Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee at a company, if you’re doing business with people, you need to be fluent in business English.
And if you’ve ever heard any business English expressions commonly used in the workplace, you already know that most of them are very… well, illogical. Phrases like “let’s circle back” or “I just wanted to touch base” feel like they’re referring to geometry or sports rather than a business situation.
But no, they’re part of the widely accepted corporate jargon. And despite how snarky they may sometimes feel, they’re considered polite, formal, and respectful.
Ready to get fluent in corporate speak?
That’s great because we’ve prepared a long list of business English words for every situation - from office small talk to industry-specific business terms.
The importance of business vocabulary
Whether you’re at a networking event, an office team meeting, or trying to close an important deal with a client, you need to handle corporate conversations. Without proper business English vocabulary, you’ll quickly find yourself swimming in the sea of corporate jargon and unfamiliar terms.
Becoming fluent in business English and corporate terms will help you handle business conversations with more confidence and make a lasting impression on your boss, coworkers, or clients.
Plus, it’ll help you avoid embarrassing situations. Imagine inadvertently breaching a contract because you didn’t fully understand something or making a mistake in a project because you misunderstood what the client wanted.
Knowing a few basic business terms can save you from drowning in embarrassment or legal issues.
50 common business English words and phrases
English is the lingua franca of business. It’s the most common language we use to do business with each other, regardless of our culture, ethnicity, or native tongue.
That’s why many languages use English terms to talk about marketing or sales concepts. Even if you’re not a native English speaker, you may already know terms like A/B testing, SEO, or branding because your native language uses them too.
But regardless of the growing number of English business terms used in other languages, the English corporate jargon still has many words and expressions you should learn if you plan on doing business with English speakers.
Everyday business vocabulary
Even if you’re not business-savvy (it’s ok if you aren’t!), knowing the most common words and phrases used in everyday business interactions is a must.
You’ll need them when introducing yourself to a new client or while talking with your coworkers at the office.
Here’s a list of everyday business vocabulary that’ll come in handy whenever you want to gossip with your coworkers or complain about your workload to your office buddy.
1. ASAP (As Soon As Possible):
To do something ASAP means to do it fast, with urgency. Ex.: "I need to submit the report ASAP so we can review it before the meeting tomorrow."
To put something on the backburner means to set aside tasks or projects for a while. Ex.: "We’ve put this project on the backburner for now."
3. Balls in the air:
No, it’s not what you think it is. If you have multiple tasks or responsibilities to handle at the same time, you have many "balls in the air." Ex.: "With the upcoming deadline and client meetings, I have a lot of balls in the air right now."
4. Too much on my plate:
When you feel overwhelmed or have too many tasks or responsibilities, you have "too much on your plate." Ex.: "I can't take on any more projects at the moment; I already have too much on my plate."
We’re not referring to a radio. Bandwidth is a person's capacity or availability to take on additional tasks or projects. Ex.: "I’d love to help, but I don't have the bandwidth right now."
6. Boil the ocean:
If we “boiled the ocean,” we just took on an overly ambitious task that’s unlikely to succeed. Ex.: "Let's focus on smaller goals instead of trying to boil the ocean with this project."
7. Brain dump:
In other words, putting lots of ideas on paper. Ex.: "I did a quick brain dump and came up with an awesome idea."
These are the tangible results or outputs that are expected from a project or task. Ex.: "What are our deliverables for this month?"
9. Game changer:
A game changer means something that has the potential to impact or transform a situation significantly. Ex.: "This new organization tool I’m using is a game changer for me!"
10. Good to go:
When something is “good to go,” it’s ready. Ex.: "The proposal I’ve been working on is good to go for today’s presentation."
11. Herding cats:
This expression doesn’t mean that someone is literally herding dozens of cats in their apartment. It’s just a weird way to say you’re trying to manage people or tasks that are difficult to manage. Ex.: "Coordinating the different departments' schedules for this project feels like herding cats."
12. Run up the flagpole:
Running something up the flagpole means presenting an idea, proposal, or plan to gather feedback. Ex.: "I haven’t finished the project yet, because I still need to run it up the flagpole.”
