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In front of you sits a big stack of GRE vocab words you want to memorize. How do you get all of these words in your long-term memory as quickly and efficiently as possible? You could just try to cram things into your head through sheer force and repetition. But in my experience, that’s too slow, and students often learn the word-for-word definition without actually processing what the word really means. I’ve had more than one student tell me that “obsequious” means “servile” without knowing what “servile” means… Read more
In a way, the environmental movement can still be said to be _________ movement, for while it has been around for decades, only recently has it become a serious organization associated with political parties and platforms.
The above sentence is a SE example from the 5Lb Book of GRE Practice Problems, #89. Today’s discussion explores a third element of sentence structure that is easily overlooked – pronouns! They can greatly help you clarify the meaning of a sentence. (And if you didn’t notice already, do you see what I did in the previous sentence? They – did this pronoun catch your eye?)
The challenge with pronouns isn’t that they are difficult to address, it’s that they are nearly invisible to us, because we have spent our entire adult lives ignoring them when we read and speak. As a test, how many pronouns have I used just in this short paragraph?
Here’s one way I want you to ‘see’ the earlier SE example:
In a way, the environmental movement can still be said to be ________ movement, for while it has been around for decades, only recently has it become a serious organization associated with political parties and platforms.
Stop mid-sentence, and address those ‘it’s. This mental exercise is not about finding the target, clues, and pivots, although you should be aware a pronoun could certainly be the target. This is about making sure you understand the sentence. Mentally, you should read the sentence as
While studying for the GRE Text Completion (TC) and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions, you naturally want to study vocabulary. After all, that’s what the test is testing, right?
Yes and no. The GRE does test vocabulary, but it also tests your ability to analyze a sentence and divine the author’s intended meaning. (And for those of you keeping score at home, did I use the word ‘divine’ correctly? Are you familiar with this less common usage?)
And so, we preach (sorry, with the word ‘divine’ earlier, I had to!) a method for TC and SE that involves identifying the Target, Clues, and Pivots in the sentence. All well and good, but how do you to this? Here’s where the following limited grammar discussion should help, because although the GRE does not directly test grammar, a little grammar knowledge can be immensely helpful!
We begin with the core elements that every sentence contains: the subject and the verb. Separating the subjecting and the verb from other elements (which I will generically call descriptors) is part 1 of my TC and SE analysis. Part 2 is matching each descriptor to what it describes.
So let’s see two examples. One is a TC example from Lesson 1, the other is a SE example from the 5 lb. Book.
There are some vocabulary words related to animals that you may have no reason to know if you don’t normally read, write, or talk a lot about animals. Many of them are conventionally used to discuss animals or come from talking about animals, but are then used in other contexts.
Here are just 15 examples of some animal vocabulary! Many of these words have taken on a less literal meaning outside of the animal kingdom.
- Fleece. Fleece is the wool on a sheep or similar animal. So when something is “fleeced”, that literally means to cover with something, as skin would be covered with fleece. For example, one might describe the sky as “fleeced with clouds”. Figuratively, to fleece someone is to shake them down for money – similar to the expression “taking the shirt off someone’s back”, it implies stripping them in some way, much like removing fleece from a sheep.
- Molt. When an animal molts, it sheds its feathers, fur, hair or skin to make way for new growth. It’s a regular part of most animals’ life cycles. Sometimes, the word molt can be used figuratively to refer to shedding parts of the past to make room to grow or change, generally in a positive way.
- Ferret. A ferret is a curious, weasel-y creature that can sneak into and out of almost any tight spot. To “ferret” is to search around for something, or to tenaciously seek something out and find it. You will often see it used with the prepositions “out” or “around”; you can “ferret around” a messy drawer or “ferret out” the facts of a case.
- Carrion. Carrion is the decaying flesh of a dead animal, often food for another animal in the wild. (It’s also a pretty great Fiona Apple song, if you’re looking for a great song and a good mnemonic all in one.) It can be used figuratively to describe something destroyed and devoured by something else: “The executive pounced on the carrion of the rejected interviewee.”
- Chameleon. A chameleon is a lizard that can change its color to blend in with its surroundings. It’s not surprising that “chameleon” is often used metaphorically to describe a person who blends in with a particular surrounding that isn’t natural to him or her.
- Fodder. Fodder is food, generally for livestock, generally referring to dried feed or hay. That’s the literal meaning. Figuratively, fodder is anything that’s used as material for the use of sustaining something else. “His terrible decisions were fodder for our office jokes” or “desperate workers were fodder for his offers for overtime.”
