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Secondary Meanings Vocabulary List: 10 Words You Must Know for the GRE

In a recent post, I mentioned the importance of identifying part of speech on a verbal question. Doing so will help you determine whether the question is testing the secondary meaning of any of the words.

Now it’s time to talk about some of the most common secondary meanings in GRE vocabulary.

1. Tender

Tender is a verb, and it does not mean to behave tenderly. When you tender, something you offer it up. For instance, when you tender your resignation, you hand in a piece of paper saying that you are resigning.

2. Intimate

Just as tender doesn’t relate to two people in love, neither does intimate, at least on the GRE. The secondary meaning for intimate is to suggest something subtly.

3. Wanting

Wanting means lacking. So, if your knowledge of secondary meanings is wanting, this post is a perfect place to start learning.

4. Becoming

Another secondary meaning that changes parts of speech, becoming an adjective. If something is becoming, it matches nicely.

Her dress was becoming and made her look even more beautiful.

5. Start

The secondary meaning for start is somewhat similar to the common meaning. To start is to suddenly move or dart in a particular direction.

6. Fleece

If you are thinking Mary Had a Little Lamb (…fleece as white as snow), you have been fleeced by a secondary meaning. To fleece is to deceive.

7. Telling

If something is telling, it is significant and stands out.

Her unbecoming dress was very telling when it came to her sense of fashion.

8. Wax

Melting wax will only lead you astray. The secondary meaning for wax is to increase. The opposite of wax is to wane.

9. Check

To check is to limit, and is usually used to modify the growth of something.

When government abuses are not kept in check, a ruling body is likely to become autocratic.

10. Qualify

This is perhaps the most commonly confused secondary meaning and the one that is most important to learn for the GRE. To qualify is to limit, and is usually used in the context of a statement or an opinion.

I love San Francisco.

I love San Francisco, but it is always windy.

The first statement shows my unqualified love for San Francisco. In the second statement I qualify, or limit, my love for San Francisco.

In the context of the GRE, the concept of qualification is usually found in the reading comprehension passage. For example, an author usually expresses qualified approval or some qualified opinion in the passage. As you may have noticed, the authors of reading comprehension passages never feel 100% about something. They always think in a nuanced fashion. Therefore, they are unlikely to be gung-ho or downright contemptuous. That is, they qualify, or limit, their praise/approval/disapproval.

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4 Responses to Secondary Meanings Vocabulary List: 10 Words You Must Know for the GRE

  1. Aman April 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    I am glad you liked these.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

      Thanks again :0.

  2. Aman April 19, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Hey Chris,
    I found some words which were short, as in containing less letters. At times these could prove to be labyrinthine as some fail to provide any connotation.
    Have arranged them according to Known, faint image, and unaware.
    (This categorization is based on my knowledge, could be different for others :D)


    1)Lax:-Lacking in strictness/Neglecting

    2)Nag:-To annoy by constant scolding /One who bother to scold you on trivial matters
    Imagine your BOSS….

    3)Row:-A fight or a quarrel

    4)Woe:-A sad/depressed ,misery (something strong )

    5)Wax:-To increase (as you mentioned)

    6)Wane:-To decrease

    7)Foe:-Is an opponent

    8)Sap:-To degrade energy(It has many meaning)

    9)Awe:-To respect

    Faint image:

    1)Vex:-Make someone feel annoyed/To cause perplexity


    3)Ebb:-To reduce

    4)Din:-Noise/ loud, usually discordant sounds


    1)Ire:Anger; wrath

    2)Sly:-Having or showing cunning or decisive nature

    3)Coy:-Shy/Tending to avoid people

    4)Mar:-To deface or disfigure

    5)Pan:-To criticize
    (BTW a ‘pan’ is a Indian mouth refresher )

    6)Oaf:-Clumsy or stupid person

    7)Wan:-Unhealthy appearance

    I don’t know how probable are these words in GRE but thought to include these
    Chris if there is any error in the meaning of these then please let me know


    • Chris Lele
      Chris April 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

      Hi Aman,

      That’s an interesting categorization. I think that will help students order words in terms of where they need to focus. Your list is accurate (though ‘fox’ means ‘to confuse’) and some of the words definitely are GRE words :).

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