4 TOEFL and 27 GMAT Idioms

How might idioms surface on the TOEFL and GMAT? Let’s look.

On TOEFL, in the listening section, you may hear idioms. Or, you could use idiomatic expressions on the speaking and writing sections–only if you can use them naturally and correctly. Using no idiom is better than using the wrong idiom. Get to know four idioms that have come up.

  1. “I’m broke.”  Be broke = not having money (used when one can’t afford to pay)
  2. “I’m in the black.” In the black = profitable (financially break-even)
  3. “The school was in the red.” In the red = unprofitable; operating at a loss
  4. “She’s in over her head.” In over one’s head = is deeply involved (has issues)

On GMAT, you’ll be tested on idioms in a different manner.

GMAT places idioms in the verbal section in sentence correction questions. Those types of questions give a sentence that has an underlined part and makes you choose between replacements for the part that’s underlined.

On questions with idioms, usually there’s an idiom that’s used incorrectly in the sentence and a grammar rule that’s broken. Look for the correct answer that has proper grammar and correct idiom.

Three principal errors:

  1. An incorrect preposition with an idiom
  2. Improper comparison
  3. Correlative conjunctions (Correlatives are a pair of short words or phrases though separated in a sentence such as either/or, neither/nor, both/and, not only/but also, rather/or.)

1. Idioms with prepositions:

Many of the idioms on GMAT have the wrong preposition (i.e. of, from, to, at, for, with) in the phrase. Pay close attention to both the use of the idiom and the grammar for errors.

Process of choosing the correct answer:

First, use process of elimination to catch grammar errors; after that, narrow down the multiple choices in the answers and look at the idiom errors to choose what makes sense.

2. Incorrect comparison:

Review comparison rules (more) how to compare things to each other, and be sure to look out for superlatives (the most) when 3+ items are compared. Often, incorrect phrases are listed in the comparison. Look for clues in a response such as a word like “more” to identify the error or proper usage.

The most common patterns that you’ll notice are the following:

  • compared to X, Y, (Compared to the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty is bigger.)
  • X more than Y (You study more intensively than she does) or a comparative adverb phrase (You study more productively than her,) Joe follows (verb + direct object) basketball +more closely than Matt does.
  • X is different from Y, (X/Y most often are replaced with nouns)
  • in contrast to X, Y (In contrast to Obama, Trump is a Tweeter.)

3. Analyze Correlatives:

  • Either x or y {join two nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or clauses}
  • Neither x nor y {join two nouns, verbs, adjectives, phrases, or clauses}

 

  • Both x and y               (yes x/yes y)       {for GMAT, often in parallel verb phrases, infinitives (both to come and to go), participial phrase, gerund (both coming and going)}             [not for linking independent clauses]
  • Not x but y (no x/yes y)
  • Not only x but also y (yes x expected/yes y additional) [Mozart was not only a renowned pianist, but also a phenomenal composer.]
  • Not just x but also y (yes x expected/yes y additional)
  • Not so much x as y (yes x less so/y yes more in degree of comparison)      {for GMAT, used for nouns, infinitives, gerunds, prepositional phrases}   [format: subject + do not so much + prepositional phrase x as prepositional phrase y]     [Obama is remembered not so much for his campaign, “Change,” as for his terms as President.]                   idiom: be remembered for

  • Between x and y {x and y are nouns or gerunds [-ing] on GMAT}               [The names Great Britain and the United Kingdom are often used interchangeably, however, there is a difference between GB and the UK.]              GMAT idioms: difference between, distinction between or distinguish between x and y.  [Atheists do not distinguish between being skeptical about God and disbelieving.

 

  • Just as x, so y {to connect two independent clauses}    [Just as Shakespeare was the greatest British poet, so Edgar Allan Poe was the best American poet.]

 

  • For every x, y (nouns) {idiom used in economic, math, political contexts}            [For every $100. spent locally on business, $60 will stay in the community. For every vote Newsom wins in Northern California, he’ll lose two votes in Southern California.]

27 Common GMAT Idioms

Study these not only for the meaning of the examples but also for the correct usage in context.

