Idioms are not hard and fast rules of grammar. Instead, they’re verbal habits and preferences that have become ingrained in the English language after many years of repeated use. But just because they’re not rules doesn’t mean we can use them any way we choose to; in fact, idioms can be one of the most difficult subjects for students to handle.

The GMAT includes many different idioms, each of which adheres to its own specific rules. To prepare for idiom questions, take a look at the list of common idioms below, split them into two lists – those you know and those you don’t know – and memorize the ones you don’t know. It also can help to start reading every day, as idioms appear in almost every kind of reading material available.

Look for these common tricks on GMAT questions:

  • Consider, regard… as, think of…as: there is no “as” after “consider,” while both “regard” and “think of” need the “as.
  • To be/being: In general, avoid the construction to be/being because they are usually passive. To be/being are commonly used in junk answer choices.
Idioms

Idioms in bold tend to be more common on the GMAT.

A

access toThe company has access to large capital reserves.
act asTraining wheels act as a support system for beginning bikers.
allows forThe design of the robot arm allows for great flexibility.
as…asChocolate tastes as good as ice cream.
associate withHe associates beer with potato chips.
attribute toThe poor first quarter results are attributed to the restructuring.
a responsibility toThe CEO has a fiduciary responsibility to all shareholders.
a result ofThe recent NASDAQ decline is a result of higher interest rates.
a sequence ofThe misunderstanding arose from a sequence of unfortunate incidents.
agree withThe Democrats do not agree with the Republicans on many issues.
amongUsed when discussing more than two items. He was the finest policeman among the hundreds of rookies.
as good as/or better thanThe new software is as good as or better than anything on the market.
as great asThe house did not look as great as I had hoped after the flood.
attend to (someone or something)The emergency room doctor attended to the injured victim.
attribute X to YWe attribute the poor results to a total lack of effort.
attributed to YThe extinction of the dinosaurs has been attributed to an asteroid collision.

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B

based onThe results are based on a comprehensive ten-year study.
begin toHe will begin to study twelve hours before the test.
believe X to be YAfter seeing the flying saucer, I believe UFOs to be a real phenomenon
betweenUsed when discussing two things (if there are more than two, use among). He could not decide between Corn Flakes and raisin bran.

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C

care aboutHow much do business schools care about your GMAT score?
centers on + nounThe GMAT centers on the knowledge of basic math and writing/reading skills.
choose toThe number of students who choose to go to business school has increased in the last ten years.
consistent withYour good grades are consistent with your excellent GMAT scores.
contend thatHe contends that the GMAT has a cultural bias.
consider + nounHow important do you consider the test?
continue + toIf you continue to study, you will succeed.
contrast A with BIf you contrast peanut butter with jelly, you can see the difference.
convert toIf you convert to a Mac from a PC, you will have to learn how to use Windows.
compare A to BCompare to stresses similarities. The music critic favorably compared him to Bob Dylan.
compare A with BCompare with stresses differences. Broccoli is good for you compared with ice cream.
count on + nounHe counts on management support to help him finish his work.
concerned withThey are concerned with investor relations more than actual profitability.
conform toWhen you work at a new company, you should try to conform to its corporate culture.

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D

decide toWe decided to continue working on the project.
decide onWe decided on the new format for the lecture series.
depend onThe global economy depends on improving productivity.
different fromThe CAT is very different from the paper-and-pencil GMAT.
difficult toMany students find the CAT difficult to take.
distinguish between X and YDistinguish between domestic and international production.
distinguish X from YJuries must attempt to distinguish truth from falsehood.
depends on whetherOur place in the playoffs depends on whether we win tonight.

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E

to be + essential to + nounSpeed is essential to success in the Internet marketplace
except forHe did well on all sections of the GMAT except for the sentence construction questions.

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F

flee fromThe convict fled from the country.

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G

grow fromDell Computer grew from a start-up to a Fortune 500 company in less than fifteen years.
grow out ofNeedless to say, they quickly grew out of their first office.

