Idioms

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
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In this video, we are going to go through one of the most dreaded grammatical errors that appears on the test, and that is idioms. Many students hate these, particularly those who are not native English speakers, or those who did not grow up just voraciously tearing through book after book, and thus getting a ton of exposure to the English language. Idioms are a problem because there is not just one grammar rule you can learn to help you learn idioms.

There aren't even 100 grammar rules you could learn to master idioms. Idioms are just commonly accepted, correct phrases in English that have developed overtime, as the language has developed. So, there's no hard and fast rule for them, you just have to learn them. So let's look at some examples. He acted in accordance to the law, or in accordance with the law.

This is an idiom issue. If we are using the word accordance, and were referring to something like the law, or accordance with the rules or the principles, it should be accordance with the law, not accordance to. Or, Paganini is considered as, or considered to be, the greatest violin virtuoso of all-time.

We would say he is considered to be the greatest violin virtuoso of all-time, not considered as the greatest violin virtuoso of all-time. So again, these are just things that you have to know. But, on the exam, that doesn't quite help you if you don't know it. So my suggestion to you is that, when you're dealing with an idiom question and you know it's an idiom question, you typically have to go with what sounds right to you.

So read both phrases out loud. Of course you can't actually do it out loud on the test, but mouth the words. Pretend. It can really help your ear hear the difference. Now if you notice, all of these idiom issues deal with prepositional phrases. We have the proposition with, we have as, to be.

So if you see a proposition underlined, be very careful to check whether it sounds better than another preposition option presented to you in the answer choices. If you struggle with idioms, then I suggest you study, perhaps, the most common 50 or so idioms. And remember we're talking about prepositions here, not common expressions such as, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

You'll also hear people refer to these as idioms, but that's not what the ACT is testing you on. It's testing you on, really kinda, common, bland, connector phrases. And they almost always have prepositions in them, so that can be the clue to signal you to look for idiom issues. The good news is you aren't going to find too many difficult idiom questions on the test, but there are enough of them that you should definitely be aware of them.

So sound it out, go with your gut instinct on what sounds best. You generally don't have the time to be studying lists of 300 or 400 idioms in your test prep. And this is generally not the best use of your time and energy when you're prepping for the test. You just never know which one is going to appear.

But if you study a handful of the common ones, you will have better odds that these are the ones you might encounter most often. Now, a lot of the times you aren't going to be asked to necessarily find, or eliminate, an idiom that is grammatically incorrect, but to find the one that conveys, or changes, the intended meaning. So we're looking for one that conveys the meaning that is intended, or looking to eliminate one, or change one that actually changes the meaning of the sentence.

So, let's take a look at a test example to show you what I mean by that. So we have Wright's principles addressed ideas about the relationship of the human scale to the landscape, the use of new materials such as glass and steel to achieve more spatial architecture, and the development of a building's architectural "character", which was his answer to the notion of style. Which of the following alternatives to the underlined portion would NOT be acceptable?

So we always want to circle our NOT in capital letters to make sure we don't forget about it. So we're looking for what doesn't work. So that means that three of these choices should convey roughly the same idea as the original phrase, but one of them is going to change the meanings. So our original phrase is, Wright's principles addressed ideas about the relationship of the human scale to landscape, we're just gonna read to there, because this is a long sentence and that is enough.

Let's try answer choice A. Wright's principles addressed ideas for the relationship of the human scale to the landscape. That sounds a little different to me, and let's, let's check the other ones. Wright's principles addressed ideas regarding the relationship of the human scale to the landscape.

Okay, that sounds the same thing as about Wright's principles addressed ideas concerning the the relationship of the human scale to the landscape, and Wright's principles addressed ideas surrounding the relationship to the human scale of the landscape. All three of these are pretty similar to about. But, let's go back to that first one, now it's gonna sound really different, hopefully.

Wright's principles addressed ideas for the relationship of the human scale to landscape. So they're not addressing ideas for the relationship, they're not doing something for the relationship, they're addressing ideas about, or regarding, or concerning, or surrounding. So in this case, A is not acceptable, because it is an idiom.

It's a preposition that changes the meaning of the sentence. So quick recap, study only the most common 50 or so idioms, if this is an issue for you. Don't waste your time on a long list, memorizing long idioms, long lists of idioms because it's just, you just never know which one you're actually going to encounter on the test.

Read out loud. Now again, I know you can't read out loud on the test when you're actually taking it, because you'll probably get kicked out of the test center for that. But mouth the words. Mumble really, really softly under your breath. It really helps your ear, and when in doubt, go with what sounds right.

And look for prepositions, most of all, most of the idioms on the test have to do with prepositions, so that's what you want to be watching out for as a key word. And make sure to be thinking about how different prepositions might alter the meaning of the sentence. It's not always about what's grammatically correct, it might have to do with meaning.

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