Three-Letter Words: Lax

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Text book word close-upSome of the most perplexing words on the GRE are diminutive. Who doesn’t see PAN : REVIEW and metaphorically scratch his or her head, or wonder what, exactly, a nib or a gin is on its own? Welcome to Three-Letter Words. A few of them might make you want to deploy some four-letter words.


Lax is an easy one. If you’ve got relax, you can guess what lax means (loose, slack, careless, negligent, vague).

Her morals may have been lax, but no one was prepared for the overlaxness of her parenting skills: not only did she keep quiet as her children picked their noses, she didn’t even intervene when they picked each other’s noses.

Try a sample Sentence Completion problem:

Accustomed to a manager so lax that he allowed everyone to come to work in cutoffs and leave whenever the weather was nice, the employees were __________ at the _________ of their authoritarian new boss’s regime.

A. ebullient … uptight
B. shocked … pedagogy
C. aghast … asperity
D. intrepid … harshness
E. enervated … strictness

Choose your own answer, then click “more for the solution.

A good strategy for Sentence Completion problems is to fill in the blanks with your own words — justifying your choices with clues from the sentence — before viewing the choices. We know that the employees were accustomed to a lax work environment and that the new boss was “authoritarian.” Thus, in the first blank we might fill in something liked “shocked,” and in the second blank, something like “strictness.”

Reading down the first word of each answer choice, only shocked and aghast have the correct meaning.

Of remaining choices B and C, only asperity has the meaning of “strictness.”

The answer is C.

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