact. As you learn more business idioms, you will notice that we use a lot sports metaphors. This is idiom is one of them. A base is from baseball. It is the white thing players run to after they hit the ball. As long as you are on the base, you are safe and cannot be out of the game. And during a timeout, a base is sometimes used as a meeting point for other players to gather and to talk about strategy. With all of that being said, the image that this idiom gives us is people gathering at meeting point to discuss or to update each other. I have often used this to describe a quick conversation, a short meeting, or even a quick check-in email with colleges and clients.

Let’s touch base before we call the client this afternoon.
Hi! I was just calling to touch base and see how the project was coming along.
I wanted to touch base with you regarding the contract I emailed to you last week.

3 | Get down to business

Get down to business is an idiom that means to focus on a task. The image this idiom gives us English speakers is looking down at a table, a desk, or focusing attention down on something. Usually, millennials will associate this idiom with the hit song “I’ll Make a Man out of You,” from Disney’s animated movie Mulan. This idiom can be used to switch to a more serious tone and even to begin meetings or conversations.

It’s is time to get down to business.
Okay, let’s get down to business and talk about the earnings this quarter.
Enough chit-chat, let’s get down to business.


4 | Raise the bar

To raise the bar is an idiom that means to create higher standards and expectations. This idiom is another one from the world of sports. A bar is another name for the pole that athletes use during the High Jump and Pole Vault events in Track and Field competitions. The image that this idioms gives us is the raising of a horizontal pole. The pole is a metaphor for standards or expectations. So by raising the bar, we are saying that we are setting a higher benchmark for success.

Our business is really raising the bar in this industry.
I feel like my boss is raising the bar too high for our team.
You could raise the bar for yourself or you could continue to fail.

5 | See something through

Seeing something through is an idiom that means to complete a task. The image we get with this idiom is following a task along at every stage closely. To see through is a special type of idiom called a phrasal verb. To see through has several meanings, but to see something through in business context is most often used as a promise to complete a project by closely following the details until it is completed.

We are going to see the project through until the end.
Our team promises to see this through for you.
She has no problem starting but she has problems seeing things through.