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.

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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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38 Responses to Idioms on the Revised GRE

  1. Sweta July 31, 2018 at 10:29 am #

    Hi Chris,

    This one’s from Magoosh flashcards itself: “Each decade has its own zeitgeist- the 1990’s was a prosperous time in which the promise of the American Dream never seemed more palpable.”

    Does “never seemed more palpable” imply that the 1990’s was the time in which the American Dream seemed the most tangible or achievable? Or does it mean that it seemed the least palpable during the 1990’s?

    Sorry, if it sounds a rather petty question but I get confused with such phrases? 🙁

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 1, 2018 at 7:43 am #

      Don’t worry– “never seemed more” can be a confusing term of phrase, and with good reason. In some contexts, “never (verb) more” could mean “did (verb) the least.” For example, you could say “the car broke so that it could only go five miles per hour, and it never went more quickly again.” That would mean that the car reached its lowest point of speed and never recovered.

      However, without a qualifying word at the end like “again,” there’s no chance that “never (verb) (superlative)” will mean “reached a low point. Instead, that pattern will always mean that something has reached a high point: the biggest/best/most ever. If you say you’ve “never felt better,” it means you feel very healthy, as healthy as you’ve ever felt so far. And in this sentence “never seemed more palpable” means the American dream seemed as much or more tangible and achievable in the 90s than it did at any other point in history.

  2. Aniruddh June 19, 2018 at 2:37 am #

    Hello All,

    Are the Magoosh Flashcards enough for words? Or do we have to refer any other list ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 19, 2018 at 5:03 pm #

      Hi Aniruddh,

      This is difficlut to answer, because whether or not our flashcards are enough for you personally depends entirely on your starting vocabulary. The GRE can include many, many other words than what is on our list (or any list) of GRE vocabulary, and that is why reading extensively is VERY important no matter what level your vocabulary is at. 🙂

      While studying vocabulary is certainly an essential element, try not to think of the GRE as a simple vocabulary test. There’s no specific number of words you have to learn in order to reach a specific score. In part, this is because the GRE tests English vocab in general, not just “GRE words,” and even then, there’s more involved! That being said, the flashcards, paired with practice questions and reading, can definitely be a fantastic tool in making a score improvement–there’s no doubt about that!

      So, work through the Magoosh flashcard decks, make your own flashcards of words you don’t know as you practice reading, and you will be on the right path 🙂

  3. Aniruddh Menon March 23, 2018 at 12:37 am #

    Dear All,

    I am planning for a Fall 2019 term. Is it too late to start preparation now for it ?



    • Aniruddh Menon March 23, 2018 at 12:38 am #

      Preparation for GRE exam , I mean.

      • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
        Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 23, 2018 at 9:19 am #

        It’s definitely not too late. Even the most competitive programs don’t usually require your GRE score until about a year before the start date of the program. And many only require you to submit your scores 3-6 months before school would start.

  4. Sheikh Jaber Nurani October 10, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

    would you please add more idioms such as anything but, nothing but etc. i found ‘anything but’ very difficult

    • Paula August 9, 2016 at 8:53 am #

      There is a GMAT idiom app from Magoosh that you can use to study idioms

  5. George October 7, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    Hi, Chris!
    I’m a non-native English speaker. I’m confused about the idioms on GRE. How can I acquire them? Are there any recommended resources? Thank you!

    • Dani Lichliter
      daniatmagoosh October 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi George,
      Idioms can be super tricky! Check out this article on idioms.
      Have a great day!

  6. Nandakishore September 2, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    “Anything but “is an other idiom which conveys “not at all”. If we don’t get that right we can’t come up with the answer. Such an important factor.

    Example: Out of his groundbreaking abilities he was called a behemoth coder, usually desk-bound and was treated as anything but fool by fellow mates. He was not at all cosier ed as a fool.

    Whereas “Everything but” is quite literal which means “everything except”.

  7. Aman July 25, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

    Here is one idiom which is becoming frequent in GRE :For all
    This Idiom could be replaced with despite

    eg: For all Chris’s warning on the text completion traps ,students performed _______
    Now read this with despite
    Despite Chris’s warning on the text completion traps ,students performed _______


    Would be coming up with more….

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

      That is the correct use! Keep it up :).

      • Sriram July 20, 2014 at 4:19 am #

        Aman,”For all” indeed works as a sentence reverser. Its mentioned in the TC&SE volume of Manhattan-GRE (Volume 7/8)

  8. satish July 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Can you please suggest if the following link (consisting of Princeton Review’s wordlist) will be apposite as vocabulary for the revised GRE? Is this what you were referring to in your reply to Akshay?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

      Sure, the Princeton Review words definitely fall under high-frequency, so you should know them. And the quizlet format is an excellent way to do so!