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H

help + noun + toTheir direct business model helped them to grow rapidly.

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I

indicate thatDell’s recent stock trouble may indicate that their growth will not continue to be as rapid.
invest inHe is too risk-averse to invest in the stock market.
identical withHis DNA is identical with his twin’s.
in contrast toIn contrast to his prior statements, the candidate claims to support tax cuts.
independent fromThe Federal Reserve Board is supposed to be independent from political considerations.
indifferent towardsSome countries are indifferent towards animal rights.

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L

leads toRapid and unsustainable growth often leads to problems.
likeUsually used only for direct comparison: The school mascot walks like a chicken.
localized inMost Internet venture capital is localized in a few areas of the world.

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M

mistook + noun + forI mistook you for an old friend.
modeled afterThe judicial building is modeled after the Parthenon.
more than everCompanies demand MBA graduates now more than ever.

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N

native toThere is a unique business culture native to the U.S.
a native ofYou speak poor French for a native of France.
need toLiving in New York City is an experience everyone needs to try.
to be + necessary + toIt is necessary to get a high GMAT score to get into Stanford.
neither…norNeither Tom nor Sam has the necessary skills to finish the job.
not only…but alsoStanford not only has the highest average GMAT score but also the highest GPA.

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P

prohibit from + gerundYou are prohibited from using a calculator on test day.
potential toA graduate of a top business school has the potential to make more than $100,000 annually.

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R

range from X to YThe GMAT scores at top business schools will range from 650 to 750.
refer toIf you have any more questions, you should refer to a grammar book.
regard asWharton’s finance program is regarded as the finest in the world.
require + noun + toYou require a GMAT score to go to most U.S. business schools.
rivalry between X and YThe rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is one of the most celebrated in professional sports.
responsible forThe manager is responsible for seven entry-level employees.
retroactive toThe tax policy change is retroactive to last year.

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S

save forSave for William, no one else passed the exam.
save fromMany people use business school to save them from dull jobs.
so thatSo should not be used as an adjective: GMAT preparation is so … complicated. Use it with “that.” This guide is designed so that you may raise your score.
subscribe toBusiness school students should subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.

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T

tie toThe contract should be tied to concessions.
transmit toThe communications system will transmit to anyone within range.

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U

used + infinitiveJapan used to be the model industrial economy.
to be + used to + gerundAfter five practice tests, he was used to the GMAT CAT format.

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Once again, the most effective way to learn idioms is to familiarize yourself with them. Whenever you get an idiom question wrong, write down the idiom. Make a list, and memorize it. There is a finite number of idioms that could be tested on the GMAT, and with enough practice, you should be able to cover most of them.

Examples

1. When choosing a car you often have to choose (between/among) practicality and performance.

“Between” is correct. Use “between” to distinguish two things, such as “practicality” and “performance.” Use “among” for more than two things: “The five bank robbers divided the stolen money among themselves.”

2. A small order of French fries has (fewer/less) fries than the super-sized order.

“Fewer” is correct. “Fewer” answers the question “How many?”, while “less” answers the question “how much?” That is, “fewer” refers to things that can be counted (birds, airplanes, French fries, blades of grass), and “less” refers to things that can’t be counted individually and are usually referred to en masse such as pudding, water, or flour.

3. I prefer Mozart (to/over) Beethoven.

“Prefer…to” is the proper expression.

4. Timothy talks (like/as) his friends do.

This is one of the few instances “like” should be used in English. “Like” is used here as a direct comparison.

5. He was studying (in/at) a rate of two practice GMATs per day.

The proper expression is “at a rate of,” not “in a rate of.”

6. The joint-venture contract covers such questions (like/as) the division of profits and costs.

“Covers…as” is better here. “Like” should be used very rarely, only for direct comparisons (Joe looks like his brother).

7. Dan Marino is regarded (as/to be) one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play football.

The proper idiom is “regarded as.”

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