Business English expressions exercise part 1

People in business use a lot of expressions/idioms when both speaking and writing (e.g. 'my hands are tied'). If you are in a meeting or having a conversation in English, it can be very difficult to understand what the other person/people are saying when they use expressions. Which could result in you making mistakes or looking stupid/incompetent in front of the other people.

So, it's really important that you understand what these mean.

To help you to learn common expressions used in business English, I have created the below exercise. Through first deciding what the meaning of 5 different English expressions are and then adding them to a text, you'll not only understand what these expressions mean, but more importantly, you'll remember them.

Before you learn the five expressions below, you need to know that many expressions in English can only be used in specific situations (e.g. when talking about problems, when talking about your job etc...). So if you want to use expressions correctly, you must know what these situations are. You will also learn this in the below exercise.

After you have done this exercise, I would recommend that you do the second part of this exercise to learn more expressions used in business English.

To learn more business English vocabulary, look at our exercises in the general business English vocabulary exercise menu.

Part One: What they mean

In the first part, you will find five questions. In each question, you will find an expression in a sentence. You have to decide what the meaning of this expression is from the context of the sentence. There are three possible meanings below the sentence, only one is correct.

When you have chosen one meaning, click on the "Check answer" button at the bottom of the question to see if you are correct.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question which you can press/click on. In the first icon, , you can find extra information about the expression (e.g. in what situations it is used in, how it is used etc...) and a Spanish translation. In the second, , is where you can listen to the expression.


What does 'It's out of the question' mean in this situation?

Shop Assistant: 'Can I go home early today?

Manager: 'It's out of the question. We're very busy today and we need everybody here.'


It's out of the question:
(expression) This is normally used in business English when a person has suggested doing something and you tell them 'no'. But this is stronger than just saying 'no'. By using this expression you are saying that the thing the person has suggested 'will never happen' or 'must not happen'. So if you want to be polite, don't use it.

It can also be used with the meaning of saying that something is 'impossible'.

In Spanish: "estar fuera de toda consideración".


It's out of the question:



What does 'pull your weight' mean in this situation?

'Simon, people in your team are complaining that you are being lazy and letting people do things that you should be doing. You can't do this, you have to pull your weight.'


Pull your weight:
(expression) This is used to tell somebody that they are not working as hard as they should be on something and that they have to work harder. It is normally used as a warning.

When telling somebody they have to work harder, you use 'have/has to' or 'need to' in front of the expression.

For example:

'He has to pull his weight on the project.'

To tell somebody they are not working as hard as others, you normally use the verb 'to be' + 'not' in front of it.

For example:

'He is not pulling his weight on the project.'

In Spanish: "cumplir/hacer tu parte".


Pull your weight:



What does my hands are tied mean in this situation?

'I know you don't like this decision and I wish I could change it, but my hands are tied. I have no control over the decision.'


My hands are tied:
(expression) This expression is used to tell somebody that you are not able to change something you are telling them about. It is used in situations when the person/people are not happy with what you are telling them and they want you to change it.

Normally, the reason why you can't do anything ('your hands are tired') is because somebody more important than you has decided what you are telling them or because of procedures or regulations which have to be followed.

For example:

'My hands are tied. All customer complaints have to be passed to the human resources department.'

A similar expression to this is 'it is out of my hands'.

In Spanish: "tengo las manos atados".


My hands are tied:



What does dropped the ball mean in this situation?

'Sorry, it was me. I dropped the ball. I told him the wrong time for the meeting.'


Dropped the ball:
(expression) This is a commonly used way to say that you 'made a mistake' or 'did something badly' and often used in the past tense. Normally, this is used for serious/important mistakes.

For example:

'I dropped the ball. I should have checked the report before I sent it out.'

In Spanish: "dejar caer la pelota / hacer un fallo".


Dropped the ball:



What does we don't see eye to eye mean in this situation?

'We don't see eye to eye on what we should do next. Simon thinks we should tell the customer about the problem and I don't.'


We don't see eye to eye:
(expression) This is used to say that you and another person disagree on something. Normally, it is used you don't have the same opinion on how to do something (e.g. how to solve a problem, run a team etc...). Normally, you would follow this expression with 'on' and what you disagree on.

For example:

'Me and Simon don't see eye to eye on how to do the project.'

In Spanish: "no estar de acuerdo".


We don't see eye to eye:


Part Two: Use them

In the second part of the exercise you will use the expressions you learnt above to complete a text. In this text, a senior manager (Sally) is speaking to one of her team (Tom) about a complaint she has received on a project he is running/in control of.

When deciding which expression to use, look at the context of the sentence to help you. Click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

Sally:'So Tom, how are things going with the project you are working on?'

Tom:'It's going well.'

Sally:'That's not what I am hearing.'

Tom:'Oh really?'

Sally:'I've received a complaint about the project. Do you know what this would be about?'

Tom:'Would that be from Simon?'

Sally:'Yes, it is.'

Tom:'Let me explain the situation. About three weeks ago, Simon in a meeting with the customer. He forgot to bring a report that the customer had asked for to the meeting. I told him that can't make mistakes like that again.'

Sally:'He told me that on the project. The rest of the team is working very hard on the project and you aren't.'

Tom:'That's not right. I'm working harder than anybody else on the team on this. To be honest, I don't think that's the real reason why he complained. on doing parts of the project. He thinks we should be doing it one way and I think we should be doing it another.'

Sally:'To be honest, I understand it can be difficult managing a team. But I would like you to do something.'

Tom:'What's that?'

Sally:'I'd like you to share responsibility for managing the project with Simon.'

Tom:' . I will never run this project with Simon. Not only because he doesn't know what to do, but also because having two people in charge will make the project impossible to do.'

Sally:'I'm afraid you have to do it.'


Sally:'My manager's told me that you have to run the project together. , it's him who decides who is charge of projects, not me.'

Now that you know these business expresssions, do the second part of this exercise to learn more.


Now that you understand the meaning of the expressions and when to use them, practise them by creating your own sentences with them in English.