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Commonly Confused GRE words

Sometimes, I think that ETS once walked around and took a survey of the most commonly confused words in the English language, and then put those words on the test. In truth, ETS actually did something very similar to that. Over the years, it gave experimental sections to figure out which words people tended to confuse over and over again. Armed with this information, ETS was able to birth the test we know today.

However, we do not need to be victims of ETS’ machinations. Below is a list of confusing words that ETS recycles time and time again. So have a look, and see how many fool you.

Miserly vs. Frugal

This is one of the most commonly confused pairs. These words, despite popular opinion, are not the same. Frugal has a positive connotation, i.e. you spend money wisely, and miserly has a negative connotation, i.e. you pinch every penny.

Prevaricate vs. Variance

To prevaricate is to speak in an evasive way. Prevaricate does not mean to vary before; indeed, it is totally unrelated to variance, which simply means the quality of varying. A good synonym for prevaricate is equivocate. And that’s no lie.

Histrionic vs. History

Histrionic is totally unrelated to history. It comes from the Latin for actor. To be histrionic is not to have a penchant for bad Pacino or Brando imitations, but to be overly theatrical.

Though she received a B- on the test, she had such a histrionic outburst that one would have thought that she’d been handed a death sentence.

Demur vs. Demure

To demur is a verb meaning to object or show reluctance.

Wallace dislike the cold, so he demurred when his friends suggested they going skiing in the Alps.

To be demure is to be modest and shy. This word refers to a woman –  so don’t call a man demure as they will surely demur.

Beatific vs. Beautiful

A beatific person is one who radiates bliss. This person is so happy, they almost seem blessed and holy (think of a saint, of the Buddha). As for beautiful, well you may be beatific if you are beautiful, or you may be totally unhappy. The two words are totally unrelated.

Be on Guard

This is just a pinch of misleading words from the English language. But, be a step ahead of the test. Whenever you come across a word with a definition that is totally unexpected, take special note of that word…because ETS already has.  Studying vocabulary is tough, but definitely worth your while.

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8 Responses to Commonly Confused GRE words

  1. Aman April 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Definitely helped..
    Thanks Chris

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

      You’re welcome :).

  2. Aman April 19, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    I didn’t got Prevaricate…

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      Prevaricate = lie

      e.g., Instead of telling the truth, Mike prevaricated.

      Hope that helps :).

      • siva January 25, 2014 at 11:23 pm #

        you have mentioned prevaricate is no lie.
        but you you replied as prevaricate=lie
        can you please explain

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele January 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

          Hi Siva,

          Actually, “that’s no lie” is an expression. It is not the definition of “prevaricate”, which means to lie.

          Sorry for the confusion :).

  3. Aman April 18, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    A quick way i learned difference btw Demur Vs Demure….
    If we add ‘E’ to objection(Demur) between two party then the objection is reserved .

    A weird one but was able to remember meanings….

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm #


      Interesting…as they say the best mnemonics are the ones that work best for us :).

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