1. A debate over A debate over the ingredients in the dish went on and on.
2. Account for The grocer accounted for 270 items on the shelves.
3. Accuse of The assailant was accused of murder.
4. Acquaint with (someone or something) He is acquainted with Robert Frost and poetry.
5. A means to (something i.e. an end) The money-saving App is only a means to an end, financial freedom.
6. A responsibility to (someone) The new mother has a responsibility to nurse the baby every few hours.
7. A result of (something) The champion’s win is a result of his dedication to practice.
8. Ability to The quadriplegic has no ability to walk.
9. Act as The headmaster hired a substitute to act as teacher when the instructor was out with a virus.
10. Act like Teens act like there’s no tomorrow.
11. Afflicted with (something) He was afflicted with a pinched nerve in his spine.
12. Agree on (something) Let’s agree on resolving the issue.
13. Agree to (something) We agreed to the fund-raising campaign.
14. Agree with (someone) The mother agreed with her son on politics.
15. Aid in Athletic coaches aid in being a role model for sportsmanship.
16. Aim at something Be sure to aim at the bullseye to reach your target.
17. Aim to do something Aim to reach your objective before the end of the year.
18. Allow for The bus can’t allow for restroom breaks.
19. Amount to Elon Musk amounted to becoming a significant leader.
20. Appear to The star appeared to be too skinny in the movie role.
21. Are in danger of The glaciers are in danger of melting.
22. Argue with The police argued with the pedestrian over jaywalking.
23. As/as I am as productive as she is.
24. Ask for The team leader asked for support on the legwork.
25. Associate with We associate cranberries with Thanksgiving.
26. Attend to (someone) The grandson attended to his grandmother in the hospital.
27. Attribute x to y We can attribute heart disease in part to obesity.

To improve your grasp of TOEFL and GMAT idioms, look up more examples of the idioms in this post. For TOEFL, find ten idioms you can use well and memorize them. You could work one naturally into one of your speaking tasks (or independent writing task.)

Keep reading every day since the best way to learn idioms either for TOEFL or GMAT is to understand them in context.

Why Am I Not Improving English?

Woman Writing in Daily Planner

Avoid translating

  1. You are translating from your native language into English. That’s a big “no-no.” Avoid translating from your first language into English. You can speed up your progress in English if you simply focus on listening to English and catch the words you understand. Use the context to guess understanding. For instance, if someone says, “There will be a big shin dig this Friday night.” Imagine you don’t know the word shin dig. Don’t translate it. Just imagine what those words could mean in terms of happening on Friday night: a feast, a reception, a get together, a dance, or a dinner party.

 

  1. You are not practicing enough English speaking with a native. Dedicate enough study time to make advancements. Don’t expect to study English only a half hour per week and improve rapidly. Intensive language learning of a few set hours every weekday can expand your progress. When you do have a set study session in-person with a native speaker, don’t forget to speak. Sometimes, when you are conversing with someone in another language, it’s easy to just listen, but you won’t learn English faster if you don’t practice participating more in the conversation. So, the more you converse, the more you will learn to communicate better in English. If you spoke English just one time today, next time or tomorrow, try to speak two times. Of course, the more often you practice speaking, you can improve your confidence and your fluency in the language.

 

  1. You lack confidence in your English abilities. How can you improve in the language if you do not believe in yourself? Be confident that you are learning, and you will acquire more language skills day by day. Avoid saying, “Sorry,” if you don’t feel confident using English fluently yet with a native speaker. If you come across a new word/phrase/express, you can always ask a native speaker, “What does (~phrase) mean?” Just because you may not be familiar with idiomatic expressions or advanced vocabulary, you don’t need to apologize if you are not at the highest level. Remember that you are trying. Give yourself a break because you are learning a language. Keep trying your best, be confident that you will learn more and more. No doubt, you will learn more vocabulary as you progress to a higher level.

 

  1. You are not listening to a sufficient amount of English daily. Perhaps you do not understand enough of what you listen to. Let’s say that you comprehend only about 65%. This is particularly a concern if you live in a foreign country (a non-English speaking place) and do not have access to listening to speakers of English face-to-face. Solution: get a native trainer online or in-person, or listen to English on the web. Practice listening to English every day to train your ears to focus on words you already know in English and listen for word chunks, phrases, which you may be familiar with to comprehend the context. Avoid listening just for grammar. You won’t be able to attain fluency by picking apart a conversation through grammar points. Stop trying to catch single words. Neither will you be capable of advanced fluency if you are concentrating only on individual words in a dialogue. You need to listen for how phrases are grouped together in a pattern. You can listen to music, television, or movies to gain more fluency and understanding. Tell your ears they must listen to English phrases, understand English in context, and capture the bigger picture, the overall meaning.

 

  1. You forgot what you already studied in previous lessons. If you are not remembering your intake, then taking notes on what you learned during your study sessions will help you review and keep the knowledge fresh. For example, keep an English notebook for acquiring more information. In your journal (digital or paper,) you can take note of phrases that are new that you can learn. Then, try to use these new groups of words if you think of it in context. If you write down only the vocabulary word, you may not understand in the future how to use it in context, so try to catch an entire phrase. Later, when you review your notebook, the whole phrase will serve as a reminder of the meaning in context. Consequently, it will be much easier to recall. Furthermore, it will be a base for you to move up to the next level.

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