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Rita Neumann

Idioms on the ACT English Test

The word “idiom” tends to make many ACT students uncomfortable. What does the word refer to, and how can it help you get more ACT English questions correct?

Simply put, an “idiom” is an expression, which consists of at least two words that naturally seem to “go” together. It is something that native speakers of a language can usually quickly recognize, but is often challenging for those learning English as a secondary language, or for those who grew up speaking an English dialect that frequently breaks conventional idiom rules.

Some common idioms are fun metaphorical expressions like “hitting the hay” or having “a chip on your shoulder.” A non-native speaker might be wondering why anyone would literally beat up a pile of straw or have a potato chip sitting on his/her shoulder, but we know that they are groups of unrelated words that take on new meanings when grouped together.

While the ACT will NOT be testing idiomatic expressions like those I just mentioned, there are two main types of idioms you might see.

Common Two-Part Idioms on the ACT


Not only … but also

Incorrect: Not only did we see the Eiffel Tower, but we saw the Louvre.

Correct: Not only did we see the Eiffel Tower, but also we saw the Louvre.

Between … and

Incorrect: Between cookies or crackers, I like cookies best.

Correct: Between cookies and crackers, I like cookies best.

As … as

Incorrect: Her hair was as pretty than my sister’s.

Correct: Her hair was as pretty as my sister’s.

Either … or/Neither … nor

Incorrect: Neither my best friend or I wanted to go shopping.

Correct: Neither my best friend nor I wanted to go shopping.

If you see one of these in a sentence, check to make sure the other half is present, as well! Keep a list of two-part idioms you encounter in your studies and review them whenever practice!

Idioms with Prepositions

The second way that the ACT will test idioms is when they involve prepositions. A preposition is a word that typically describes location. Many phrases in English are only constructed correctly when used with certain prepositions. These idioms also take recognition and practice to master! Here is a list of some of the most common:

  • Accused of
  • Acquainted with
  • Afraid of
  • Apologize for
  • Aware of
  • Believe in
  • Capable of
  • Committed to
  • Conscious of
  • Difference between
  • Encouraged by
  • Fond of
  • Guilty of
  • Hint at
  • In connection with
  • Interested in
  • Limited to
  • Opposed to
  • Participate in
  • Proud of
  • Similar to
  • Substitute for
  • Thank for
  • Tired of
  • Worry about

Limited to

Incorrect: Her experience was limited with secretarial work.

Correct: Her experience was limited to secretarial work.

Proud of

Incorrect: I am so proud for my brother!

Correct: I am so proud of my brother!

Afraid of

Incorrect: When I was little, I was afraid from monsters.

Correct: When I was little, I was afraid of monsters.

It can be overwhelming to attempt to memorize all of them, so try and keep a list of just the ones that you’re unfamiliar with. When you run into new idioms, write them down. Many students also find making flashcards helpful. On one side write the first half of the idiom, and then write the second part or the correct preposition on the back. Keep practicing and you’ll start to recognize idioms sooner than you think!


About Rita Neumann

Rita helps high schoolers find Magoosh, improve their SAT/ACT scores, and get into their dream schools. She earned both her BA and Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego, where she also studied Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Rita loves education and marketing, just as much as she loves vinyasa yoga and baking chocolate chip cookies.

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