- Plumage. Plumage is a word for a bird’s feathers, particularly used when those feathers are colorful or attractive. It might be used metaphorically to describe someone’s showy or attractive outfit or appearance.
- Earmark. To mark the ear of an animal to show your particular ownership of it is to earmark it, as one might so with a cow or sheep. Thus, to “earmark” something is to designate it for a particular purpose or owner. An earmark is also a characteristic or identifying feature, much like the particular earmark on an animal would identify who owned it.
- Gadfly. A gadfly is any fly that bites or bothers livestock. Based on that definition, we now use “gadfly” to describe an annoying person, especially one who provokes others by criticizing them. I’m sure you have a gadfly in your office.
- Prey. Prey is an animal hunted or killed by another animal for food, and to prey on an animal is to hunt it and kill it for food. Metaphorically, to prey on someone is to seek them out and destroy them or take advantage of them. A payday lender could prey on needy customers, or a salesman could prey on your ignorance of car prices.
- Menagerie. A menagerie is technically a collection of wild animals collected for people to view, like a zoo. More loosely, it has come to describe a strange, interesting, or diverse collection of people or things.
- Minnow. A minnow is a tiny fish. “Tiny” is the important part here, as a minnow would often go unnoticed in the sea, and be easily replaced by another tiny fish. Thus, a “minnow” can also be an unimportant person or organization. For example, you could say, “Tom’s Office Supplies is a minnow in the office supply store industry.
- Feral. A feral animal is a wild animal. It is generally used to describe an animal that is usually captive or domestic, such as a feral cat or feral dog. It is used more broadly to describe an animal, person, or action that is wild, undomesticated, or untamable. For example, the feral child running down the grocery store cereal aisle might give you a feral snarl when you ask her to calm down.
- Fancier. Most of the time, a fancier is someone who breeds or is particularly interested in a certain type of animal. It can be applied to describe anyone who is a connoisseur or enthusiast of any particular thing, however; one can be a wine fancier or a fountain pen fancier.
- Flounder. A flounder is a fish that swims and lies on its side. To “flounder” is to struggle or thrash around or to squirm. It can be used literally, as in “the child floundered in the muddy water”. It is often used figuratively as well: “on the stand, the witness floundered, stammering and back-peddling to the embarrassment of his attorney.”
Many words related to animals (or plants, for that matter) can be reinforced by a Google image search to help you associate them with pictures. That is especially true of animal-related words that don’t really have any other meaning or implication, such as crepuscular, dorsal, fauna, equestrian, herbivorous, ewe, and ornithologist.
Can you think of any other good animal-related GRE words?
If you find it helpful to learn GRE vocabulary words in categories, here are twenty words that are related in some way to the fields of art and architecture. Because most of these words are very visual, a Google image search would be a good way to help keep them in your mind.
Many of the words below are used in non-literal ways on the GRE, so try thinking of them both literally and figuratively.
1. Gargoyle. Literally, a gargoyle is a gothic stone creature often used on the corners of rooftops as a gutter or water spout. Figuratively, it often just refers to a grotesque or scarily ugly being.
2. Upholster. Literally, to upholster something (usually furniture) is to coat it in fabric. Figuratively, to upholster something is to coat it evenly and liberally in something else so that the original does not show.
3. Patina. Literally, a patina is a thin coating of color or shine over something, particularly copper. Figuratively, a patina can be any sort of thin veneer or superficial cover on anything from someone’s words to his feelings.
4. Homage. Literally, an homage is a piece of work done in respect to or honor of someone else, often in the style of their work. Figuratively, the word “homage” is often used less seriously; eating Cheetos and wiping your orange fingers on your pants might be an homage to your dad, who does the same.
5. Pastiche. Literally, a pastiche is a work of art that mimics the art from another style, work, artist, or period. Figuratively, the word “pastiche” is often used to describe things other than art that are copies of someone else’s original.
6. Mosaic. Literally, a mosaic is a piece of art made from small tiles or similar hard material, such as stone or glass, arranged to form a pattern or picture. Figuratively, a mosaic could be any combination of items or ideas that come together to form a pleasant collective idea or picture.
7. Buttress. Literally, a buttress is a support of wood or stone that sticks out from a wall and holds it up. Figuratively, it’s anything that supports something else; a piece of evidence can buttress an argument.
8. Lattice. Literally, lattice is a pattern or trellis made of strips of a material such as wood or metal arranged in a criss-cross pattern, like a pie crust. Figuratively, a lattice is an interweaving of items or ideas into a more formal arrangement or a cohesive pattern.
