English idioms are the often silly phrases that all English native speakers use – that frequently have no meaning at all to non-native listeners. But idioms tend to be interesting, thus many students of English enjoy studying them and they WILL help students understand what is being said.
Here we go . . .
across the board
MEANING: including everyone or everything
EXAMPLE: The computer company decided to give the workers an across-the-board increase in their salary.
MEANING: pay, produce a necessary amount of money
EXAMPLE: had to ante up a lot of money to get my car fixed.
at all costs
MEANING: at any expense of time, effort or money
EXAMPLE: he plans to go to school at all costs.
at a loss
MEANING: sell something and lose money
EXAMPLE: We were forced to sell the computers at a big loss.
back on your feet
MEANING: return to good financial health
EXAMPLE: My sister is back on her feet after losing her job last year.
bail a company out
MEANING: help or rescue a company with financial problems.
EXAMPLE: The government decided to bail out the failing bank in order to maintain stability in the economy.
ball park figure/estimate
MEANING: a rough estimate or figure
EXAMPLE: The contractor gave us a ball park figure for the cost of repairing the new building.
bang for the buck
MEANING: value for the money spent
EXAMPLE: We were able to get a big bang for our buck when we advertised on the Internet.
MEANING: short work hours
EXAMPLE: My sister’s husband owns his own company and is able to work banker’s hours with his large staff.
MEANING: an accountant
EXAMPLE: We asked the bean-counters to look over the figures in the new budget.
bet your bottom dollar
MEANING: bet all one has on something
EXAMPLE: I would bet my bottom dollar that the accounting manager will be late again today.
bet on the wrong horse
MEANING: base your plans on a wrong guess about the results of something
EXAMPLE: He is betting on the wrong horse if he continues to support the other candidate for mayor.
MEANING: an important person, a leader
EXAMPLE: The new director was a big wheel in his previous company but is not so important now.
born with a silver spoon in your mouth
MEANING: born to wealth and comfort, born rich
EXAMPLE: The student in our history class was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has never worked in his life.
MEANING: your last dollar
EXAMPLE: He spent his bottom dollar on some new clothes to wear for his job interview.
bottom fall out/drop out
MEANING: to fall below an earlier lowest price
EXAMPLE: When the bottom fell out of the coffee market many companies had to stop doing business.
bottom line 1
MEANING: line in a financial statement that shows net income or loss
EXAMPLE: The bottom line in the company’s financial statement was much worse than expected.
bottom line 2
MEANING: final result, main point
EXAMPLE: The bottom line was that we were unable to attend the conference because of our busy schedule.
MEANING: reach the lowest or worst point of something
EXAMPLE: The value of the stock has begun to bottom out and should soon begin to increase in value.
boys/men in the backroom
MEANING: a group of men making decisions behind the scenes
EXAMPLE: The boys in the backroom told us that we must close down the factory as soon as possible.
MEANING: have income equal to expenses
EXAMPLE: Our company was able to break even after only six months of operation.
break the bank
MEANING: win all the money at a casino gambling table
EXAMPLE:He broke the bank at the casino and walked away with a lot of money.
bring home the bacon
MEANING: earn the family living
EXAMPLE: I have been working hard all month bringing home the bacon for my family.
MEANING: a situation where there is not enough money in the budget
EXAMPLE: We have been going through a severe budget squeeze at our company and must begin to stop spending money in a wasteful manner.
burn a hole in your pocket
MEANING: money that one wishes or intends to spend quickly (often for something frivolous)
EXAMPLE: The money had been burning a hole in his pocket when he decided to go to the casino.
MEANING: give money to someone to stop them from doing their duty
EXAMPLE: They tried to buy off the politician but he refused to go along with their plan.
MEANING: buy the ownership or a decisive share of something
EXAMPLE: The company was bought out by another large company in the textile industry.
MEANING: an action that may fail but has a good chance to succeed
EXAMPLE: They took a calculated risk when they introduced the new computer screen onto the market.
captain of industry
MEANING: a top corporation officer
EXAMPLE: 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
EXAMPLE: We were forced to carry over the sale to the Monday after the national holiday.
MEANING: transfer (a figure) from one column or book to another
EXAMPLE: Our company is still facing difficult times and we will have to carry over last year’s losses to this year.
carry the day
MEANING: win completely
EXAMPLE: The president’s new idea carried the day and everyone supported him energetically.
MEANING: put into action
EXAMPLE: The steel company carried through their plan to restructure all of their operations.