13. Throw under the bus:
This is a common expression you might have heard in another context. It means to unfairly blame or sacrifice someone for your own benefit or to avoid responsibility. Ex.: "John tried to throw me under the bus by blaming me for the mistake during the presentation."
Micromanaging can be the most annoying thing in the workplace! It’s the practice of excessive or unnecessary control over small details of tasks or projects. Ex.: "I’m so annoyed with Susan! She micromanages everything I do.”
15. Let go:
These are probably the two scariest words in the office! When someone has been “let go,” they were fired. Ex.: “Have you heard? Jack was let go yesterday!”
16. Keep me in the loop:
When you ask someone to “keep you in the loop,” you ask them to keep you informed and included in the conversation. Ex.: “Keep me in the loop! I want to know what’s going on between John and Susan!”
Workflow refers to the sequence of steps or tasks involved in completing a specific process or project. Ex.: “The workflow for this project is insane… I don’t know how I’ll finish it on time!”
Business meetings vocabulary
Over the past few years, we grew accustomed to online team meetings over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. And we’ve also gotten used to hearing the same corporate expressions over and over again at every team meeting.
Even if you’re not a fluent English speaker, you might have already heard some phrases used in business meetings held in English. But to help you confidently navigate the next meeting, here’s the list of key expressions with their meanings.
1. Meeting agenda:
It’s a structured plan that outlines the topics, objectives, and order of discussion for a meeting.
2. Opening remarks:
These are the comments or statements your team members make at the beginning of a meeting. They are meant to provide the context and introduce the rest of the team to the topic of the meeting.
3. Action plan:
It’s a detailed plan that specifies what needs to be done. It outlines the tasks and the timeline to achieve set goals.
4. Touch base:
If someone wants to touch base with you, it doesn’t mean they want to play hockey. They just want to discuss something with you.
5. Break the ice:
It’s a common expression used in everyday situations. It means starting a conversion and can be used during a meeting to kick things off.
6. Get the ball rolling:
It means starting something. In this case, the meeting.
7. Circle back:
When someone says, “Let’s circle back,” they want to discuss something again, or they’ll want to discuss it with you later.
8. Going forward:
It’s an expression used to move from one topic to another during a team meeting.
9. Think outside the box:
This is a popular idiom. But in the corporate setting, it simply means coming up with innovative ideas.
10. Win-win situation:
If something is a win-win situation, it’s an outcome or solution that benefits everyone involved. Everybody wins!
11. Move the needle:
If someone moved the needle, they made significant progress or achieved something that positively impacted the situation.
12. Take it offline:
I initially thought it meant to take the online conversation face-to-face. But no, it means to discuss something outside the current meeting so as not to go over the planned meeting time.
13. Back to the drawing board:
When someone wants to go back to the drawing board, they feel the need to start over. Mainly because something didn’t go as planned or they want to reevaluate the plan.
14. Trim the fat:
This funny expression means removing unnecessary elements to make something more streamlined or efficient.
15. On the same page:
When someone says, “Let’s make sure we’re on the same page,” they want to know whether you’re thinking alike.
16. Deep dive:
When someone wants to “deep dive” into something, they just want to explore the topic in detail.
17. Ducks in a row:
If your boss says, “Let’s get our ducks in a row,” it means they want to start getting organized to handle a task.
18. On board:
If you’re on board with something, you agree with it. If you don’t, you can always move the goalposts.
19. Move the goalposts:
If your manager wants to move the goalposts, they want to change something: the objectives, the scope, or the project requirements.
20. Park it:
If you’re parking it, you’re holding off on a project or milestone until you get approval from whoever is in charge.
21. Push the envelope:
If your boss asks you to push the envelope, they just want you to give your best.
22. Drill down into:
To drill down into something means to examine or analyze it in detail.
23. Forward planning:
As you may have intuitively assumed, forward planning is the process of anticipating future needs or events and preparing accordingly.
24. Silver bullet:
A silver bullet is a simple or quick solution that solves a complex problem or achieves significant results.
25. Cut corners:
This is a popular idiom in everyday English, which means taking shortcuts. It’s usually done to save resources (like money or time), but it’s not always the best way.
26. Call it a day:
The phrase you’re looking forward to during the entire meeting! “Let’s call it a day” means the meeting is over. Hooray!
