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10 Business Negotiations Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Updated on September 25, 2012
Learn 10 of the most common English idioms used in business negotiations and gain confidence to close any business deals.
Learn 10 of the most common English idioms used in business negotiations and gain confidence to close any business deals. | Source

English idioms or idiomatic expressions have always been one of the trickiest topics for English as a Second Language learners.

This is because the real meanings of English idioms are so far off their literal meanings.

These real meanings are clarified to native English speakers through frequent English conversations that, unfortunately, not too many English as a Second Language learners get the chance to have.

To make things more complicated for English as a Second Language learners, idioms are used in business negotiations, which are often important meetings that businessmen hold to buy, sell, grow, or guard their businesses.

Below is a list of ten English idioms that are often used for business negotiations and with which English as a Second Language learners must familiarize themselves.

1. Sweeten the Deal

To sweeten the deal means to give an attractive offer to the other party during a negotiation process. This offer is very enticing, something that the other party may find irresistible.


The negotiators sweetened the deal by adding a 10-year warranty on top of the 10% discount on the purchase.

2. Rock-Bottom Offer

A rock-bottom offer is the lowest price that a negotiating party is willing to give for something. When an offer is at its rock-bottom price, then the price cannot go any lower.


The amount of $13.5 million is our rock-bottom offer for this mansion. Take it or leave it.

3. Put One's Cards on the Table

To put one’s card on the table is to be transparent in negotiations. When a party has put its cards on the table, then it is assumed that it is truthful and has nothing to hide.


We’re putting our cards on the table. We want to buy this company and put our own management team.

4. Play One's Cards Close to One's Chest

To play one’s cards close to one’s chest may be the opposite of put one’s card on the table. It is to be secretive, watchful, and guarded.


Our executives played their cards close to their chest when they were speaking with the executives from a competing company.

5. Play One's Ace

To play one’s ace is to use one’s best resources – abilities, funds, connections, etc. – or everything. Ace – considered the most powerful card – is used to signify the best resources.


One of our competitors is playing its ace to stage a hostile takeover of our company.

6. Hold All the Aces/Cards/Trumps

When a negotiating party holds all the aces/cards/trumps, it means that it has all the advantages during the negotiation process. Thus, it can negotiate well and is likely to win.


Honestly, they hold all the aces. They have the needed money, a large market share, and a great growth potential.

7. Play Hardball (With Someone)

People do play hardball (with someone) if they are acting uncompromisingly and forcefully. They usually act in a hostile way.


We have to play hardball with the buyers and not immediately grab their offer.

8. Go For Broke

To go for broke means to risk everything in hopes of getting something. It can also mean to try very hard or exert much effort.


The farmers went for broke during the trial. Fortunately, the law sided with them and granted them absolute rights to their lands.

9. Go Back to the Drawing Board / Go Back to Square One

To go back to the drawing board or go back to square one means to start everything all over again, signaling that the initial efforts were not enough and that something had to be restarted.


The board rejected our offer. We’re going back to the drawing board and improving on our last offer.

10. Close Ranks

To have closed ranks means to be united and solid, refusing to compromise during negotiations.


Our management had a rough time speaking with the union members. The union closed ranks and refused to agree on any terms that it thought unacceptable.

Copyright © 2011 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

English Expressions for the Workplace


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    • profile image

      Mehato Yamagata 

      7 years ago

      It's really great effort. I am thankful for your effort and time. It is great much help!

    • htodd profile image


      8 years ago from United States

      Thanks for the great post..nice

    • Larry Okeke profile image

      Larry Okeke 

      8 years ago from Enugu, Nigeria

      I've already voted this up and i don't do that unless i've read a banging hub. By the way, i love your picture too

    • kerlynb profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      @billabongbob Hello! Wow, thanks for visiting my hub. Oh I envy you! All these idioms are so natural to you. I'm trying to do what I can to learn as many idioms as possible :) Hope I learn all of them. They say there are more or less 25,000 idioms in the English language. Geez!

    • kerlynb profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      @MsDora Oh you're so welcome :) Appreciate the time you took to stop by my hub. I love figurative language, too. It's just that there are too many of them for me to remember :D

    • kerlynb profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      @WannaB Writer Hi! You're right there. There are many non-native English speakers wanting to pass TOEFL to get into foreign universities. TOEFL has sections that make use of idioms.

    • billabongbob profile image


      8 years ago from South Wales, UK

      Wow, I'd never really thought about these idioms this way and I use most of them myself. I guess I take these things for granted as English is my first language. There must be so many more idioms just like this that are difficult for people learning English as a second language. English is difficult enough to master if you've spoken and written it all of your life lol.

      Thank you, you've really made me think ;)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      8 years ago from The Caribbean

      Really good hub! I love figurative language. Thanks for the explanations.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      8 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Great hub idea. I'm sure it will be useful to ESL students, especially those trying to get an MBA.

    • kerlynb profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      Hi there! Oh I wish I can give you a syllabus about idioms but I don't have one :( Not to worry, I'll be writing up a few more hubs about idioms. Hopefully, they'd also help you out in some ways :)

    • asmaiftikhar profile image


      8 years ago from Pakistan

      Dearest kar my friend that is really a useful hub plz tell me something about e moderation and the syllabus plus requirements for this course.Thanks a lot and voted up!


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