I am teaching an English for Finance group course this week. A regular and popular feature of my finance programme is the extensive use of metaphors in business especially in business news reporting.

My clients love learning the different metaphors that can be used in Business English.

To start with, let’s define what a metaphor is. According to the Macmillan English for Advanced Learners Dictionary, a metaphor is “a word or phrase that means one thing and is used to describe something else to emphasise their similar qualities.
For example, the expression “cash flow” shares similar characteristics to water “flow”. In fact, money is liquid and there are plenty of metaphorical examples of the similarity between cash and liquid as highlighted in an earlier post.

In this post I want to focus on growth metaphors. This is a very common metaphor in business and finance. For example, companies put down roots, seeds are planted or sown, grow and then flower or produce fruit. Businesses can flourish and spread and profits are reaped.

As you can see, the images associated with business growth are that of land, farming, plants, and seeds, in other words, farming or agriculture.

I want to share 10 sentences that have words normally linked to farming that are used as growth metaphors in business.

1. All through the recession, politicians talked about ‘the green shoots of recovery’.

Photo: blog.ft.com

Photo: blog.ft.com

2. Our success is the fruit of many years of careful planning and market research.

3. Small microelectronics companies suddenly sprouted all over the valley.

4. They’re ploughing back most of the profits back into the business.

5. We expect to reap very substantial rewards within five years.

6. We’re going to weed out the less profitable items in the product line.

7. We’ve been rapidly spreading into other territories.

8. Financial instruments seem to be a very fertile area.

9. The entire company grew from one simple idea.

10. In this cold weather, the sales of scarves areĀ flourishing.


fertile – good quality land that can produce crops
flourish – to grow and develop successfully
plough (BE)/plow(AmE) – to dig land so that seeds can be planted
reap – to cut and collect (harvest) the grain crop
roots – the part of the plant that grows in the earth or soil
shoots – the first part of the plant to appear above ground or new growth on an existing plant
sprout – to begin to grow and produce leaves
weed – a wild plant that grows in an unwanted place

Like idioms, it’s very important to see metaphors in context, so read some business articles and highlight all the words and phrases associated to growth that are used metaphorically. Select a few that you think you could use naturally and practise using them in your daily life. Before you know it, they will become a natural part of your spoken and written English.

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Ciao for now.


Source: Financial English, Ian MacKenzie (2012) Heinle Cengage Learning

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