MEANING: selling something for cash only with no delivery
EXAMPLE: We were able to get a good price on a sofa in a cash-and-carry deal at the furniture store.
MEANING: exchange coupons or bonds for their value in money
EXAMPLE: I cashed in a large number of my savings bonds in order to get some money to buy a house.
cash in on
MEANING: make money from an opportunity
EXAMPLE: The former football player cashed in on his popularity to open a very successful restaurant.
cash in your chips
MEANING: exchange or sell something to get some money
EXAMPLE: I decided to cash in my chips to get some money to go back to school.
cash on the barrelhead
MEANING: money paid in cash when something is bought
EXAMPLE: I had to pay cash on the barrelhead for the used car.
MEANING: not have enough money when you need it
EXAMPLE: I was caught short and had to borrow some money from my father last week.
MEANING: a person who will not spend much money, a stingy person
EXAMPLE: My friend is a cheapskate and won’t even go to a movie with me.
MEANING: a small amount of money
EXAMPLE: His son always wants to borrow money and says that it is only chicken feed but little by little it adds up to a lot of money.
MEANING: contribute money or pay jointly
EXAMPLE: Everyone in our company chipped in some money to buy a wedding present for our boss.
MEANING: make a lot of money, make a big profit
EXAMPLE: I cleaned up at the horse races last year and still have some of the money left.
MEANING: sell the whole of something, sell all the goods
EXAMPLE: They decided to close out the store and sell all of the remaining stock very cheap.
close the books
MEANING: stop taking orders, end a bookkeeping period
EXAMPLE: They usually close the books at the end of February every year.
MEANING: call a potential customer from a list of persons one has never seen
EXAMPLE: When he first started to work at his company he was asked to make cold calls using the telephone book.
cold hard cash
MEANING: cash, coins and bills
EXAMPLE: I paid for the stereo in cold hard cash.
come on strong
MEANING: overwhelm with excessively strong language or personality
EXAMPLE: 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 employers
EXAMPLE: 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
EXAMPLE: When the coal mine closed down the company town faced severe economic times.
cook the books
MEANING: illegally change information in accounting books in a company
EXAMPLE: The accountant was cooking the books for over a year before he was caught.
MEANING: use fewer or use less
EXAMPLE: The company has been cutting back on entertainment expenses for over a year now.
EXAMPLE: We have been forced to economize on stationary expenses during these severe economic times.
MEANING: interrupt or stop
EXAMPLE: The speech of the president was cut off when the electricity went off in the building.
cut one’s losses
MEANING: do something to stop losing money or something
EXAMPLE: We should sell the old machinery as soon as possible and try and cut our losses.
MEANING: sell for a price lower than usual
EXAMPLE: We went to a cut-rate furniture store to buy some new furniture for our apartment.
MEANING: person who never pays the money he owes
EXAMPLE: Recently the government has been making an effort to solve the problem of deadbeat dads who don’t support their families.
deliver the goods
MEANING: succeed in doing well what is expected
EXAMPLE: The new owner of the company is not very popular but he is able to deliver the goods.
dime a dozen
MEANING: easy to get and therefore of little value
EXAMPLE: Used computers are a dime a dozen and have very little value.
MEANING: check something again to confirm
EXAMPLE: We were unable to double-check the costs of the new products before the price list was printed.
down and out
MEANING: have no money
EXAMPLE: My friend was down and out for several years before he got a job and started making money.
MEANING: something where each person pays their own share
EXAMPLE: We went to the movie as a Dutch treat so it didn’t cost me much money.
MEANING: the worth or price printed on a stamp, bond, note or paper money etc.
EXAMPLE: The face value of the stamp was very low but in reality it was worth a lot of money.
MEANING: money earned quickly and easily (and sometimes dishonestly)
EXAMPLE: The company tried to make a fast buck on the property but they actually lost a lot of money.
MEANING: justice, equal and right action to someone
EXAMPLE: The company is very good to work for as they always use fair play when they are bargaining with their employees.
feel like a million dollars/bucks
MEANING: feel wonderful
EXAMPLE: Although I have been sick for a few weeks I feel like a million dollars today.
MEANING: find an answer by thinking about something
EXAMPLE: Everyone in our company is trying to figure out what our boss is going to do with the new equipment.
fill the bill
MEANING: be just what is needed
EXAMPLE: That new machine should fill the bill as to what we need to finish the job.
finger in the pie
MEANING: involved in what is happening, receiving money for something
EXAMPLE: The new manager has his finger in the pie in all aspects of our company’s business.