9. Mausoleum. Literally, a mausoleum is a building, often large and stately, used as a tomb. Figuratively, it is often used to refer to a place that is quiet and “dead”, like a boring office or a party at which no one is having fun.
10. Chisel. Literally, a chisel in a sharp tool used to chip away or break something hard, such as wood or stone. Figuratively, to chisel away at something is to break it down little by little until it breaks or becomes what you want.
11. Monochromatic. Literally, monochromatic means having only one color or one family of colors. Figuratively, it could refer to anything that is dull or similar in tone, such as a boring piece of writing without any surprise or style.
12. Annex. Literally, the annex of a building is a part added to or adjoining the main building. (It also applies to the section added to a document.) Figuratively, to annex something means to add it on or appropriate it.
13. Labyrinth. Literally, a labyrinth is a complex maze. Figuratively, anything puzzling or exceptionally convoluted, complex, or difficult to figure out can be called labyrinthine.
The final words on this list are generally used only in their literal meaning.
14. Fresco. A fresco is a painting made in fresh plaster when the plaster is still wet, so that the painting is embedded in the wall. You might think of the many ways “fresco” is used to mean “fresh” to help you remember what a fresco is.
15. Frieze. A frieze is a band of painting or sculpture along a wall or ceiling, often displaying a story or an historical scene frozen in time.
16. Mural. A mural is a painting on a wall.
17. Papyrus. Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian paper made from reeds, which often has a beige color.
18. Minaret. A minaret is a tall, slender tower on a building, such as the towers on a mosque.
19. Plane. A plane is something level and flat, and to plane something means to cut it with a flat metal blade to make it evenly flat.
20. Parquet. Parquet is a wood flooring generally arranged in a geometric pattern.
Sometimes you’ll see a GRE word that you recognize, but won’t know what it means. If you recognize it as a brand name, but don’t know what it means, chances are it means something good: most brands don’t want to be named after something bad. (There are certainly exceptions: the website Gawker comes to mind.)
Here are 15 GRE words that are also brand names. Sometimes the brand name comes from the definition, and sometimes not. But maybe associating them with their brand will help you remember what they mean!
1. Kindle. To kindle something means to spark it, or light it on fire. You probably already know the word “kindling”, but if not, think of the Kindle e-reader, designed to spark your imagination with all your reading at your fingertips.
2. Hedonism. A hedonist is someone who seeks out pleasure. It’s often associated with the ideas of being overly focused on pleasure, particularly in relation to physical pleasure. A quick glance at the web page of Hedonism Resorts, an adults-only all-inclusive Carribbean resort with devil horns on its logo, might help you remember this word.
3. Lampoon. National Lampoon mocks things. It makes fun of them. The magazine has spun off movies such as “Animal House” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. Hopefully that will help you remember that to “lampoon” something means to make fun of something with sarcasm.
4. Intrepid. Intrepid means fearless. It describes an adventurer. So it makes sense that Dodge would want to name a car after that characteristic, considering other Dodge models include the Avenger, Challenger, Charger, and Journey. (The name Dodge itself is a family name – otherwise it would be a pretty odd choice for a company so interested in naming things after bravery.)
5. Amazon. Probably everyone knows Amazon as an online marketplace (and, of course, as a huge forest in South America). Jeff Bezos has said that he chose the name Amazon in part because he wanted his store to be “exotic and different” like the Amazon itself. The word Amazon refers to a strong, statuesque woman, as it was the mythological name of a group of women warriors. The forest is named Amazon because of the women who fought in battle there, but thinking of the website Amazon might help you think of something powerful and strong.
6. Balderdash. Balderdash is a pretty well-known board game where players must make up definitions of words and try to trick other players into voting for their definition over the real one. It’s well-named, as “balderdash” means nonsense. That’s exactly what the game has everyone writing!
7. Fiat. Another car makes the list. A fiat, by definition, is a decree. It’s often applied to an authorization of power. Fiat is a large Italian automobile manufacturer, and while the name wasn’t intended this way (it’s actually an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), I use the brand name to help me remember that the word means a decree. Maybe your fancy Italian car is a decree of your power, and your ability to do what you want because you say so.
8. Bazaar. Bazaar is a popular women’s fashion magazine, showcasing the best products from around the world. That may help you to remember that a bazaar is a large market with all kinds of eclectic and interesting offerings.
9. Fidelity. Fidelity means faithfulness and loyalty. What better name would you want for a bank? Even better, Fidelty’s advertisements use the full name, “Fidelity Bank and Trust”. Getting the word trust in there really helps cement the link in your brain.
