10 Business English Expressions You Need To Know | Vocabulary

Lesson Overview

Whether you are flat out, getting off track, losing your train of thought or banking on an early finish, these 10 essential business English expressions will help you sound natural and confident at the office!

Video Transcript
Section 1

Hello! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish!

English in the workplace. At work, in the office. Knowing the idioms, phrasal verbs and unique vocabulary that’s used in these professional contexts is so important! I’ll admit that there is a lot to learn there. But today I want to focus on some really common, very useful expressions that you’ll hear often at work and in these professional contexts:

  • At the office
  • With your colleagues
  • With your boss
  • With your clients, your customers
  • In interviews
  • Speaking exams
  • With your teacher or your university professor

If you haven’t already noticed, you’ll soon realise that the office is where idioms and English expressions go wild. At times it feels like people only speak using idioms and slang. So whether you’re flat out, getting off-tracklosing your train of thought or banking on an early finish, these 10 essential business English expressions will help you to sound more natural and confident at work.

Learning these expressions is essential and a fantastic way to hear them being used in context is by listening to audiobooks. I use Audible to listen to books all the time and I’ve teamed up with them to offer you a free trial a free audiobook for 30 days, so that you can try it out yourself!

I’ve been using Audible for years now but while I don’t often have time to sit and read a book, I can listen while I’m driving or while I’m going for a run or I’m waiting for the train. So they offer a really fantastic solution to keep practising your English and for this lesson, I’ve listed some fantastic books relating to business in the description box below. So you can check out my recommendations for Audible right there.

Flat Out

So let’s start with “flat out“. If you’re “flat out“, you’re incredibly busy, you have lots to do, so much that you can’t stop to have a break. I’ll be flat out next week because there’s a new shipment arriving.

  • I’ve been flat out all week, I’m exhausted!

In Australia where I’m from, we might also use “flat chat”. It’s used in exactly the same way to mean that someone is very busy.

Train Of Thought

Have you ever been talking about something and then completely forgotten what you’re talking about and why you’re talking about it. It happens to me more often than I’d like to admit but this happens when your train of thought gets distracted by something else. The clear progression of your thoughts are stopped by something.

So the expression that you’ll most commonly hear is “Oh! I’ve lost my train of thought! What was I talking about?” I’ve lost my train of thought.

  • My mum called and completely disrupted my train of thought.
  • Can I ask you a question? Just give me a minute, I don’t want to disrupt my train of thought.

Get Back On Track

Now if you lose your train of thought you’ll need to get back on track.

If something is on track, it’s happening as it should be there’s no problem at all. If something is not happening as you planned and you want to change it, you want to get back on track.

  • We missed the deadline last week, but we’ve just submitted the report now, so we’re getting back on track.
  • Are you on track to complete the report by the end of the week?

So logically, if something is not on track it’s not happening as it should be, then you’re off track.

Imagine this, you’re busy, you’re flat out, and you have to attend a meeting about a project that you’re working on. But the people at the meeting are not prepared and the conversation is just going everywhere! People are talking about their kids, what they had for dinner last night, any other issue except what you should be talking about. So you decide to interrupt the conversation and say:

  • We’re getting off track here guys. We’ve only got ten more minutes left and we need to confirm the marketing budget.

It’s used to say that a person or a group of people have become distracted from their main purpose. They’ve lost their focus.

That’s just like my aunt Mary actually, she does it all the time! She lives on her own which is probably why but her house is beautiful and she’s got the dogs to keep her company. Sorry, I’m getting off track!

Here are a few more examples.

  • It’s difficult to stay on track with so many disruptions, perhaps we should move to the conference room.
  • I don’t want to get off track, but we can all agree that the new marketing manager is difficult to get along with.
  • We should have completed the work by now, but the team got off track with some technical issues. 

This idiom also has a literal meaning. To get lost or lose your direction. To literally get off the track and here, a track means a path or a road. So if you’re off the track, you’re not on the road, on the path that you need to be on.

(To) Bank On

To bank on something means to bet that something will happen in a certain way. To be really sure or confident that something will happen. So for example:

  • I’m banking on Sarah to get a promotion, so that I can apply for her position.
  • Since it’s a public holiday on Monday, we’re banking on an early finish tonight.

It can also be used in a negative sentence, often advising someone against something.

  • I wouldn’t bank on it.

That means it’s not a good idea to assume that it will happen.

(To) Brush Up On

This is a phrasal verb, but one that’s idiomatic and it means to update or to improve your skills in some way. It can be used in any context really, formal or informal, but this expression is so useful in a professional context because sometimes it can be a little awkward or embarrassing to say that you don’t have fantastic skills in one area. Right?

But by saying that you need to brush up on those skills is a much softer way of saying that you’re not that good at something but you are willing to practise or study to improve those skills.

  • I’m brushing up on my Italian because I’ve got a business trip in July. 
  • I got the job at the publishing company! But I really need to brush up on my editing skills. I’m out of practice!

(To) Bring Something To The Table

So this idiom means to provide something that will be of benefit. Something useful. And it’s often used in a professional context to describe the skills or experience that someone brings to a team or to a company.

  • The great thing about Sam is that she brings years of management experience to the table.

See how the “something” in our structure is a noun phrase here. This is really common with this expression.

  • He brings excellent communication skills and award-winning design experience to the table.

But during a meeting you might also hear someone use this expression. What have you brought to the table?

And that means what suggestions or ideas did you And that means what suggestions or ideas did you bring to the meeting, can you offer to the people in the meeting.

(To) Bring Up

Now this is a very common phrasal verb. You’ve probably heard it before. It means to mention or introduce a topic. Someone can bring something up during a meeting, a call or a casual conversation.

  • I’ll bring it up with Stephanie when I see her next week. 
  • Our presentation is missing some of the key points. So I’m going to bring it up with the team tomorrow, we can spend some more time on it.

(To) Turn Down

Again, this is another common phrasal verb but it’s also idiomatic. It means to say no to something or refuse something.

  • They offered me tickets to the conference, but I had to turn them down because it’s my son’s birthday.
  • He turned it down because they offered him the promotion, but told him that they couldn’t increase his salary.
  • I applied for the position but then I found out I had to spend six months of the year living in New Zealand. So I had to turn them down.

Wing It

Now when you do something without planning or preparing for it, there are a couple of useful expressions that you can use. You can say that you’ll wing it“.

  • My presentation’s on my laptop, which I left at home, I’ll just have to wing it.
  • If you haven’t received the notes, you’ll just have to wing it.

Usually this idiom suggests that you didn’t really plan it to be that way but for some reason, you’re under-prepared.


If you do something that’s off-the-cuff, you’re doing something without preparing for it but you’re kind of comfortable with that you’re cool with that.

  • I wish that I was confident enough to make presentations off-the-cuff, I spend so much time planning for our monthly board meetings.
  • Paul won an award last night and made a fantastic speech totally totally off-the-cuff!

Well that’s it for this lesson, I hope you learnt some new expressions. Remember that these expressions are often used in a professional context but not only in a professional context. You’ll often hear them used in casual, informal contexts as well, so they’re good ones to learn and practise.

You guys know that I release new lessons every week, so make sure you subscribe by clicking that red button down there so you never miss one of my lessons! There are plenty of other video lessons right here on the mmmEnglish Youtube Channel for you to check out. Like this playlist here of English idioms and this one right here.

Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now!

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