MEANING: having no money, penniless
EXAMPLE: I am flat broke and don’t even have enough money to pay my rent.
foot the bill
EXAMPLE: My sister is footing the bill for her daughter’s education so she is making sure that she studies hard.
for a song
MEANING: at a low price, cheaply
EXAMPLE: We bought the car for a song and will try and sell it for a higher price.
MEANING: pay, pay out
EXAMPLE: I forked over a lot of money for the painting that is hanging on my wall.
for love or money (usually negative)
MEANING: for anything, for any price
EXAMPLE: I would not want to have to do that man’s job for love or money.
MEANING: go forward, make progress
EXAMPLE: Our company has been gaining ground in our attempt to be the best in the industry.
get a break
MEANING: get an opportunity or good deal
EXAMPLE: We were able to get a break on the price of the paint and saved a lot of money.
get off the ground
MEANING: make a successful beginning, go ahead
EXAMPLE: We were unable to get the new product off the ground and will have to wait until next year.
give someone the green light
MEANING: give permission to go ahead with a project
EXAMPLE: Our boss gave us the green light to begin work on the new sales promotion.
MEANING: lose all your money, have no money
EXAMPLE: My uncle started a company last year but it quickly went broke.
MEANING: sell shares of a privately owned company to the public
EXAMPLE: The stock of the Internet company rose very quickly when they went public.
go through with
MEANING: finish, do as planned or agreed
EXAMPLE: We have decided not to go through with our plans to launch the new product until we have solved all of its problems.
MEANING: getting paid more money than the job is worth
EXAMPLE: The job was a gravy train and I made a lot of money when I was there.
grease your palm
MEANING: give a tip, pay for a special favor or extra help, bribe
EXAMPLE: The waiter was greasing his palm at the restaurant until he was finally fired.
MEANING: a gift of money (usually from the government)
EXAMPLE: After receiving hand-outs from the government for many years they finally had to make money on their own.
hand to mouth
MEANING: having only enough money for basic living
EXAMPLE: My friend has been living from hand to mouth since he lost his job.
MEANING: sell something by being very aggressive
EXAMPLE: The car salesman gave us a hard sell so we decided to go to another dealer.
MEANING: not have much money
EXAMPLE: His brother is hard up for money and always wants to borrow some.
have sticky fingers
MEANING: be a thief
EXAMPLE: The new employee has sticky fingers and many things in the store have disappeared.
heads will roll
MEANING: someone will be punished
EXAMPLE: Heads will roll when our boss learns about the money that we have lost recently.
MEANING: charge a high price for something
EXAMPLE: The amount of money that the company is charging for its services is highway robbery.
hit the jackpot
MEANING: make a lot of money suddenly
EXAMPLE: We hit the jackpot at the casino and came home with a lot of money.
in black and white
MEANING: in writing
EXAMPLE: The company refused to deal with the customer’s complaints until they saw them in black and white.
in charge of
MEANING: in control of, responsible for
EXAMPLE: My sister has been in charge of buying supplies at her company for many years.
in short supply
MEANING: not enough, in less than the amount or number needed
EXAMPLE: Experienced computer programmers are in short supply at our company.
MEANING: have something ready to sell or use
EXAMPLE: They didn’t have any computer printer ribbons in stock at the store.
in the black
MEANING: profitable, making money
EXAMPLE: Our company has been in the black since it was first started.
in the hole
MEANING: in debt, owing money
EXAMPLE: I think that we are going in the hole in our attempts to make our business prosper.
in the long run
MEANING: in the final result
EXAMPLE: The company has been losing money recently but in the long run they should do very well.
in the red
MEANING: unprofitable, losing money
EXAMPLE: The company has been in the red for several months now and will soon have to go bankrupt.
in the works
MEANING: in preparation, being planned or worked on
EXAMPLE: The camera company has a new automatic camera in the works but nobody knows about it yet.
MEANING: make a price higher
EXAMPLE: The steel companies decided to jack up the price of steel at the beginning of the year.
MEANING: keep records of money earned and spent
EXAMPLE: The accountant has been keeping careful books of all the transactions in the company.
keep track of
MEANING: keep a count or record, stay informed
EXAMPLE: They have been making a great effort to keep track of the number of visitors to their store.
MEANING: money paid illegally for favorable treatment
EXAMPLE: The politician received several illegal kickbacks and had to resign from his job.
lay away money
MEANING: save money
EXAMPLE: I am trying hard to lay away enough money to buy a house.