27. Follow-up questions:
Follow-up questions are additional questions you or your teammates might have after discussing something. They aim to clarify things or gather more information.
28. Closing remarks:
The opposite of opening remarks. Closing remarks are the comments or statements made at the end of a meeting, usually to summarize what was discussed.
29. Wrap up:
When you’re wrapping things up, you’re finishing something - a task, a project, or a meeting.
Occupation-specific business vocabulary
Aside from the general terms used in everyday business conversations, every industry and occupation has its own terms.
Your colleagues from the marketing department keep on throwing 3-letter words that sound like a secret code. The folks from the legal department use phrases that make them sound like Harvard Law nerds and the HR people scare their employees with words like “terminate” or “benchmarking.”
But once you know what these terms mean, it becomes clear what all these people are talking about.
So, here’s a list of occupation-specific business vocabulary you might want to get familiar with.
English is the dominant language of marketing. Terms like B2B, ROI, or CTA are being thrown around the marketing world like darts. And if you’re not a marketing expert, you may wonder what these terms mean.
From the outside, they may look like some sort of secret code only marketers understand. So, we’ve rounded up this list of marketing vocabulary to help you break the code.
|Term/phrase||Meaning||Used in a sentence|
|B2B (Business to business)||It's business between two companies, rather than a company and an individual.||We’re a B2B brand. We sell software to marketing companies.|
|Brand awareness||Spreading the word about your brand as far and wide as you can. Usually via social media or Google.||Increasing brand awareness is the primary goal of our social media strategy.|
|Branding||Creating a unique and recognizable identity (both visual and non-visual) for a product or a company.||This company's branding is unique.|
|Call to action (CTA)||The button on a website that encourages action, like making a purchase.||The CTA on our landing page says, "Sign up for free."|
|Case study||A story about someone's experience with your product or service and how it benefitted them.||You need solid case studies if you want your customers to trust you more.|
|Clickbait||Sneaky headlines that trick you into clicking. Once you do, it turns out it's not what you expected.||The title of this blog article was clickbait! It was a waste of time.|
|Cold calling||Calling people who have never heard about your brand to sell them your products or services||Cold calling can be an effective marketing strategy if done well.|
|Content marketing:||Marketing your brand via any written, audio, or video content.||Our content marketing strategy includes publishing informative blog posts to build brand credibility.|
|Conversion rate||The percentage of visitors who take the desired action on your website (like making a purchase or signing up for your email list).||We implemented a new checkout process that increased our conversion rate by 10%.|
|Customer journey||The process your customers go through before they buy your stuff.||The customer journey typically has a few stages.|
|Customer segmentation||Dividing your customers into groups based on shared characteristics.||We implement customer segmentation to personalize our email campaigns.|
|Going viral||You go viral when one of your social media posts receives skyrocketing amounts of engagement you previously didn't have.||One of my Instagram reels went viral, and I became a travel influencer.|
|Influencer marketing||Getting someone famous on social media to market your product or talk about your brand to their followers.||We've got a fashion influencer promoting our clothing line on Instagram!|
|Landing page||A page designed to promote one specific product or offer and get visitors to do one thing, like download a freebie or buy something.||Our landing page isn't converting. We should redesign it.|
|Market research||Collecting data to understand your audience's preferences and find out what your competitors are doing.||We conducted market research to know what customers want.|
|Onboarding||Getting new employees up to speed so they don't feel like confused puppies. Or setting everything us for new customers so they can use your product or service without feeling confused (like puppies).||Let’s get our new employees onboarded quickly.|
|ROI (Return on investment)||The metric we calculate to see if the money we invested into something made us more money.||Let’s calculate our ROI to know if we made a profit from our investment.|
|SEO (Search Engine Optimization)||Optimizing a website or content to improve its visibility and ranking in search engine results.||We need to hire an SEO expert to help us appear on the first page of Google.|
|Social media engagement||It measures how people interact with your social media content via likes, comments, shares, and saves.||Our social media engagement is too low. We need to post better content!|
|Target audience||The group of people who share similar characteristics and are most likely to be interested in your product or service.||Our target audience is young moms who want to get in shape with quick home workouts.|
|Testimonials||The written or recorded opinions people have about your products or services.||How many testimonials should we put on our website?|
|Unique selling proposition (USP)||It's the trait that makes your product or service different from your competitors.||Our USP is our eco-friendly packaging, which appeals to environmentally conscious consumers.|
Sales is the ultimate goal of any business. Whether you’re working for a company or for yourself, you’ll need to become fluent in sales speak in order to make successful transactions with customers.
