Business English: Definitions, Vocabulary, And More

Business colleagues in business attire converse in front of a laptop

You’ve probably heard the term “business English” during your studies, but maybe you’re unsure of what it means. English has been used as theinternational language of business for years, however, this doesn’t really explain what it means.
Read on to learn more about what business English is and when to use it.

A Simple Definition

Business English is a specialized part of English language teaching and learning that focuses on elements of English pertaining to commerce, trade, business relations, professional settings, and international language standardization.

While this definition provides an overview of business English as a concept, a few examples will be helpful to see how it might be differentiated from other broad concepts, like “conversational English.”

How Is It Used?

Business English can be used in a wide range of settings and formats. It’s best distinguished from other forms of English by the environment and way in which it is used.

Here are a few examples of when it might be used:

  • Business or International Meetings – This might include meetings within a business, meetings between a business and its clients, or even international and diplomatic meetings.
  • Professional Settings – While this is rather broad, it can refer to any environment in which professional language is expected. For example, a formal dinner between government officials may require the use of business English.
  • Negotiations – When two parties want to reach a contractual agreement, business English is the most common language to facilitate the negotiation.
  • Business Presentations – If an individual or group needs to present information to their colleagues, clients, or another business, they will likely present in business English.
  • Business Letters, Memos, or Other Documentation – Since English is the international language of business, most business letters (especially to and from businesses in an English-speaking country) use this form of English.

How Is Business English Different from Other Specialized Forms of English Learning?

Though we have provided a definition and examples of how to use business English, you may still be wondering how it is any different from other kinds of English. Naturally, since all forms of English fall under the same language umbrella, there is plenty of overlap.

However, there are a few key characteristics that help distinguish it as a distinct form of communication:

Vocabulary

This is perhaps the most important and distinguishable element of business English. This form of English often includes words, phrases, and idioms that are specific to business settings and formats. We will go into greater detail about business English vocabulary below.

Tone

Tone, both in written and spoken English, are very important in business settings. Business English is typically more formal and professional than casual, conversational English. This also has an effect on word choice and even grammar.

For example, slang, contractions, and other elements of casual language are not as common in professional English conversation or writing.

Business Vocabulary Words

Below you will find examples of common words, phrases, and idioms you can add to your business English vocabulary. Though not all of these will be relevant in every business setting, you will likely find that many of these terms apply in a wide range of business situations and environments.

30 Common English Words, Phrases, and Idioms for Business

Words Meaning
Clause A separate part of a contract.
Invoice A bill or summary of goods/services provided.
Trademark A registered name, design, or symbol that represents a business.
Agenda A list of items to discuss at a business meeting.
Branch One of several locations or departments within a company.
Authorization Permission to do something.
Headquarters The primary location from which business is done in a given company.
Brand Much like a trademark, a brand is a name, symbol, or design that distinguishes one company from the rest.
Feedback A review or reaction to a product, service, or action.
Phrases Meaning
Public relations The part of a company that works to maintain the company’s image with the public.
Dress code The rules for how an employee must dress in the workplace.
Market research Organized research into a company’s customers or target demographic.
Business plan A set of goals and strategies for the future of a business.
Balance sheet An outline of a business’ current income and expenses.
Start-up A new business.
USP Short for “Unique Selling Proposition,” a USP is a feature of a product or service that makes it stand out from the competition.
Null and void Without any legal effect.
HR Short for “Human Resources,” HR is the department within a company that manages various aspects of the employment process.
Cold call A sales call made to a business or individual without any prior contact.
Skill set The knowledge and experience required to perform a job or task.
ASAP Short for “As Soon As Possible.”
Going forward Indicating a progression of time from the present; similar to “in the future”
Idioms Meaning
Touch base Get in contact with someone, usually at a later time in the future.
To think outside the box To come up with unique and different ideas.
To get the ball rolling To get started.
Out of pocket Paid for directly
Brick and mortar The physical location of a business.
On the same page To be in agreement
Circle back Come back to discuss an issue after some time has passed.
Raise the bar Raise the standards that must be met to qualify for something.

Helpful Resources for Learning Business English

Finally, there are a number of great resources available online to help you learn business English. Here are just a few to get you started:

If you’re looking for one-on-one tutoring to help improve your business English, we can match you with a qualified teacher today. Click here to make an appointment for an introductory lesson!