Idioms on the Revised GRE

Not even the 3,500-list can help you here. Idioms are expressions, turns of phrases, or a grammatical construction that carry their own peculiar meanings. These words show up often on the Revised GRE, especially in the Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions. If you do not know the meaning of these words/phrases you are likely to get flummoxed.


All but

This idiom has different meanings depending on what it is followed by.

If followed by a noun, it means “all except.” E.g.:

All but the luckiest men made it to safety.

If followed by an adjective or a verb, it means “almost; nearly.” Eg.:

The castaway had all but given up on escaping the desert island, when he looked up and saw a helicopter.

A perfect GRE score will all but guarantee admission into some institute of higher learning. 

The tenant was so angry he was all but seething at the mouth.


At once X and Y

This is a funny construction. It is intended to show that two totally different qualities are present at the same time or in the same thing.

His life story was at once sad and inspiring—he had come from the most impoverished background, yet he found away to become wealthy.

At once pioneering and derivative, her research draws on others’ work while expanding the theoretical domain.


By no means

This word pops up often in Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions. It is GRE’s way of saying ‘not at all.’

He was by no means partial to her cause, yet he heard her out before railing against her beliefs.

The Internet by no means augurs the end of face-to-face interactions but simply provides another medium for communication.



‘Indeed ‘is used to add emphasis to a preceding statement.

Chris has lost three foosball games in a row. Indeed it has been three months since he has won two consecutive games.

The old GRE is one of the most challenging standardized tests. Indeed, few people ever attained a perfect score.



This is a fancy way—and a cumbersome one—of saying ‘despite.’

Notwithstanding his laudable effort, he was unable to ever bowl more than 100.

The rebel group, notwithstanding earnest entreaties from the international community, continued to hold the besieged city. Indeed, it sacrificed its own members to do so.



Idioms are words or phrases that carry a unique meaning, one that offer does not accord with the word or words at hand. For instance, ‘notwithstanding’ = not with standing. At face value, you may be tempted to these words literally, which will lead you to misinterpret the sentence. Therefore, learn the meaning of idioms and how they function in the sentences, much as the six idioms above.


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