We’ve gathered a list of the most common sales terms and phrases used in the English language to help you gain more clarity over their meaning.
|Term/phrase||Meaning||Used in a sentence|
|Bargain||Getting a great deal or discount on a purchase.||This new dress was a total bargain!|
|Buy in bulk||To buy large quantities of the same product.||When I go shopping for office supplies, I buy them in bulk.|
|Buyer||The person or company that buys something.||The buyer didn't agree to the proposed fee for the service.|
|Client||The person that buys our services.||Our clients are happy with our web design service.|
|Close the sale||To successfully convince someone to make a purchase.||After overcoming the customer's objections, I managed to close the sale.|
|Customer||The person that buys our products.||Our customers are satisfied with our beauty products.|
|Good value for money||A fair and worthwhile return on the amount spent.||This hotel was good value for money. I'll stay there again.|
|Invoice||A document that shows the details and cost of a product or service.||I sent the customer an invoice for my copywriting services.|
|Negotiate||To attempt to reach a fair agreement between the buyer and seller on terms and price.||We negotiated with the supplier to get a better price for the materials.|
|Out of stock||When a product is temporarily unavailable for purchase, it's out of stock.||I'm sorry, but our T-shirts are currently out of stock.|
|Pay in full||To pay the entire price of a product or service at once.||The customer decided to pay in full, so we gave him a discount.|
|Payment by installments||The practice of paying for a purchase in smaller, regular amounts over a period of time.||You can buy the car with a convenient payment plan in monthly installments.|
|Payment plan||An arrangement to pay for something in a structured and scheduled manner.||We offer a flexible payment plan on our consulting packages.|
|Prospect||A potential customer who fits the compaby's target market and shows interest or is likely to show interest in the company's products or services.||We have a long list of prospects we need to call.|
|Purchase||To buy something||I recently purchased a new car.|
|Quote||Providing a price estimate for a product or service.||I sent the customer a quote for our web design service this morning.|
|Refund||The money that a business gives back to a customer for returning a product or canceling a service.||We issued a refund to the customer who wasn't happy with our service.|
|Retailer||A store or business that sells products directly to customers.||Our retailer partners are selling our merchandise.|
|Sales pitch||A persuasive presentation to convince someone to buy your product or service.||I delivered an epic sales pitch that left the customer speechless. He immediately bought our service!|
|Seller||The person or company that sells something.||The seller is asking for a high price for their product.|
|Sold out||When a product is sold out, the store has no more left.||The tickets to the Beyoncé concert are already sold out.|
|Supplier||A company that provides another company with the products they will later sell to their customers.||Our clothing supplier didn't deliver the T-shirts we ordered on time.|
|Trial||Testing out a product or service before committing to a purchase.||I signed up for a free trial to see what this app offers.|
|Wholesaler||A company that sells products in large quantities to retailers.||Please call the wholesaler and order the usual amount of Coca-Cola cans.|
Finance and accounting vocabulary
To someone who isn’t a financial expert, terms like assets, liabilities, and accruals have no more meaning than Egyptian hieroglyphics. Even if you did study some accounting in high school or at the university, you’ve likely forgotten what those terms mean.
Money is important to all of us, especially when conducting business. Whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, knowing some of the basic finance and accounting vocabulary in English will empower you to make better business decisions.
