Common SAT Idioms Students Need To Know

What is an idiom? According to Merriam Webster, an idiom is "an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for "undecided") or in its grammatically atypical use of words (such as give way)."

In today's blog article, we will provide you with the common idioms you should expect to face on the SAT college entrance exam (we will explore the ACT test in Thursday's blog). Why are we focused on idioms in today's topic?

Well, these type of idiom questions on the SAT is different from the standard grammar questions you will be answering on the test. Idiom questions cannot be solved by applying a particular rule that you have learned.

Idioms require that you utilize your comprehensive understanding of English alongside with your knowledge of specific expressions. However, please note that concentrating on preposition-based idiom questions should not be your primary study focus - even more so if you are not a native English speaker.

Idiom-based questions do not have an underlying logic behind their answers. Simply put, they have particular answers because English has gradually evolved over time from one way to another.

For that reason, we advise that students focus on consistently answering all other types of questions on the SAT Writing and Language portion correctly prior to dedicating a significant amount of time towards remembering a lengthy list of idioms.

If this sounds like you and you are prepared to master idioms on the SAT now, read on!

As you will probably come across several idiom questions on the SAT Writing and Language section of the exam, we will present the foundational details about idioms and what you should be watching out for in order to help you raise your SAT scores. And as we mentioned earlier, read our blog this coming Thursday if you want the ACT version of common idioms to look out for!

In today's blog, we will be covering:

  • Concept of an idiom

  • Specify the popular type of idiom questions on the SAT Writing and Language portion

  • Present the best tactics and approaches to help you recognize and accurately answer idiom questions

  • Provide an extensive SAT record of idioms that will support your studies

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What is an idiom?

We provided a simple definition of the idiom earlier, an idiom is a noun or adjective followed by a proposition for a refresher.

They are phrases that do not follow common English rules. Each idiom, therefore, is special in its own way. To make things simpler, most students like to think of idioms as expressions that have metaphorical meanings besides their exact meanings.

Examples for you to get a grasp of what we mean:

  • "Cross your fingers" - for good luck

  • "I'm all ears" - you have my full attention

  • "It cost an arm and a leg" - it was expensive

The SAT will not be testing you on these conversational phrases. Instead, they will assess your understanding of two other types of idioms.

How does the SAT test idioms on their Writing and Language section?

The College Board will include questions for two types of idioms: prepositional idioms and idioms with gerunds or infinitives.

What is a prepositional idiom?

In order to answer prepositional idioms correctly, you will need to know which prepositions to use alongside a given word within the context of a sentence.

There is no regulation or rule that you should follow in order to correctly determine which preposition to use.

For example:

  • Say you are "interested in" something, not "interested at" something

  • Say you are "focused on" something, not "focused at" something

In most cases, you should be accustomed to expressions or count on what you think "sounds right."

For example,

  • I am looking after my keys. Has anyone found them?

Sounds odd right? There is no particular grammar rule being broken, but "after" illustrates a mistake in idioms. The correct answer should be:

  • I am looking for my keys. Has anyone found them?

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What is an idiom with gerunds or infinitives?

This second type of idiom focuses on verbs.

Gerunds are verbs that can be utilized as nouns and end with "ing." Some examples will be telling, swimming, and dancing.

On the other hand, infinitives are verbs used as nouns as well but are built by using the term "to" alongside a verb. Examples would be to tell, to swim, and to dance.

When faced with an idiom with gerunds or infinitives, you will need to determine which preposition to use and decide between a gerund or infinitive. In some cases, it may be acceptable to use either of the two.

For example,

  • I prefer getting up early in the morning

  • I prefer to get up early in the morning

Both sentences would be considered correct.

This is what an idiom mistake would look like:

  • The manager normally tends being worried on Mondays

The proper idiom usage would be,

  • The manager normally tends to be worried on Mondays

How can you identify idiom errors and correctly answer them?

The challenging part of idiom questions is that other grammatical questions on the SAT test obey special rules or patterns that can be used in all sentences. Idiom questions will assess your understanding and knowledge of idiomatic expressions and phrases.

It is not realistic to memorize a whole list of idioms; for ESL (English as a Second Language) students who have not been exposed to figures of speeches, remembering expressions will be even more difficult without a rule to guide them.

Despite this obstacle, idioms can be simple to solve because they simply depend on what ultimately "sounds right." As long as you are familiar with the usual idioms that appear on the SAT test, you will be able to recognize an error when you see one.

