Historically, the term business referred to activities or interests. By extension the word became (as recently as the 18th century) synonymous with an individual commercial enterprise. It has also taken on the more general meaning of a nexus of commercial activities.
People establish businesses in order to perform economic activities. With some exceptions (such as cooperatives, corporate bodies, non-profit organizations and institutions of government), businesses exist to produce profit. In other words, the owners and operators of a business have as one of their main objectives to receive or generate a financial return for their time, effort and capital.
One can classify businesses in many different ways. Service businesses offer intangible products and typically have different, usually smaller, capital requirements than manufacturers. Distributors will have different inventory control needs than a retailer or manufacturer.
Most legal jurisdictions specify the forms that a business can take, and a body of commercial law has developed for each type. Some common types include partnerships, industry can consist of a group of related businesses, such as the entertainment industry or the dairy industry. This definition resembles one of the more general meanings of "business", and the terms business and industry sometimes appear interchangeable. Thus a fisherman might say either (more colloquially) that he is in the "fishing business" or (somewhat grandiosely) that he works in the "fishing industry". Similarly, the word "trade" may serve as an equivalent of both "business" and "industry": Victorians might despise those "in trade", and one can still refer to working "in the rag trade", for example.
This encyclopedia includes over 1600 business and economics articles, so not all appear listed here. This lists some of the main branches of business. For more specific topics, look at the various sublists.