Here’s a list of key finance and accounting terms in English that might come in handy.
|Term/phrase||Meaning||Used in a sentence|
|Assets||Things a business owns that have value.||Our assets include property, equipment, and inventory.|
|Balance sheet||A financial statement showing assets, liabilities, and equity.||We need to update the balance sheet for the year-end report.|
|Break-even point||The sales level at which a business neither makes a profit nor a loss.||We need to sell 500 units to reach the break-even point.|
|Budget||A plan for how much money a business can spend and where it will go.||Let's create a budget for our marketing campaign.|
|Capital||Money invested in a business to get it started or help it grow.||We raised capital from investors to expand our operations.|
|Cash flow||Money coming in and going out of a business.||Good cash flow means we can pay our bills on time.|
|Depreciation||The decrease in the value of assets over time.||We need to account for depreciation when calculating the asset's value.|
|Equity||The value of the business after subtracting liabilities.||Our equity increased as our business grew.|
|Expenses||The money a business spend on stuff they need to run the company.||Our expenses include rent, salaries, and office supplies.|
|Gross profit||Money left after subtracting the cost of goods sold.||Our gross profit margin increased due to cost-saving measures.|
|Income statement||A financial report showing revenue, expenses, and profit.||The income statement revealed our strong sales growth.|
|Inventory||All the products or items the business has in stock that it's planning to sell.||We need to manage our inventory to avoid overstocking or shortages.|
|Liabilities||The money a business owes to other people (like investors or stakeholders).||The loan from the bank is a liability we need to pay back.|
|Loss||When a company spends more than they make, they have a loss.||We had a loss last quarter due to unexpected expenses.|
|Net profit||Money left after subtracting all expenses.||We had a net profit of $100,000 this quarter.|
|Revenue||The money a business makes from selling products or services.||Our revenue skyrocketed after launching the new product.|
Human resources vocabulary
The HR folks often use many terms unfamiliar to their employees. And they should be! Even if you’re not a human resources professional, you should still know what the HR department is up to when they use terms like “broadbanding” or “confidentiality agreement.”
Knowing these terms will be helpful in many situations, such as signing an employment contract or leaving your job. Here’s a list of some basic HR vocabulary you need to know.
|Term/phrase||Meaning||Used in a sentence|
|Applicant tracking system (ATS)||A system that helps recruiters keep track of all the job applications they receive.||Our ATS saves recruiters a lot of time on manually tracking job applications.|
|Behavioral competency||The skills and qualities that contribute to effective job performance.||Some of the behavioral competencies we evaluate as leadership and decision-making skills.|
|Benchmarking||Comparing your performance to industry best practices to identify areas for improvement.||We're benchmarking our customer service response time against our main competitor's.|
|Broadbanding||Consolidating multiple job levels into broader pay ranges.||Our broadbanding approach allows us to cut employee costs.|
|Confidentiality agreement||It's an agreement that employees sign that prevents them from using the confidential information they handle as part of their job outside of their responsibilities.||The company made me sign a confidentiality agreement to be approved for the position.|
|Exit interview||A conversation held when an employee is leaving to gather feedback and insights.||During the exit interview, we asked departing employees to rate their overall experience with us on a scale of 1 to 10.|
|Gross misconduct||An action that is unacceptable at the workplace and needs to be punished by immediate dismissal.||Did you hear that John committed gross misconduct? He got immediately fired!|
|Job description||A description that lists everything you're supposed to do at a particular job, usually part of a job advertisement.||My job description says I'm responsible for handling customer queries 24/7.|
|Key performance indicators (KPIs)||HR KPIs are the metrics used to measure how HR contributes to the company's success.||The average interviewing cost is one of our main KPIs to measure HR's success.|
|Onboarding||The process of educating new employees and turning them into fully functioning team members.||Our onboarding process involves a 3-week training under the team leader's supervision.|
|Orientation||The first day of work for new employees that includes a tour of the office and a couple of meetings that explain the nature of the job.||During orientation, we gave new hires a crash course on office culture.|
|Recruitment||The process of finding new employees to work at a company.||We're recruiting a team of expert web developers for our new project.|
|Succession planning||Identifying and preparing potential candidates for key roles in the future.||We're training our interns to become future employees as part of our succession planning.|
|Talent management||Nurturing and developing employees' skills and potential.||Thanks to our talent management efforts, our employees stay at our company longer.|
Legal terms and meanings
For some reason, corporate legal terms sound scary to those of us who aren’t well-versed in corporate law. Still, any employee, freelancer, entrepreneur, or business owner needs to be familiar with some basic legal terms.
