You know your idioms, right? You’ve studied a list—indeed you’ve veritably pored over it (not pored through it!)—so you can distinguish, with the unerring eye of a seasoned grammarian, the nuances of (or was that in?) idiom usage. Then, in the midst of a question and a flurry of words, you blank out.
It is what I call list lull—the tendency for your brain to be lulled to sleep by an seemingly endless series of words followed (or not followed) by a preposition, and for you to be lulled by the false complacency that you have learned the proper idiomatic construction. For when you open the Official Guide, you are suddenly stymied, was it attributed to or attributed in? (It’s the latter).
To see if you truly know your idioms, I’ve concocted a nasty little quiz. Below are four sentences, each containing several idioms. You have to choose which idiom of the two (or three) is correct. Sometimes neither will be correct. Other times both will be correct.
Donning my math hat: If a sentence tests four idioms, and there are four different possibilities, the chances of guessing correctly are 1 in 256. So if you can answer all five correctly…well, you have a knack for (not towards!) idioms. Good luck!
1. The government decreed/decreed that anyone who dared to break/breaking the curfew be held accountable on/for their disregard of/disregarding the law.
2. Attributing the unprecedented drought to/towards changes in the solar cycle, the research team failed to account for /take account of the influence of any terrestrial culprits, namely our destruction in/of rainforests and our unbridled consumption in/of gasoline.
3. Prone in/to mistaking natural childhood impulsivity as/for attention deficit disorder (ADD), childhood psychologists are notorious in/for overmedicating children, creating a lifelong dependency on/towards certain medications.
4. To cite/citing the proliferation of smart phones as one of the chief causes of/causes for student inattention, many high schools are cracking down on/upon the use of/use in handheld devices by requiring that/requiring students to submit/submit to a metal detection test.
1. decreed that, both, for, disregard of
2. to, account for, of, of
3. to, for, for, on
4. Citing, both, on, use of, requiring, submit to