MEANING: a plan in which one pays some money as a down-payment and then pays a little more when one can and the store holds the article until the full price is paid.
EXAMPLE: We brought our furniture on the layaway plan at the store.
MEANING: spend, pay
EXAMPLE: I had to lay out a lot of money to get my car fixed so now I don’t have any money to go out.
live from hand to mouth
MEANING: live on little money
EXAMPLE: My friend has been living from hand to mouth on his savings from his last job.
live high off/on the hog
MEANING: have the best of everything, live in great comfort
EXAMPLE: My mother and father have been living high on the hog since they won the lottery.
MEANING: have lots of money
EXAMPLE: My uncle is loaded and always has lots of money.
lose your shirt
MEANING: lose all or most of your money
EXAMPLE: I lost my shirt in a business venture and now I have no money.
make a bundle
MEANING: make a lot of money
EXAMPLE: I made a bundle on the stock market and have since bought a house.
make a killing
MEANING: make a large amount of money
EXAMPLE: My sister made a killing when she worked overseas in the oil industry.
make a living
MEANING: earn enough money to live
EXAMPLE: If you want to make a good living it is necessary to get a good education.
make ends meet
MEANING: have enough money to pay your bills
EXAMPLE: I have been having trouble making ends meet because the rent for my apartment is too high.
make money hand over fist
MEANING: fast and in large amounts
EXAMPLE: My cousin has been making money hand over fist with her business.
MEANING: be serious
EXAMPLE: Our boss means business when he tells everyone to try and work harder.
money to burn
MEANING: very much money, more money than is needed
EXAMPLE: My aunt has money to burn and is always travelling somewhere.
MEANING: money someone has saved up
EXAMPLE: I made a nice nest egg when I was working and I am now able to go to school.
MEANING: an accountant, someone who works with numbers
EXAMPLE: Our president is a good number-cruncher and understands about the finances of our company.
on a dime
MEANING: in a very small space
EXAMPLE: I had to turn my car on a dime when I entered the parking lot.
on a shoestring
MEANING: with little money to spend, on a very low budget
EXAMPLE: He started his business on a shoestring but now it is very successful.
MEANING: in one’s possession, ready
EXAMPLE: We didn’t have any supplies on hand and were unable to finish the job.
on the block
MEANING: for sale
EXAMPLE: As soon as they purchased the company they began to put some of the equipment on the block.
on the house
MEANING: paid for by the owner
EXAMPLE: We went to the restaurant and all of the refreshments were on the house.
pad the bill
MEANING: add false expenses to a bill
EXAMPLE: The plumber who was fixing our plumbing system was padding the bill so we got another plumber.
pass the buck
MEANING: make another person decide something, put the duty or blame on someone else
EXAMPLE: The foreman is always passing the buck and will never take responsibility for anything that he does.
pay an arm and a leg for something
MEANING: pay a high price for something
EXAMPLE: I paid an arm and a leg for my car but I am not very happy with it.
MEANING: a valuable discovery, the dirt in which much gold is found
EXAMPLE: We hit pay dirt when we got the rights to distribute the new product.
pay off 1
MEANING: pay and discharge from a job
EXAMPLE: The company paid off their employees and shut down for the winter.
EXAMPLE: The mayor received a pay-off and was forced to resign from his position.
pay through the nose
MEANING: pay at a very high price, pay too much
EXAMPLE: I paid through the nose when I had to buy gasoline in the small town.
penny for your thoughts
MEANING: tell someone what you are thinking about
EXAMPLE: “I will give you a penny for your thoughts”, I said to my friend who was looking out of the window.
penny-wise and pound foolish
MEANING: wise or careful in small things to the costly neglect of important things
EXAMPLE: My friend is penny-wise and pound foolish and economizes on small things but wastes all of his money on big things.
pick up the tab
MEANING: pay the bill
EXAMPLE: I picked up the tab for my sister and her three children at the restaurant.
piece/slice of the action
MEANING: a share in the activity or the profits of something
EXAMPLE: The inventor wanted a large piece of the action of the profits from the new computer that he had invented.
MEANING: a small bank, sometimes in the shape of a pig for saving coins
EXAMPLE: The small boy saved up much money in his piggy bank.
MEANING: be careful with money, be thrifty
EXAMPLE: My grandmother always pinches pennies and will never spend her money foolishly.