Knowing these terms is essential when signing contracts and agreements, negotiating a deal, or addressing a legal issue.
To help you familiarize yourself with these terms and make sure you understand their meaning correctly, we’ve rounded up the following list.
|Term/phrase||Meaning||Used in a sentence|
|Agreement||An understanding between two or more parties, usually documented in a contract.||A satisfactory agreement between the two parties was finally reached.|
|Appendix||An additional section of a contract that provides additional information.||The project proposal includes an appendix detailing the project deliverables.|
|Breach of contract||This happens when one of the two parties doesn’t comply with the terms agreed upon in the contract they signed.||The supplier's failure to deliver goods constituted a breach of contract.|
|Clause||A section in a contract that addresses a specific issue.||The non-compete clause prohibits our employees from working for our competitors.|
|Contract||A document where the agreement between two parties is outlined in detail.||The client finally signed the contract.|
|Copyright||The exclusive legal right granted to the creator of an original work, protecting it from unauthorized use.||The author obtained copyright protection for their novel.|
|Fail to comply||Not to adhere to the requirements or terms outlined in a signed contract.||The contractor failed to comply with safety regulations.|
|Fine print||The tiny text, usually at the bottom of a document or contract, that contains important information.||Carefully reading the fine print can help you avoid unpleasant surprises.|
|Intellectual property||Intangible creations of the mind, such as inventions, designs, or artistic works, protected by law.||The company filed a patent application to protect its intellectual property.|
|Legal dispute||A conflict between two parties that requires legal intervention.||The company entered into a legal dispute with a former employee.|
|Legal expert||A person who knows the ins and outs of legal matters and can advise those with no idea.||The company contacted a legal expert to review the contract.|
|Legally binding||When something is legally binding, it is enforceable by law.||The contract you signed is legally binding.|
|Null and void||It means that a contract is considered invalid and has no legal effect.||The court declared the contract null and void due to misrepresentation by one of the parties.|
|Party||An individual or a company involved in a contract or a legal dispute.||Both parties agreed to the terms of the employment contract.|
|Terminate a contract||To end the contract before its completion date.||The parties mutually agreed to terminate the contract.|
|Terms||The requirements you agree to when signing a contract.||The terms of the contract are clear: you cannot end it without a reason.|
|Trademark||A legally registered symbol, word, phrase, or logo used to identify a brand or a product.||The company registered its logo as a trademark.|
Common business terms to avoid confusing
Even if you’re fluent in business English, there are some commonly used terms that can be pretty confusing.
Did you know that client and customer aren’t, in fact, interchangeable? The same goes for revenue and profit or marketing and advertising.
What are the differences between them? Let us explain.
Client vs. customer
No, they’re not the same thing. There’s a subtle yet significant difference. A client is a person that buys a service. A customer is a person that buys a product.
Collaboration vs. Cooperation
Although used interchangeably by most people, there’s a not-so-subtle difference between these terms.
Cooperation is when you work with other people to achieve your own goals. Collaboration, however, is when you work with others to accomplish a shared goal.
Market share vs. Market penetration
Unless you’re a marketing pro, these terms can be very confusing! They both talk about the percentage of the market the company claims, but by measuring different things.
Market penetration is the percentage of the overall target audience the company sells to. Market share is more detailed and refers to the portion of the target market that buys the company’s products.
Revenue vs. Profit
Contrary to what many people think, these two terms aren’t interchangeable. Revenue is the total income a business generates through its operations. Profit is the income left after deducting the expenses the company has to incur to make revenue in the first place.
Marketing vs. Advertising
These two terms are often confused because they overlap. Advertising is part of marketing.
Marketing is the practice of promoting your brand or products to your audience. Advertising, however, is the practice of paying to have your content placed in specific locations (such as social media platforms or Google) to reach your target audience.
Let’s wrap this up
Corporate jargon and business vocabulary might sound intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with it. But with the vocabulary mentioned in this article in your arsenal, you’ll never feel confused again during business conversations or legal talks.
Once you dominate them, you’ll begin to navigate the business world with growing confidence while leaving a lasting impression on your boss, coworkers, and clients.
And if you think you need some more business English support, check out our business services and cultural training programs for employees.