Idioms in English can be confusing for Indian and international test takers for whom English isn’t the first language. In this article we cover the basics and provide examples (idioms list) with sentence to show how they are used.
In the Sentence Correction section of the GMAT, you may be required to answer questions involving idioms. Native speakers usually find it easy to handle this topic, however for a lot of non-native speakers, idioms can be the Achilles’ heel.
There is no hard and fast rule or logic that can be followed to get the correct idiom usage. Idioms are to be used in to make a sentence sound grammatically correct. In fact, there are instances where a prepositions change in an idiom changes the course of the sentence. Idiom usage is about the usage of words that need to be used without omitting or modifying any part of it.
It would be a good idea to browse through a list of commonly occurring idioms in the SC section. This way you’ll be able to pick the right answer without much difficulty. Idioms would appear just the way they’re supposed to be. For example, ‘consistent with’ will be used in the same combination. You cannot use ‘consistent in’ or ‘consistent to’.
In many cases, you need to be able to identify the right preposition that needs to go along to make it sound right.
A few examples of idioms involving prepositional usage:
Consider the sentence:
They had a dispute ______ property.
If you are a non-native English speaker, you may be tempted to try out various options like ‘about property’, ‘for property’. However, the right usage is
They had a dispute over property.
We’ll discuss some variations of idioms and see how they can be used. In the following examples, note how different prepositions are used.
Example 1: decide to, decide on
She decided to go out for a walk.
(Make a judgement about something.)
I have decided on grey for the curtains.
Example 2: distinguish between p and q, distinguish p from q
Distinguish between p and q
Can you distinguish between fixed cost and variable cost?
Distinguish p from q
Can you distinguish fixed cost from variable cost?
Some words have to be used in combinations, they cannot be used in isolation; so take care that the right construction follows.
Not only…but also
Not only is he well-educated, but he’s also very polite.
Both David and Jill are attending the seminar today.
Not X, but rather Y
Some words are often confused. Consider the reciprocal pronouns each other and one another.
When there’s an involvement of only two entities, we use each other.
Mary and Ellie gave each other friendship bands.
One another is used when more than two entities are involved.
The students congratulated one another after the prize distribution ceremony.
Believe X to be Y
Researchers believe ultra-small bacteria to be the smallest form of life ever possible.
Other examples of idioms involving a similar pattern:
View X as Y
Prefer X to Y
Require that X be Y
Prohibit X from Y
As soon as I heard the news, I rushed home.
The fast food outlet delivers as many as eighty pizzas every day.
Here are some commonly used grammatical terms that you may find confusing.
Among or between:
Between is used when only two persons or entities are involved whereas among is used when the number of persons or entities is more than two.
It is difficult to choose between the white dress and the red one.
The teacher divided the cake among the students.
Like or such as:
Like is used for comparison or for showing similarity. Such as is used whenever you need to provide examples.
Your handwriting is just like mine.
My daughter enjoys books such as Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.