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Think about your least favorite GRE vocabulary word. You know the one—every time you see it in your flashcards, you get that sinking feeling of dread. You always get this one wrong. You know it’s important, but for some reason, it just won’t stick in your head.
Okay, do you have a word in mind? Let’s conquer it—right here and now. Read more
Did you know that you can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GRE courses absolutely free? We’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here.
Your time is a limited commodity. Studying vocabulary for the GRE can be tedious and time-consuming, and worst of all…inefficient.
If you’re like most students, you flip through flashcards (either premade or hand-made) and quickly try to remember what was on the back. After a few dozen repetitions over a few weeks you probably remember many of them. But…you don’t retain that information for long, and you might not recognize the words when used in a slightly different context.
Vocabulary is a significant component of GRE verbal, but it’s not actually something that you should invest a significant portion of your time studying! That’s because there’s no way to determine which words you’ll see on test day – you might see a dozen of the words you studied, or you might not see any at all.
So, you want to learn as many words as you reasonably can between now and test day with the minimum time spent studying! Read more
In the previous article, we discussed two ways for non-native English speakers to excel at the vocabulary-based question types on the GRE. If English isn’t your first language, check out that article first, and try our two recommendations: keep a list of inconsistent or illogical English idioms, and focus on context as you learn vocabulary. Then, read onward for two more ideas! 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
So, in my last post, I discussed finding the core sentence, using punctuation to help us break a sentence into manageable chunks. We looked at two sentences; I’ve re-copied one of them below.
The director’s commercially-motivated attempts to (i)_______ the imperatives of the mass marketplace were (ii)_______, as evidenced by the critical acclaim but low attendance garnered by his film.
We focused on how the comma breaks the sentence in half: one half is the actual core sentence, and the other half describes how the director’s attempts were critically, but not commercially, successful.
This time, let’s dive into what’s happening with that first blank, and now I’ll give you the answer options:
Many, many students in my classes choose ‘secure’, and that really puzzled me. If a class doesn’t know the answer, there’s usually a fairly even division among the choices. What I saw wasn’t students guessing; they thought they had the correct choice in ‘secure’. Somehow, the third option was a trap. How?
I have a theory: ‘secure’ is a trap because students link the first blank to the wrong element, the wrong target. I think many students link that first blank to the word ‘marketplace’, and then think about how someone would want to ‘secure’ a ‘market’ for a product (in this case, a film).
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.
One of my favorite ways to learn vocabulary is to sort my vocabulary words into various categories. Somehow, searching my mind for ways to group them together really helps them to stick with me in a way that flashcards and sentences sometimes don’t.
The GRE has done a good job, if you can believe it, at reducing the number of antiquated, profession-based words on the exam. But because those words get used often and have a pronounced place in literature, they probably won’t leave vocabulary tests completely any time soon.
In this article, we’ll review ten words related to clothing. It’s important to remember that most of these words, if they show up on your test, won’t be used in sentences about clothing. They are more likely to be used in a comparison to something similar, as part of a simile or metaphor.
(1) Mantle. A mantle is a loose, sleeveless cloak or covering, generally worn by a woman. It’s something that covers the whole body like a blanket. Because of that, it’s second meaning is that a mantle is some broad or important role that is passed down from one person to another. “Mantle” is also a verb, which means to cover completely or envelop.
I generally picture an important cloth robe, such as the robe of a shaman or town elder, which covers the person entirely and will be passed down from family member to family member. That image bundles together all the definitions of “mantle” for me and helps me keep them clear in my mind.
(2) Poncho. A poncho is a blanket-like shawl worn over the shoulders, sometimes made of plastic in order to keep away rain. Its key quality is that it covers something up, which is the quality that’s likely to be referenced in a metaphor.
(3) Raiment. “Raiment” is just another word for “clothing”. It is most likely to be used literally, but could also be used to describe the covering or costume on something in a metaphorical way. This is a good word to memorize because it is a tough one to “figure out” during the test – not a lot of roots or other similar words to tie it to.
(4) Unravel. To unravel something means to unwind it so that it comes apart, like you would do with a spool of thread or a piece of cloth. While “unravel” is often used literally, it’s perhaps more often used more metaphorically to mean “come undone” in the sense of a plan or someone’s mental health “coming apart at the seams”, to use another clothing-derived expression.
