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Top Ten Most Common GMAT Idioms

UPDATE: You can find this blog and others about idioms in our new GMAT Idiom eBook!

On the GMAT, very few concepts are more daunting than idioms. There are several reasons for this. First off, there are literally hundreds of them to memorize. Secondly, and related to the first point, many are arbitrary. For instance, we regard X as, but we do not consider X as, or for that matter to be (see below).

Indeed, idioms have been known to change over time. A preposition that is considered (remember no ‘as’ or ‘to be’) barbaric in a formal context can, as long as it is bandied about enough, eventually be accepted as correct usage. Of course you do not need to learn the history of idioms, simply which idioms are likely to show up on the GMAT, especially in Sentence Correction.

Even then, not all 500 possible idioms are weighted equally. Some are more likely to show up than others. So without further ado, here are the top 10 idioms you have to know for the GMAT.

 

Require that X be Y

Correct: The new regulations require that prospective employees be
subjected to rigorous screening.

Incorrect: The new regulations require prospective employees to be subjected to rigorous screening.

 

Estimate to be

Correct: The fossils are estimated to be more than 65 million years old.

Incorrect: The fossils are estimated as more than 65 million years old.

 

Prohibit X from Y

Correct: The ban will prohibit those without adequate documentation from purchasing guns.

Incorrect: The ban will prohibit those without adequate documentation to purchase handguns.

 

Believe X to be Y

Correct: Astrophysicists believe the recent disturbances in radio transmissions to be a result of solar flares.

Incorrect: Astrophysicists believe that the recent disturbances in radio transmissions to be a result of solar flares.

 

Consider X Y (no ‘to be’)

Correct: Most musicologists consider Joseph Haydn the father of the sonata.

Incorrect: Most musicologists consider Joseph Haydn to be the father of the sonata.

Incorrect: Most musicologists consider Joseph Haydn as the father of the sonata.

 

X expected to Y

Correct: Tax rates are expected to increase next year.

Incorrect: Tax rates are expected to be increasing next year.

 

Not only…but also…

Correct: Idioms are not only difficult to memorize but are also easy to mix up.

Incorrect: Idioms are not only difficult to memorize but are easy to mix up.

 

Neither…nor…

Correct: Studies show that neither studying alone nor in groups is optimal.

Incorrect: Studies show that neither studying alone or in groups is optimal.

 

Just as…so too…

Correct: Just as caffeine can boost arousal so too can vigorous walking.

Incorrect: Just as caffeine can boost arousal vigorous walking can also.

 

Prefer X to Y

Correct: The blue macaw prefers lush tropical habitats to the dry climate found in the southeastern part of Brazil.

Incorrect: The blue macaw prefers lush tropical habitats over the dry climate found in the southeastern part of Brazil.

 

About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

8 Responses to Top Ten Most Common GMAT Idioms

  1. Maggie October 11, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Once again a superb post from Magoosh :)
    Chris, Can u please guide me on the idiom “attempt to” and “attempt at”? Are both of them correct , if yes then under what scenarios.

    Regards
    Maggie

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

      Hi Maggie,

      There is actually a subtle difference between the two.

      But let me start with the not-so-subtle difference: Attempt to VERB vs. Attempt at GERUND. (Though ‘attempt at’ can also be followed by a noun: his attempt at hockey failed).

      Now back to the subtle difference. If the matter is important/significant, then you want to use “attempt to”:

      Freud’s attempt to subjugate all of human experience under a simple tripartite structure may have wowed his contemporaries, but that model now seems woefully inadequate.

      Japan’s attempt to control the Pacific may not have been thwarted, had it decided not to provoke America into aggression.

      “Attempt at verb-ing”, which has a slightly more colloquially taste to it, might be more acceptable in sentences like the following:

      Mike’s attempt at lightening the mood was met with little laughter.

      Steve’s attempt at running a mile in under five minutes, hasn’t gone well so far: he can’t even break six.

      As far as the GMAT goes, I imagine the “attempt to” would be correct, since it usually employs more academic/important sounding contexts. That said, many of these idiom questions often have something else wrong with the underlined portion besides the idioms themselves, so don’t feel that you’re stuck if you are not 100% sure on the idiom.

      Hope that helps :)

      • Maggie October 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

        Thanks Chris for such a wonderful explanation.
        Sorry to bug you a lil more but…. So do I accept “attempt to” also correct with a gerund in gmat sc ? Please guide.

        Regards
        Maggie

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele October 16, 2014 at 10:28 am #

          Maggie,

          Glad that explanation helped, and I’d be happy to help some more :)

          “attempt to” verb-ing is 100% incorrect. The gerund will only show up after “attempt at”.

          Hope that clears things up :)

  2. Nick January 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Thanks, this is really helpful. I’d love to see any more you’ve come across.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 10, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Great! I am happy they helped. I will be doing a series of idiom related posts. Most will feature between 3-5, with example sentences. Stay tuned!

      • veeramani May 23, 2012 at 12:05 am #

        some one told me we can find a list of idioms in your website for download,but i dint find the link n as am non native english speaker i want to work on idioms n can u help me out

        • Margarette
          Margarette May 23, 2012 at 10:59 am #

          Are you signed up for Magoosh Premium? If so, it’s available as a link under the lesson video on Idioms :).

          Best,
          Margarette


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