GMAT Idioms and Phrases: More Fun Than a Barrel of Monkeys

There’s a great deal of claptrap floating around on the internet that you don’t need to know about idioms for the GMAT.  Many websites broadcast the dubious message, “The GMAT no longer tests idioms,” and yet, the GMAT Official Guide is stuffed to the guppers with questions about idioms.  What’s the straight dope?

GMAT idioms

Let’s make a fine distinction here.   One sense of the word “idioms” connotes colorful metaphorical expressions, such as “claptrap“, “stuffed to the guppers“, “straight dope“, and “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”   These colorful expressions, while they pepper colloquial English, are quite informal, and thus have never been the focus of the GMAT. These idioms are definitively not going to be on the GMAT.  By contrast, another sense of the word “idiom” connotes the idiosyncrasies of the syntax of a language: what prepositions follow what verbs, or what combinations of words are or aren’t used.

For example, the words “able” and “ability” always take the preposition “to” — you might have an “ability to do something”, but never an “ability for doing something”.   These fundamental constructions appear even in formal language, and thus are very much part of what the GMAT verbal sections tests.  In this latter sense, knowledge of idioms is absolutely essential on the GMAT.

How to study for GMAT Verbal

If you want a good GMAT score, particularly on the Verbal section, you need to understand the basic parts of speech — verb tenses, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  You need to understand the more complex and exotic constructions — infinitive phrases, participle phrases, and various clauses.

For each verb, each adjective, each phrase, you need to understand what combinations, what accompanying prepositions, the syntax of English supports — in other words, you need to know the proper idioms.  This can be hard even for a native speaker, and can be very challenging for folks who speak English as a second language.  The more folks can read GMAT-level material, the more they will accustom their ear to the idioms they need to learn.

In order to know how to study GMAT verbal, it’s important to have a GMAT study schedule.  The Manhattan GMAT book on Sentence Correction offers a truly excellent discussion of idioms.   Here’s a free GMAT ebook that gives a valuable overview.  Avail yourself of the best GMAT books and resources available, and with practice, you can achieve the mastery you will need to have a successful performance on the GMAT verbal section.  Make use of all these resources and you will be in the catbird’s seat!

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