Things to remember for idioms with gerunds:

  • Although a gerund is a verb with an "-ing" ending, it does not behave as a main verb of the sentence and typically operates as the subject or object of a sentence

  • They do not usually require commas

  • Even though a gerund expression can work as the subject of a sentence, you cannot add an "-ing" to a verb in order to make it a noun

Things to remember for idioms with infinitives:

  • Similar to gerunds, infinitives and infinitive expressions are verbs that operate as nouns within a sentence

  • Infinitives are built of "to" plus the verb

  • They can either be the subject, object, or complement in a sentence

  • You would use a comma with infinitive phrases if it is being employed as an adverbial phrase presenting the main clause

Things to remember overall:

  • If you are given context for your idiom, try to comprehend the background information in order to grasp the idiom

  • Start collecting idioms in a journal or diary. If you hear or read one, write it down so you can look it up in the dictionary.

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The list of common idioms on the SAT

There are thousands of idioms in the English language, but it would not be practical to memorize them if they do not show up on your SAT test.

The SAT college entrance exam will most likely include the prepositional idioms or idioms with gerunds or infinitives. Therefore, the following list includes the common idioms for these two types.

It is important that you gradually become familiar with this list, but remember that it is not realistic to memorize them.

On the College Board's Official SAT Practice Tests

  • as a means of 

  • serve as

  • wait for

  • in order to be

Prepositional idioms


  • Worry about

  • Complain about

  • Wonder about

  • Curious about

  • Bring about

  • Anxious about


  • Defend against

  • Go against

  • Rebel against

  • Advise against


  • Regard as

  • Celebrate as

  • View as


  • Arrive at

  • Succeed at

  • Look at

  • Laugh at


  • Accompanied by

  • Confused by

  • Followed by

  • Impressed by


  • Known for

  • Meant for

  • Named for

  • Blame for

  • Ask for

  • Necessary for

  • Ready for

  • Tolerance for

  • Wait for


  • abstain from

  • different from

  • far from

  • obvious from

  • protect from


  • look into

  • inquire into

  • read into


  • engage in

  • in A as in B

  • interested in

  • take in


  • base on

  • draw on

  • focus on

  • impose on

  • insist on

  • rely on


  • argue over

  • rule over

  • talk over

  • think over


  • approve of

  • capable of

  • certain of

  • characteristic of

  • combination of A and B

  • deprive of

  • die of 

  • a fan of

  • in danger of

  • in the hope of

  • in recognition of

  • an offer of

  • on the border of

  • remind of

  • a selection of

  • a source of

  • suspicious of

  • take advantage of

  • an understanding of

  • a wealth of


  • able to

  • accustomed to

  • adapt to

  • adhere to

  • admit to

  • adjacent to

  • agree to

  • as opposed to

  • belong to

  • central to

  • come to

  • contribute to

  • devoted to

  • in addition to

  • in contrast to

  • listen to

  • object to

  • prefer A to B

  • partial to

  • reluctant to

  • reply to

  • see to

  • similar to

  • a threat to

  • try to (NOT try and)

  • unique to


  • bargain with

  • correlate with

  • familiar with

  • identify with

  • in keeping with

  • interfere with

  • sympathize with

  • trust with

Idioms with gerunds or infinitives

Verbs Followed by a Gerund

  • accuse of

  • admire for

  • allow

  • appreciate

  • capable of

  • complete

  • concentrate on

  • confess to

  • consider

  • delay

  • describe

  • discourage from

  • discuss

  • dislike

  • effective at

  • enjoy

  • escape

  • finish

  • forbid

  • imagine

  • insist on

  • permit

  • plan on

  • postpone

  • refrain from

  • report

  • resent

  • resume

  • stop

  • tolerate 

Prepositions Followed by a Gerund

  • before

  • after

  • without

Verbs Followed by an Infinitive

  • agree

  • attempt

  • choose

  • condescend

  • dare

  • decide

  • deserve

  • encourage

  • expect

  • fail

  • intend

  • love

  • mean

  • neglect

  • offer

  • plan

  • prepare

  • promise

  • refuse

  • scramble

  • seem

  • strive

  • swear

  • tend

  • threaten

  • want

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Common SAT Idioms Students Need To Know
7EDU Impact Academy 7 July, 2021
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