EXAMPLE: I had to pony up a lot of money to pay to get my car repaired.
put in your two cents
MEANING: give your opinion
EXAMPLE: I stood up in the meeting and put in my two cents before I was asked to sit down.
MEANING: money earned quickly and easily (and sometimes dishonestly)
EXAMPLE: The company is only interested in making a quick buck and is not at all interested in quality.
MEANING: a promise to repeat an invitation at a later date
EXAMPLE: I decided to take a rain check and go to the restaurant another time.
rake in the money
MEANING: make a lot of money
EXAMPLE: We have been raking in the money at our restaurant and will soon be able to go on a long holiday.
MEANING: the smallest coin, a trivial sum of money
EXAMPLE: I wouldn’t give a red cent for my neighbor’s car.
MEANING: debt (red ink on a financial statement)
EXAMPLE: The automobile company has been drowning in red ink since the US dollar began to rise.
MEANING: not have enough in quantity
EXAMPLE: They ran short of gasoline at the gas station and had to close early.
saddled with debt
MEANING: burdened with debt
EXAMPLE: Our sister company is saddled with a great amount of debt and should be sold as soon as possible.
MEANING: save money
EXAMPLE: My father’s uncle salted away thousands of dollars before he died.
MEANING: gather small amounts of money (usually with some difficulty) for something
EXAMPLE: We scraped together some money and bought a present for my mother.
sell like hotcakes
MEANING: sell very quickly
EXAMPLE: The children’s toys were selling like hotcakes at the end of the year.
MEANING: sell all of a product
EXAMPLE: Every year at least one company sells out all of their products which frustrates many customers.
set one back
EXAMPLE: My friend asked me how much my new coat had set me back.
EXAMPLE: My father shelled out a lot of money to get his house painted.
splurge on something
MEANING: spend more money than one might ordinarily spend
EXAMPLE: We decided to splurge and go to a nice restaurant for dinner.
MEANING: having no money, penniless
EXAMPLE: His brother is stone broke and won’t be able to come to the movie with us.
strapped for cash
MEANING: have no money available
EXAMPLE: I am strapped for cash at the moment so I won’t be able to go with you on a holiday.
strike it rich
MEANING: become rich or successful suddenly or without expecting to
EXAMPLE: My grandfather struck it rich searching for gold but when he died he had no money.
strike while the iron is hot
MEANING: take advantage of an opportunity
EXAMPLE: 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 profit
EXAMPLE: We were able to make a sweetheart deal with our landlord and got the rent greatly reduced.
take a beating
MEANING: lose money (usually a lot)
EXAMPLE: y friend took a beating on the stock market and has now stopped buying stocks.
take a nosedive
MEANING: collapse, fail, decrease in value
EXAMPLE: 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
EXAMPLE: The company took on many new workers during the busy holiday season.
MEANING: take control or possession of something, take charge or responsibility
EXAMPLE: The government decided to take over the bank after it declared bankruptcy.
MEANING: sell shares in a company to the general public
EXAMPLE: 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 inventory
EXAMPLE: The department store closes down for 3 days every March in order to take stock.
throw cold water on
MEANING: discourage, forbid
EXAMPLE: The managers threw cold water on the plans to close down the factory for one week in August.
throw money at something
MEANING: try to solve a problem by spending money on it
EXAMPLE: The president of our company is willing to throw a lot of money at the problem in the hope of solving it.
tighten one’s belt
MEANING: live on less money than usual
EXAMPLE: We decided to tighten our belt and save up some money for a holiday.
MEANING: twenty-five cents, a quarter of a dollar
EXAMPLE: The newspaper was only two bits a copy.
MEANING: to buy and then sell something to customers
EXAMPLE: The turn-over at that discount store is very rapid.
(not worth) two cents
MEANING: almost nothing, something not important or very small
EXAMPLE: The car that my friend bought is not worth two cents.
two cents worth
MEANING: something one wants to say, opinion
EXAMPLE: I asked the president for his two cents worth but he didn’t want to give us his opinion.
MEANING: plan, develop
EXAMPLE: I spent the weekend trying to work out the budget estimates for next year.
(not) worth a cent
MEANING: not worth anything, not of any value
EXAMPLE: That antique desk is not worth a cent although everyone thinks it is very valuable.
worth your salt
MEANING: worth what one is paid
EXAMPLE: Our secretary is worth her salt and is a great asset to our company.
MEANING: remove from a business record, cancel a debt
EXAMPLE: It was impossible for the bank to collect the money so they were forced to write off the loan.
Business English Idioms