Business English Idioms, like all idioms, can be tricky to understand and use correctly. Before looking at Business English Idioms, let’s first discuss what idioms are. We outline this in even more detail in our business writing course for Non-Native English writers.
Idioms are phrases that mean something other than their literal meaning or translation. The classic example of an idiom is “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
The image above shows what you would think it means, but it actually means that it is raining really hard.
Another common idiom (which is also a phrasal verb) is “blow up.” Literally translated, this means to tilt your head back and blow air straight up. But, this actually means “to explode.” This Business idiom can be used in lots of ways, both positive and negative. Here are some examples:
In the first two examples, using the idiom makes the sentences a bit unclear. Was it good or bad that they got a lot of phone calls? Did the markets increase or decrease with the explosion of activity? Only the last one is clear, and yet it’s better to say he destroyed their chance of getting the contract.
As the previous examples show, idioms can be interesting and add color to your language (both in speech and writing), but they are often vague, unclear, and difficult for many people to understand. Even if English is your native language, idioms can be challenging because they can also be regional!
While it’s best to avoid common business idioms and instead use a clearer, stronger verb, there are some you should know.
It’s important to know these Business English idioms because you WILL hear them. But, should you use them? That depends on your audience.
If you are working with colleagues in North America, it’s fine to use these as long as you are absolutely sure you are using them correctly. If your audience is outside of North America or from various locations, it’s better to be clearer and more specific in your writing. You always want to make sure that your message is clear, direct, and concise so that it is also effective!
I work with many international graduate and undergraduate students, and I avoid these idioms in the majority of my email communication with them. In speech, I will use them because there is more of an opportunity to clarify in speech. But in writing, particularly in email, I want to be as clear and concise as possible to avoid multiple emails for clarification.
My recommendation is to avoid using idioms whenever possible. There is almost always a clearer way to deliver your message.
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