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 to The company has access to large capital reserves.
act as Training wheels act as a support system for beginning bikers.
allows for The design of the robot arm allows for great flexibility.
as…as Chocolate tastes as good as ice cream.
associate with He associates beer with potato chips.
attribute to The poor first quarter results are attributed to the restructuring.
a responsibility to The CEO has a fiduciary responsibility to all shareholders.
a result of The recent NASDAQ decline is a result of higher interest rates.
a sequence of The misunderstanding arose from a sequence of unfortunate incidents.
agree with The Democrats do not agree with the Republicans on many issues.
among Used when discussing more than two items. He was the finest policeman among the hundreds of rookies.
as good as/or better than The new software is as good as or better than anything on the market.
as great as The 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 Y We attribute the poor results to a total lack of effort.
attributed to Y The extinction of the dinosaurs has been attributed to an asteroid collision.

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B

based on The results are based on a comprehensive ten-year study.
begin to He will begin to study twelve hours before the test.
believe X to be Y After seeing the flying saucer, I believe UFOs to be a real phenomenon
between Used 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 about How much do business schools care about your GMAT score?
centers on + noun The GMAT centers on the knowledge of basic math and writing/reading skills.
choose to The number of students who choose to go to business school has increased in the last ten years.
consistent with Your good grades are consistent with your excellent GMAT scores.
contend that He contends that the GMAT has a cultural bias.
consider + noun How important do you consider the test?
continue + to If you continue to study, you will succeed.
contrast A with B If you contrast peanut butter with jelly, you can see the difference.
convert to If you convert to a Mac from a PC, you will have to learn how to use Windows.
compare A to B Compare to stresses similarities. The music critic favorably compared him to Bob Dylan.
compare A with B Compare with stresses differences. Broccoli is good for you compared with ice cream.
count on + noun He counts on management support to help him finish his work.
concerned with They are concerned with investor relations more than actual profitability.
conform to When you work at a new company, you should try to conform to its corporate culture.

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D

decide to We decided to continue working on the project.
decide on We decided on the new format for the lecture series.
depend on The global economy depends on improving productivity.
different from The CAT is very different from the paper-and-pencil GMAT.
difficult to Many students find the CAT difficult to take.
distinguish between X and Y Distinguish between domestic and international production.
distinguish X from Y Juries must attempt to distinguish truth from falsehood.
depends on whether Our place in the playoffs depends on whether we win tonight.

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E

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

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F

flee from The convict fled from the country.

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G

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

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H

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

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I

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

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L

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

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M

mistook + noun + for I mistook you for an old friend.
modeled after The judicial building is modeled after the Parthenon.
more than ever Companies demand MBA graduates now more than ever.

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N

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

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P

prohibit from + gerund You are prohibited from using a calculator on test day.
potential to A 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 Y The GMAT scores at top business schools will range from 650 to 750.
refer to If you have any more questions, you should refer to a grammar book.
regard as Wharton’s finance program is regarded as the finest in the world.
require + noun + to You require a GMAT score to go to most U.S. business schools.
rivalry between X and Y The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees is one of the most celebrated in professional sports.
responsible for The manager is responsible for seven entry-level employees.
retroactive to The tax policy change is retroactive to last year.

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S

save for Save for William, no one else passed the exam.
save from Many people use business school to save them from dull jobs.
so that So 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 to Business school students should subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.

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T

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

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U

used + infinitive Japan used to be the model industrial economy.
to be + used to + gerund After 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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