10. Pedigree. Even if you’ve never purchased dog food, you probably know that Pedigree is a brand of dog food. It’s also a way of marking an animal as purebred through its ancestry records. Your pedigree is your lineage – in layman’s terms, a measure of how fancy you are. What a good name for a food product that’s marketed as a high-quality item for beloved pets.
11. Prudential. Here’s another well-named “Bank and Trust”! Prudential, like prudent, means making good and careful decisions, particularly relating to money or business. Who wouldn’t want a bank that does that?
12. Hallmark. Hallmark has worked very hard to remind us, with its gold crown stamp, that Hallmark is the type of card you send “when you care enough to send the very best.” A hallmark is technically a stamp on something showing its quality, but has evolved to mean any literal or figurative mark of quality. In other words, that gold crown stamp is the hallmark of an overpriced greeting card.
13. Finesse. Do you have finesse? I don’t, in life, but I do under my sink. Finesse is a brand of shampoo and other hair products designed to be delicate on hair and create beautiful results. To have finesse means to have a delicate, subtle, or refined manner in doing something.
14. Nirvana. Some of you didn’t go to high school in the 1990s, but for those of us who did, the word “Nirvana” is more synonymous with Kurt Cobain than Buddhism. Cobain reportedly picked the name because he wanted something “kind of beautiful or nice or pretty”. Nirvana is a transcendent state free of suffering, free of worldly worries and is often used on the GRE as a synonym for peace. When Nirvana frontman Cobain committed suicide in 1994 after a long battle with depression, the name took on an eerie meaning for many fans.
15. Essence. Our second magazine on the list, “Essence” is a magazine for African-American women. The essence of something is the indispensable quality that determines its character: the abstract or special quality that makes something what it is. It makes sense that a women’s magazine which set out to empower, inform, and entertain might want to remind its readers of the intrinsic, unique quality that makes them who they are.
What other brand names help you to remember GRE definitions? Share them in the comments — and be sure to like us on Facebook for more GRE fun!
I’m always on the search for fun and new ways to learn GRE Vocab. Well, “fun” might not be the right word, but learning vocabulary is easier when it is tied to things you already know and integrated into your daily life. If you can tie vocabulary to movie clips, song lyrics, other words you already know, or anything else that’s already stored in your memory, you can often remember the definition forever in a quick and easy way.
Here are ten famous quotes, either that you may already know or that you may find easy to remember, that can help you remember GRE Vocab words.
- Alacrity. Ambrose Bierce famously said, “He who thinks with difficulty believes with alacrity.” It’s an astute observation, concisely put, and makes quite a beautiful and poetic insult. It also helps you understand that alacrity means “brisk and cheerful readiness.” Try recalling this quote to describe someone it fits, whether to yourself or to someone else. It might just stick.
- Prosaic. You probably know the phrase “poetry and prose”; where something poetic is beautiful and flowery, something prosaic is practical and direct. When Stendhal said, “It is better to have a prosaic husband and to take a romantic lover,” he was setting up a great GRE Vocab learning sentence that not only shows that “prosaic” and “romantic” are opposites, but helps us understand the nuanced meaning of each word.
- Loquacious. “Loquacious” is in the GRE’s rather large toolkit of words that mean “talkative.” Here’s a quote for reflection: Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote, “Light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” Another great vocabulary learning sentence, as it clearly sets “loquacious” as the opposite of “dumb.”
- Veracity. Veracity means truth. “Truth in spirit, not truth to the letter, is the true veracity,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a great quote to have on hand when you get in trouble for not-quite-following the rules. It’s also a good one for remembering the definition of “veracity.”
- Paucity. Because paucity isn’t a word we often use, it’s often hard to envision it in a sentence. Consider Norman Miller’s quote, “The horror of the twentieth century was the size of each new event and the paucity of its reverberation.” It’s a thoughtful point, and it helps us remember the structure “paucity of (usually some good quality in noun form) ”.
- Maintain. Sure, we encounter the word “maintain” pretty much every day. But as GRE Vocab is wont to do, it often tests the second definition of maintain, which is to assert. Think of Dostoyevsky’s words, “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” That statement was his assertion, and whether you maintain that it’s true, it might help you remember the definition of “maintain.”
- Contrition. Here’s a word that’s mostly used today in religious contexts, for it means a feeling of remorsefulness and penitence. Its adjectival form is “contrite,” which is tricky because it sounds like it might mean “not trite.” I find it easier to remember the noun form of contrition. Here’s a helpful quote: “To err is human; but contrition felt for the crime distinguishes the virtuous from the wicked,” said Vittorio Alfieri. This quote helps convey the seriousness and meaning of contrition.
