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Everything You Need to Know About ACT Idioms

If you’ve ever been stumped by an idiom on the ACT, you’re not the only one. Preparing for questions about idioms on the ACT can be difficult because it’s not as straightforward as other aspects of your study routine. After all, you can’t memorize every idiom in the world. You’d end up missing your exam!

In this guide, we will explain what idioms look like on the ACT and offer up a few tricks to help you ace your ACT idiom questions.

What Are Idioms?

Idioms are basically expressions that don’t conform to the typical rules of a language. In other words, the figurative meaning of an idiom is usually different from the literal meaning of the words in the expression. You often need additional knowledge, especially cultural context, to understand the full meaning of an idiom.

When you think of idioms, your brain probably supplies conversational phrases like “break the ice” or “hit the hay.” However, these aren’t the types of idioms that appear in ACT questions. Standardized tests like the ACT and SAT will evaluate your grasp of different types of idioms that rely more on familiarity with English grammar rather than knowledge of colloquial expressions.

Types of Idioms on the ACT

There are 3 main types of idioms that appear on the ACT: prepositional idioms, infinitive idioms, and gerund idioms.

  • Prepositional idioms. Expressions in which a given word must be followed by a certain preposition. Ex: “The celebrity was accompanied by several bodyguards.”
  • Infinitive idioms. Expressions that contain a verb followed by the infinitive form (“to eat,” “to run,” “to sleep,” etc.) of another verb. Ex: “I plan to attend the meeting tomorrow.”
  • Gerund idioms. Expressions that contain a verb followed by a gerund (a verb that functions as a known and typically ends in “-ing.”) Ex: “He stopped playing basketball last year.”

For a more in-depth look at each type of idiom, check out our SAT Idioms blog.

How to Ace ACT Idiom Questions

It can be difficult to prepare for idiom questions on the ACT because idioms don’t follow any particular grammar rules. In order to know if an idiom is being used correctly, you have to be familiar with its usual structure.

Here are a few tips that will help you get ready to tackle ACT idioms.

1. Go with Your Gut

If an expression containing an idiom sounds wrong to you, it probably is! That’s what makes idiom questions both easy and difficult at the same time. When you’re familiar with the idiom that appears in the question, it’s easy to tell whether or not it’s being used correctly. But, even when you aren’t very familiar with the idiom, you can often still pick up on the fact that it sounds wrong. Go with your gut and try not to get stuck overthinking it.

2. Familiarize Yourself with Common Idioms

The best way to prepare for idioms on the ACT is to familiarize yourself with common idioms. Then, you will be able to easily recognize correct and incorrect uses of the phrases. You don’t need to memorize every idiom in existence. That would be impossible! Simply take time to review lists of common idioms and sentences that use those idioms.

3. Practice Answering Idiom Questions

Practice makes perfect! Try your hand at identifying incorrect uses of common idioms with practice questions. You can find lots of practice questions online and in official ACT prep materials. If you want additional practice, you can also try asking a teacher or tutor to create questions for you that are specifically designed to test your idiom knowledge.

Examples of ACT Idioms

Below, you will find a list of idioms you will be likely to encounter on the ACT. It’s a big list, but don’t be overwhelmed! You don’t need to worry about memorizing every expression you see here. That would be a waste of your valuable studying time. Instead, try to familiarize yourself with these expressions, especially the ones you haven’t encountered before.

A to Z Prepositional Idioms

The following are idioms that require a certain preposition:

  • A fan of
  • A model of
  • A selection of
  • A source of
  • A threat to
  • A wealth of
  • Able to
  • Abstain from
  • Accompanied by
  • Accustomed to
  • Adapt to
  • Adhere to
  • Adjacent to
  • Admit to
  • Advise against
  • Advocate for
  • Agree to
  • Agree with
  • Aim at
  • Amazed by
  • An offer of
  • An understanding of
  • Anxious about
  • Approve of
  • Argue against
  • Argue over
  • Arrive at
  • As opposed to
  • Ask about
  • Ask for
  • Bargain with
  • Base on
  • Belong to
  • Blame for
  • Bring about
  • Capable of
  • Celebrate as
  • Central to
  • Certain of
  • Characteristic of
  • Combination of X and Y
  • Come to
  • Confused by
  • Contribute to
  • Correlate with
  • Count against
  • Cure of
  • Curious about
  • Decide against
  • Defend against
  • Deprive of
  • Devoted to
  • Die of 
  • Different from
  • Draw on
  • Earned a living from
  • Engage in
  • Enter into
  • Excuse from
  • Fall in love
  • Familiar with
  • Famous for
  • Far from
  • Focus on
  • Followed by
  • Go against
  • Go by
  • Hear about
  • Identify with
  • Impose on
  • Impressed by
  • In addition to
  • In contrast to
  • In danger of
  • In keeping with
  • In recognition of
  • In the hope of
  • In X as in Y
  • Inquire into
  • Insist on
  • Interested in
  • Interfere with
  • Known for
  • Last for
  • Laugh at
  • Listen to
  • Look at
  • Look into
  • Made up of
  • Meant for
  • Modeled on
  • Move on
  • Named for
  • Necessary for
  • Object to
  • Obvious from
  • On the border of
  • Organized by
  • Partial to
  • Pay for
  • Prefer X to Y
  • Prey on
  • Principles of
  • Protect from
  • Read into
  • Ready for
  • Rebel against
  • Regard as
  • Reluctant to
  • Rely on
  • Remind of
  • Reply to
  • Responsible for
  • Rule over
  • See as
  • See to
  • Similar to
  • Strive for
  • Struck by
  • Succeed at
  • Succeed in 
  • Such as
  • Suspicious of
  • Sympathize with
  • Take advantage of
  • Take in
  • Talk about
  • Talk over
  • Think about
  • Think over
  • Tolerance for
  • Trust with
  • Try to
  • Unique to
  • View as
  • Wait for
  • Watch for
  • Worry about

A to Z Infinitive Idioms

The following are idioms that contain a verb 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

A to Z Gerund Idioms

The following are idioms that contain a verb or a preposition followed by a gerund:

  • Accuse of
  • Admire for
  • After
  • Allow
  • Appreciate
  • Before
  • 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
  • Without

Decode the ACT with Prep Expert

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