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The Top 20 Most Common GRE Words

Okay, I know, every list purports to be the Top 10 or 20 Most Common GRE words. Just study those words and, voila, you’ll get the coveted 800 verbal score. While no list can truly be the definitive list of top GRE words, the ones below have been culled from my years as a GRE instructor. These are words that I’ve constantly encountered in ETS’s published materials.

Knowing these 20 most common words can only help your chances of doing well test day. Not knowing these words, on the other hand, is a liability come test day.


Extant (adj.) – in existence.

Few documents antedating the advent of papyrus are extant today.


Ephemeral (adj). – short-lived

Youtube has made fame truly ephemeral. Just ask Rebecca Black.

Test yourself: Click here to try a question using ephemeral from our GRE product.


Capricious (adj.) – unpredictable, whimsical

Because Martha was so capricious her friends felt they could not rely on her.

Test yourself: Click here to try a question using capricious.


Corroborate (v.) – to confirm, make stronger

Three witnesses were able to corroborate Lucy’s alibi that she had been at the bowling alley at the time of the murder.


Loquacious (adj.) – talkative

Nancy was so loquacious her friends usually didn’t like to watch a movie with her.

Esoteric (adj) – known to a select few

Many jazz artists once deemed esoteric have emerged due to the greater access users have to avant-garde music on-line.

Test yourself: Click here to try a practice question using esoteric.


Erudite (adj.) – scholarly

A Rhodes Scholar, Max was a true erudite, and a formidable opponent on Jeopardy.

Test yourself: Click here to try a practice question using esoteric from our GRE product.


Pragmatic (adj.) – practical

Edna never cared for abstract thinking and preferred the pragmatic world of business, in which every action, ideally, has an intended consequence.

Test yourself: Click here to try a practice question using pragmatic.


Ambivalent (adj.) – having contradictory feelings

Erin was ambivalent about her freshman year in college; her classes were fascinating but she missed her high school friends.


Soporific (adj.) – inducing sleep

Professor’s Moore’s lectures were soporific to the point that students, before they nodded off in class, would usually quip, “It’s time for Professor Bore.”


Prolific (adj.) – producing or creating abundantly

Irving Berlin had one of the most prolific careers in song-writing history; dozens of his hundreds of tunes are familiar to us. Anyone dreaming of a “White Christmas?”


Auspicious (adj.) – favorable

The team’s run for the pennant started auspiciously with 24 wins. Two starting pitchers snapped their elbows mid-season, clearly an inauspicious sign.


Sanguine (adj.) – cheerful; optimistic

A Yale graduate with a 4.0, she was sanguine about finding a job right out of college.


Enervate (v.) – to weaken; drain the energy from

Sitting in the windowless room, the tropical humidity soaking through the walls, I was enervated before noon.


Magnanimous (adj.) – big-hearted; generous

Upon receiving his first Wall Street paycheck, Jerry was so magnanimous he not only bought his Mom a car, he bought his Dad one too.


Mercurial(adj.) – 1. Changing one’s personality often and unpredictably. 2. Animated, sprightly

One never knew exactly what the professor’s class would be like; he was so mercurial that many of his students thought of him as two different people.


Belligerent (adj.) – Inclined to fighting

After a few drinks Stevie was convivial; after two six-packs he became belligerent, challenging anyone around him to a head-butting contest.


Fastidious (adj.) – nitpicky

A fastidious eater, Herman would only eat the center of anything he touched. As a result, his plate was strewn with the remnants of his dinner, an eyesore for the hapless dinner guest.


Reticent (adj.) – tightlipped, not prone to saying much, reluctant

Paul was reticent and preferred observing others mannerisms.


Inculpate (adj.) – to charge with wrong-doing; accuse

To inculpate Eddy with the murder was absurd; he’d been bowling with Lucy.


And Don’t Forget

Come back to this post in a few days, and see how many of these top 20 most common GRE words you can recall. Remember, unless you quiz yourself on newly acquired material, you are likely to forget whatever it is you learned. Come on, don’t be ambivalent.  Read my approach to GRE vocabulary to understand why practice makes perfect. And check out our GRE prep product if you are looking for more practice.


About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

10 Responses to The Top 20 Most Common GRE Words

  1. Hani December 10, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    I took the gre 4 times so far.
    This world “Ephemeral”. I have seen it more than once.


  2. Teja June 25, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    good one and Thank you :)

  3. Linz June 24, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Very helpful. Thank you for the very helpful articles you post on your blog.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 26, 2014 at 11:20 am #

      You are welcome :)

  4. chakri August 31, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    really helpful …..

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 3, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

      Thank you!

  5. johnnys19 July 16, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    In the soporific example, I think that the correct form is “nodded off” and not nooded off. Malapropism or what? :P

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Ha! Good catch :). I think it’s just a typo or my bad Scottish accent creeping into my prose!

  6. November 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    I knew all of them. I’m taking the GRE tomorrow. ;s


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