Annoyingly, the word “ravel” means “to unravel something”. Yikes. It also means to tangle, knot, or complicate it. As a noun, a “ravel” is a tangle or cluster.
(5) Sartorial. “Sartorial” is an adjective meaning having to do with tailoring, clothes, style or fashion. If someone has a sartorial flair, for example, he or she has a flair for style and clothing. I am a big fan of the website The Sartorialist, where a respected fashion photographer photographers people with unique style and tailoring the world over. Checking it out might help you remember what this word means!
(6) Millinery. Specifically, “millinery” means “women’s hats”, or the business of making or selling women’s hats. Talk about something we don’t need a word for. Not the world’s most common GRE word, but if it shows up, it’s fairly hard to guess or figure out that specific meaning if you don’t already know it.
(7) Pleat. A pleat is a fold stitched into cloth, such as you would have in a pleated skirt. The word “pleat” can be used metaphorically to mean fold or crease in something other than cloth. For example, mountain ridges could pleat the landscape.
(8) Plait. A plait is a braid. While you commonly see braids on cloth made of ribbon, cord, or string, you can braid everything from hair to bread dough. When you realize that to braid means to wind, weave, or tie together, you can see how this word is often used metaphorically: you can plait together ideas, concepts, or words, among other things.
(9) Sheathe. A sheath is the protective cover that holds a weapon such as a knife or sword, and to sheathe something is to put it in such a protective covering. The verb “sheathe” is often used metaphorically to mean put something “sharp” or dangerous in a covering so that it can’t do any damage or have any effect. For example, you might want to sheathe your razor-sharp wit when you are in court, or sheathe your sharp tongue when talking to your child’s vice principal.
(10) Ragamuffin. Growing up, I spent lots of time with my grandmother, who is turning 90 in two weeks, so I definitely know the definition of “ragamuffin”, because I was called one all the time. A ragamuffin is someone, usually a child, dressed in ragged or messy clothes. Someone who’s unkempt (which is another GRE word). A guttersnipe, if you want another weird word.
Picture the orphans from “Annie” or the street kids from “Oliver Twist” and you’ll have a good idea what a ragamuffin is. Or, in my grandmother’s world, anyone with holes in their jeans or wearing (gasp!) a sweatshirt.
Can you think of any other GRE words that have to do with clothing? Share them in the comments!
Hopefully there are a lot of GRE words you learned in school – particularly because lots of GRE words come from literature, science, mathematics, music and art, and foreign languages. You probably even studied many of them when and if you studied for the SAT and ACT.
But some GRE vocab words aren’t learned in the school curriculum, but in the language of school itself. Here are fifteen words whose content is related to school.
(1) Expel. Most of us know the word “expel” in terms of school – the greatest threat a school has to offer is to expel you, or kick you out.
That’s the context in which we’re used to hearing “expel”, but it could apply any time someone is deprived of his or her membership or even anytime something is removed, gotten rid of, or thrown out. You can expel a gum wrapper from your car window, or expel a drunkard from a bar, for example.
(2) Punctuate. You probably remember learning about punctuation, marks such as commas or periods that you put within text. So yes, to punctuate something means to add punctuation to it. But it also means to occur at intervals throughout a period of time, or to be peppered with.
For example, US history has been punctuated by the passing of Constitutional amendments. They happen sometimes, and when they do, they interrupt or change the course of history. Someone’s speech can be punctuated with curse words, or someone’s life can be punctuated by bad break-ups.
(3) Tardy. “Tardy” is a word I’ve never heard used outside of a school setting. My high school, and all other high schools I know of, didn’t mark you “late”: they marked you “tardy”. Tardy means delayed or late, but it’s not just students who can be tardy. You can send a tardy reply to an email, or a bus can make a tardy arrival at the bus stop.
(4) Valediction. Most of us know that the valedictorian is the student with the best GPA, but that’s sort of a coincidence. That student is not called the valedictorian because he or she has the best grades – he or she is called the valedictorian because he or she gives the valedictory, or valediction, at the graduation ceremony (and is chosen for that job because of his or her good grades).
So what’s a valediction? That “diction” root should tell you it has something to do with speech, and it does – it’s a saying of goodbye. The valediction speech at graduation is a spoken goodbye to high school. So if you wave to someone in valediction, for example, you’re waving goodbye.
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.