TOEFL Tuesday: Thinking Idioms

This is my first post about vocabulary in a while, so let’s make it a good one. We haven’t talked about idioms in other videos, so it’s about time! (Yes, that phrase is an idiom.)

Idioms are one of my favorite types of vocabulary to teach because they can be so frustrating when you don’t know them. They look like words you know, and you think you should understand, but if you don’t know the idiom, you’re stuck.

For example…

(to) bear in mind

There are a few meanings of the word “bear,” and they’re not all giant, furry animals. As a verb, “bear” can mean “hold” or “carry”. It’s not a very common word in that meaning. But even if you know that, you might still not understand this phrase. Carry in your mind? Even if all the words look familiar, the meaning of the phrase, “not forget,” isn’t very clear—especially if you’re stuck thinking about Winnie the Pooh.

So when you’re taking the TOEFL, bear in mind that some words might have secondary definitions, and may be parts of idioms, too. In other words, don’t forget that fact.

And for that matter, we have two other idioms today about the way you think:

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

(to) take [something] into account

The word “take” is one of the most interesting words in American English. Why do we “take” showers? Where are we taking them to? How about photos—why would we “take them,” and who had them before we took them? Clearly, it’s not a very literal word in many uses.

In this case, we really have to think about the meaning of the phrase as a whole. “Take into account” means to include a fact when making a decision. You can also say “take into consideration,” which means the exact same thing.

So, for example, as you study for your TOEFL, you should take your specific weaknesses into account. Use that information to make decisions about how much you study.

(to) get to the bottom of [something]

Of the three idioms today, this one is my favorite, and it is the most idiomatic. Imagine you have a problem. Now, let’s say the solution to that problem is to dig a hole. I don’t know why—just imagine.

When you finally figured out the cause of the problem, you would be at the bottom of the hole. You got to the bottom of the problem.

This idiom basically means that you figures out the cause or reason for a situation. You researched it and learned why.

So on the TOEFL, you might hear a student with a problem with his school payments. And maybe he’ll say to his friend, “I need to go to the financial services office and get to the bottom of this.”

Stay tuned for more idioms in future TOEFL Tuesdays!


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  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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