  9. satish July 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Hi Chris

    I just cant believe the posts being put up here!! Its wonderful. Always feel like reading it than the textbooks of engineering. Thanks for sharing such a plethora of useful information…:)

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 25, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

      I am glad you find the blog so helpful! (At least I know that it’s more interesting than an engineering textbook :)).

  10. Akshay April 22, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    Hi Chris, the materials here are wonderful!
    However, I have one silly question, I will be writing the new gre exam sometime in June, is it necessary to go through the 50 word lists in the old Barrons (2008)? However I’ve been familiarizing myself with words on as mentioned in magoosh.
    Pls do let me know if theres a concise word list from where I can prepare. I just dont want to be chasing words that are archaic for the new GRE :)!!

    Also, is going through the word lists in word power made easy by norman lewis a good idea? I ve seen a lot of words from the its word list constantly appearing in the new GRE.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Hi Akshay,

      Good question :). There is no concise word list – perhaps Princeton Review’s Word Smart is the closest thing. Barron’s list, while vast, may not be worth the effort. First off the definitions are vague and that will hurt you when trying to understand how words function in context. Secondly, there are 3,500 words in there. You would be much better learning the words in Word Smart, of which there are half as many, but learning them using and

      Hope that helps :).

  11. Aman April 18, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Just to clarify the comma after did not would not have any effect?
    Ie is the meaning same as you told ( with or without a comma)

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 18, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      Yep, that’s right: the comma does not affect meaning.

  12. Aman April 18, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I went through some SC examples and found this idiom .

    “Did not ,in fact”

    Does it means the same as: Mark did not took his watch ,in fact he caught the one who took it.

    This is the sentence:The sociologist responded to the charge that her new theory was banal by pointing out that it did not ,in fact contradict accepted sociological principle


    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 18, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      A think an easy way of thinking about ‘in fact’ is to think of the word ‘actually.’ Therefore, the sentence reads “…by pointing out that it did not actually contradict…”

  13. Aman March 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Ya or use of they rather than it would do

  14. Muhammad Usama Khan March 30, 2012 at 4:01 am #

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

    “It” refers to whom? Rebel?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      Yes, you are right :).

      The sentence should read ‘rebel group.’ That way the ‘it’ is legitimate.

      Thanks for catching that!

  15. Muhammad Usama Khan March 30, 2012 at 3:56 am #

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

    Can you explain me?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      A simplified version of the sentence: He wasn’t partial to her cause, but listened to her points before disagreeing with her.

  16. Muhammad Usama Khan March 30, 2012 at 3:48 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Can you provide more idioms as it will make our sentence structure stronger and will help us to attain more marks in essay section.

    Muhammad Usama khan

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      Idioms alone will not help your essay score. Your general writing level as to be similar to the GRE’s standards. Inserting an idiom into a sentence may have a jarring effect. Think of it this way: the essay graders judge the essay on overall impression. They are not going to be impressed by an idiom here and there.

      For effective writing, focus on clarity of expression. Do not feel you have to use a fancy GRE word, when a more straightforward one will do.

      Hope that helps!

  17. Aman March 28, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Oh sorry hyphen… :d

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      Think of the dash as a colon: it elaborates on the information preceding it.

      Think of the dash as a colon—it elaborates on the information preceding it.

      Hope that helps :).

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

      However if you want to list out things use a colon.

      Aman used a variety of resources to prep: Magoosh, MGRE, the Official Guide, and quizlet.

      Also, a dash is not the same as a hyphen, which is used to link compound words together (don’t really worry about the hyphen).

  18. Aman March 28, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    Thanks a lot for the help …
    A bit of anomaly but can you tell me the use of -(hash) ….

  19. Aman March 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    This is a IMPERATIVE piece of advice and by no means FRINGE .Indeed would EXTENUATE things at the exams and if SEDULOUSLY done will always be EXHILARATING.

    Understood all but perplexed with notwithstand

    Would be helpful if you can illustrate the same…….

    : d
    Thanks Chris…….

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

      Hi Aman,

      I’m glad you are actively using words :).

      Here is an example of notwithstanding:

      Notwithstanding its efforts to curb spending in 2007, the government has become downright profligate in 2008.

      Now substitute ‘notwithstanding’ with ‘despite.’ They have the exact same function. So whenever you see ‘notwithstanding’ substitute ‘despite.’

      Hope that helps!

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