- Extant. “Extant” is a GRE Vocab favorite that I think I can confidently say I’ve never heard a person actually use when speaking, except in GRE class. Extant means existent, which is the word most of us would use in its place. Thoreau famously said, “There is always a present and extant life, be it better or worse, which all combine to uphold.” I find that the phrase “present and extant” sticks with me to help me recall this definition without much work.
- Egregious. I’m going to let Kurt Vonnegut explain this one, as he did in Deadeye Dick. “Egregious. Most people think that word means terrible or unheard of or unforgivable. It has a much more interesting story than that to tell. It means ‘outside the herd.’ Imagine that—thousands of people, outside the herd.” He’s right on both fronts. While the word “egregious” technically means “outside the herd,” it has taken on a bad connotation—standing out for doing something wrong.
- Capricious. The definition of this word has been with me since my mother explained that Capricorns are born in January, named for the god of Janus, who has two faces. (Maybe we just figured out why I’m a GRE teacher.) Capricious means fickle or two-faced, of two minds at once. If your mom wasn’t quite so vocabulary inclined, consider this quote from Benjamin Disraeli: “A consistent man believes in destiny; a capricious man in chance.”
Unlike Disraeli, I don’t believe that a consistent man believes in destiny, necessarily; at least not when it comes to the GRE. The consistent among us, men and women alike, know that careful study can always improve your GRE score! For these, and other GRE Vocab words, download our free GRE flashcards. 📝
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Some song writers really like their vocab! While you probably won’t pick up a lot of GRE words listening to Justin Beiber, here are just a couple suggestions where you might actually enjoy picking up some new vocab.
1. Tidal, Fiona Apple. A 90s classic, if you were a teenage girl in the 90s. Pop in a copy of Tidal on your drive to work and you’ll be exposed to words such as undulate, appeasing, embers, carrion, divination, acquaint, resounded, coercion, inversion, stifled, deviant, sullen, oblivion, cunning, condescend, abound, enrapture, wary, reverence, endeared, discern, oblige, covet, demeanor, contusion, adagio, intrusion, and endeavor.
2. HMS Pinafore, Gilbert and Sullivan. Okay, seriously, any Gilbert and Sullivan you can get yourself to enjoy is going to fill you with vocab words. This show alone has got saucy, frivolous, depraved, resigned, melodious, consolation, menial, pine, gallant, eloquence, pennant, sprightly, articled, tar, dictatorial, furl, scorn, domineering, tyrant, protrude, audacious, anguish, ignoble I didn’t even make it through half of the songs. And this might be the lightest on vocab of all the Gilbert and Sullivan choices.
3. Black on Both Sides, Mos Def. If you’re a rap fan, this is a fantastic album that you probably already have in your collection. If not, you might check it out if you want the chance to pick up words such as armament, sentiment, brandish, dispossessed, rivalry, saturated, infatuate, glisten, nemesis, scrutinize, staccato, vibrantly, apparition, odyssey, treacherous, testament, beneficent, manifest, reverence, temperament, firmaments, ubiquitous, ephemera, and flagrant, to name just a few.
or your bookshelf, or radio, or whatever. When it comes to remembering GRE words, it really helps to link them to something you know.
Here are just ten examples of GRE words showing up in shows, movies, or books that you might know. If you’re a visual or auditory learner, try searching for GRE words that are bugging you on YouTube to see if any helpful references come up!
It might be clear after working your way through this post that these references come from the perspective of a 30-something American woman. The references that come to mind for you might be completely different, but the sentiment remains the same “ link the words to things you know, and they’re likely to stick with you.
- Leery: If you’re the right age to remember Dawson’s Creek, you know that Dawson Leery was always worried about someone breaking his heart. To be leery means to be guarded or wary and not trust others. We knew you never should have trusted Joey, Dawson. She broke your heart.
- Wily: Why was Wile E. Coyote so darn obsessed with that roadrunner anyway? He certainly did try some clever, crafty, tricky, sneaky stuff. Maybe that’s how he got his name, since that’s what wily means.
- Plucky: If you’re between the ages of 25 and 35, you probably remember Plucky Duck from Tiny Toon Adventures. The word plucky means courageous, brave, and game for adventure “ and Plucky was perfectly all those things, always coming up with egotistical schemes where he tried to undertake some mammoth feat.
- Craven: In The Secret Garden, Master Craven is so afraid to face life after his wife dies that he locks up her garden, retreats from the world, and even avoids their ailing son at any cost. Perhaps he got his name because craven means spineless, timid, or fainthearted. Don’t worry “ he gets it together by the end of the book.