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Business – definition and meaning

The word business has several meanings, depending on its context. A preposition before or after it may also change the meaning of the word. The term can mean the activity of buying and selling goods and services, a particular company, a whole market sector, or to be away working. Additionally, it may refer to themes, issues, affairs, or situations that we need to address.

We use the term both in commercial, financial, as well as everyday situations.

The term comes from the Old English ‘bisignis’, which meant ‘anxiety, care, occupation.’ ‘Bisignis’ came from ‘bisig,’ which meant ‘busy, occupied, diligent, anxious, careful.’

The word gradually evolved into ‘busyness’ and then into its modern spelling with all its current meanings. Old English was the language of the Anglo-Saxons up to about 1150.

Some meanings of ‘business’

The buying and selling of goods and services: as in “They do not work in the public sector, they are in business.”

Business - the word has many meanings
The term has several business meanings. Not only do we use it in commerce, but also in everyday situations.

A company or firm. In other words, a commercial enterprise that buys and sells goods and services in the pursuit of profit.

Businesses, i.e., companies, are widespread in free-market economies. Private individuals own most of them. However, in some free-market economies, strategic sectors such as energy and transport belong to the state.



Out of businesses come products, services, and jobs. Most of what we buy comes from businesses. A lot of what we do is part of many types of businesses.

Although most companies are profit-making, some of them are not-for-profit. In other words, some entities have non-commercial reasons for existing.

A whole market sector, as in “It has been a bad year for the oil and real estate businesses.” Examples of different sectors are agriculture, mining, finance, IT, publishing, manufacturing, real estate, construction, retailing, wholesale, and transportation.

Compound forms, such as agribusiness, represent subsets of the word’s broader meaning.

To be away working: as in “Fred is in Japan on business.”

Patronage or commercial dealings: meaning to stop being a supplier’s customer. For example “After hearing about the scandal, Mary decided to take her business elsewhere.”

To describe levels of sales: as in “Business is good this year.” You would say this if sales have increased considerably.



A class of air travel: as in “John always travels business class when he flies. He says economy (coach) is too uncomfortable and first class is too expensive.”

Non-business meanings

A scolding, a telling off: as in “My mother gave me the business for not washing the dishes.”

To be serious: as in “I mean business.” (I am not joking)

A pet’s bowel movement: as in “My dog takes ages to do his business when he hears fireworks.

According to the FT Lexicon com, business is:

“The production, buying, and selling of goods or services for profit.”

Video – What is a business?

This video provides a clear explanation of the features common to all businesses. It takes the viewer on a tour of a toy company and explains how the staff deal with day-to-day problems. It looks at how we organize businesses, company structures, and their aims and objectives.