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".
Businesses are established to perform economic activities. With rare exceptions (such as co-operatives, corporate bodies, non-profit societies and institutions of government), they are for-profit ventures. That is, one of the main objectives of the owners and operators of the business is to receive a financial return for their time and effort.
There are many ways to classify types of businesses. 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.
In most legal jurisdictions, the forms that a business can take are specified and a body of commercial law has been developed for each type. The most common types are partnerships, corporations, and sole proprietorships.