GMAT Prepositions and Idioms: a Potpourri

Prepositions in English display a powerful diversity of uses.  In the previous preposition article, we talked about the propositions “in” and “by”.  Here, we will look, at a four idioms involving prepositions.



A preposition must be followed by a noun — or by something playing the role of a noun.   This latter category includes gerunds and substantive clauses.

1) Most people worry about speaking in front of large groups.

2) The dictator was surprisingly indifferent towards whoever criticized his policies. 

In sentence #1, the object of the preposition “about” is a gerund phrase, and in sentence #2, the object of the preposition “towards” is a substantive clause.   Incidentally, both of these are exemplary of idioms involving these prepositions.


Indifferent towards

The word “indifferent” and its idiom indifferent towards are tricky.  The meaning of the word “indifferent” has absolutely nothing to do with the meaning of the word “different.”  The word “indifferent” means “having no particular concern, interest, or sympathy.” The word can have the connotation of “callous, unfeeling”, as when one is “indifferent towards another’s suffering.”  The word also can have the connotation of healthy balance and good emotional boundaries, as when one is “indifferent towards mindless criticism.”  The noun form takes the same preposition: indifference towards.  This idiom lends itself well to substantive clauses beginning with “whether” or “how”.

3) A student indifferent towards the niceties of grammar cannot expect to do well on GMAT Sentence Correction.

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4) In the Overland Campaign, Grant pushed relentlessly forward, seemingly indifferent towards how many man he lost.

5) The Viet Cong fought bitterly for three decades, indifferent towards whether their enemy was the French, the Americans, or the South Vietnamese.


Model after

This is a tricky idiom.  When we say to model Q after P or Q is modeled after P, Q is the product or creation that’s the focus of the sentence, and this creation Q was fashioned with some earlier product or creation, P, in mind.  P is the model on which Q is based.

6) St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York is modeled after the Cathedral of Cologne.

7) Beethoven modeled his Third Piano Concerto, in C minor, after Mozart‘s K491 Piano Concerto, also in C minor.

8) Many European intellectual landmarks, from Spinoza‘s Ethics to Newton‘s Principia, were modeled after the rigorous structure of Euclid‘s Elements.


Worry about

The word “worry”, in both its noun and verb form, idiomatically takes the preposition “about.”  An example with a gerund is given in #1 above, and this idiom also lends itself to substantive clauses.

9) The morning of the wedding, the bride worried about the weather.

10) Americans don’t understand probability: people who smoke a pack a day worry about getting struck by lightning!

11) Unlike other great American generals, George Washington frequently had to worry about whether he would be able to pay his loyal troops.


Dated at

This is a difficult construction.  Most GMAT takers are familiar with the word “date” as a noun, and probably are familiar with “date” as a verb in the sense of an amorous encounter —- a use of the word highly unlikely to appear on the GMAT! —- but fewer are familiar with the verb “to date” meaning “to determine the date of.”  This usage is common in academic writing, and therefore is common on the GMAT.  In the idioms to date P at Q and P is dated at Q, P is the historical event or object, and Q is always quite specifically a time —- either a year or period or anything else that indicated age.

12) Following comments by Herodotus, many historians date Homer at 7th or 8th centuries BCE.

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13) Current evidence suggests the Rigveda is the oldest book in the world: it describes astronomical events dated at 4000 BCE.

14) Paleoanthropologists debate whether human control of fire can be dated at 400,000 years ago, the age of the Homo erectus.



Know the idioms given in bold in this post.  As always with idioms, read, read, read!   Search for the idioms in this post in context.  You understand English best when you understand it in context.


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