The language used in business and professional contexts is very different from the language used in social situations.
Business English has its own vocabulary and expressions that you will need to use and recognise in order to communicate successfully with your work colleagues, give instructions and understand your boss!
An office job will demand knowledge of the English words for certain office equipment, such as photocopiers, computers, fax machines, printers and items of stationery.
Business meetings will contain formal language. In work situations, it is important to be aware of polite ways in which to greet and leave someone.
It is also important to learn how to make appropriate comments to precede interruptions and to communicate agreements, disagreements and negotiations.
Office jargon is another area of business language that can be daunting and confusing, so you may want to check out our light-hearted blog post about this topic!
- Computer; computer screen
- Monitor; mouse; keyboard; space bar; return key
- Photocopier; fax machine; printer, telephone
- Pen, pencil, eraser (or ‘rubber’ in British English), desk, table, chair
- Filing cabinet
- Library; journal; periodical; instructions
- Paper clip; stapler; hole punch; drawing pin (or ‘thumb tack’ in US English);
- Notice board; rota; shifts
- Water fountain; coffee machine; lunch break
- Suit; tie; uniform
Internet, PC, e-mail, monitor; mouse; keyboard; computer program; database; spreadsheet; word processor; software; hardware; content management system (CMS)
- Dispatch; goods; services
- Redundant; pay cut; disciplinary
- Salary; wages,
- Pension, redundancy payout, retirement
- Debt; profit; turnover; loan
- Curriculum vitae (CV); resume
- Appraisal; review; pay rise; promotion
- Meeting; conference; agenda; minutes
- Memorandum (memo); contract;
- Manager; supervisor; workers
- Health and Safety
- PA (personal assistant)
- PR (public relations)
- RRP (recommended retail price)
- to delegate
- to manage
- to supervise
- to oversee
Useful everyday English phrases for work
Business English also extends to the kind of language you use in the office to talk to colleagues. At work, we often use more formal English than at home. Here are some examples of phrases to use in formal situations at work:
Greeting in person:
Hello, nice to met you
Good morning, how are you?
Saying goodbye in person
Goodbye, it’s been nice meeting you
Goodbye, I hope to see you again soon
Greeting on the telephone
Hello, (insert your name) speaking. (e.g. ‘Hello, John Smith speaking’.)
Hello Mr X, it’s good to hear from you again. (In reply to their greeting)
Finishing a conversation on the telephone:
I look forward to speaking with you again soon
It’s been nice talking to you
Cutting a conversation short
I’m sorry, but I need to go (to a meeting) now. Would it be possible to finish our conversation later?
The language, phrases and vocabulary used in business meetings can seem very different from language in other contexts.
Business jargon is often used in business meetings. ‘Jargon’ refers to language that is specific to a certain topic and can be confusing for those outside ‘the know’. Business jargon includes many idioms, especially idioms related to American sport.
Many people find business jargon highly irritating – almost as irritating as business meetings themselves! Here are a few commonly used phrases used in ‘business talk’ in general:
“Let’s touch base” = let’s meet to talk about an issue (‘touch base’ is related to baseball)
“It’s a game-changer” = it is an idea that could be significant to change the current direction or way of thinking (again this is related to games or sports)
“It’s a no-brainer” = it’s an idea that is obviously beneficial
“Blue-sky thinking” = creative and imaginative thinking
At work, politeness is especially important in our dealings with colleagues.
Speakers of English as a foreign language may find it difficult to know how to politely refuse an invitation in English. Check out our useful phrases for dealing with business situations in a polite way.
Using Tenses in Business English
It can be useful to use different tenses to talk about yourself in the past, present and future in a business or work context.
For example, you may want to tell someone about your past achievements, current plans or hopes for the future. Example sentences using different tenses.
Useful English word partnerships/collocations:
- to hold a meeting
- to chair a meeting (to take charge of a meeting)
- to turn a corner (head in a new, more positive direction)
- to form a partnership
- to give a speech
- to take a pay cut
- to make / be made redundant
- to make/strike a deal
- to make a promise
- to issue/give a warning
- to fill out a form
- to attend a meeting
- to make a profit
- to be in debt / to get into debt
- to take out a loan
- to cash a cheque
- to bank some money
- to place an order
- to take an order
- to give an order
Confusing words in Business English
Some words in English have more than one meaning. Here are some examples of words related to business that have multiple meanings:
– (v) to form something (our of something else)
– (n) an official question sheet you fill out)
– when something is blown up with air (verb = to inflate)
– the rise in the cost of living/goods per year
– Regular, all looking the same
– Special clothing worn at work
– (noun) money, the amount of sales a business has made, usually measured annually.
the number of staff leaving and being replaced (emphasis placed on ‘turn’).
– (noun) a kind of pastry/cake, e.g. an apple turnover (emphasis placed on ‘turn’).
– (verb) to turn over: e.g. to read the next side of a page of a book or document.
– (noun) a free-flowing non-solid material such as water
– (adj) financial assets which are available cash and not tied up in
property or business
– a measurement of time, there are 60 minutes in an hour
– the written notes taken in a meeting to record what happens
Explore useful phrases to use in business meetings.