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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Similar Word Pairs (and Trios!)

Words in the English language are often confused because they look the same, sound the same, or somehow get tangled up in your synapses. Indeed, the experience can be so frustrating that many students fulminate, “English makes no sense!” By and large, they are right.

Nonetheless, we have to contend with the mongrel language that is English and accept that certain words are gobbled up from other tongues (how’s that for a mixed metaphor), sometimes with little consideration for spelling and phonetics. Of course some words simply change over the ages. Consider ponder and ponderous, which despite their kindred ‘pond’ have very different meanings.

As GRE students what are we to do? Well, roots will only get you so far, and often you are best off making your own list of confusing words, so you won’t get tripped up test day. In fact, the more aware you are of words that persistently confuse, the less likely you are to confuse them.

With that said, let’s take a look at some commonly confused words. And remember, it’s not you – English is a confusing language.


1. Veracious and Voracious

With the first pair of words, roots will be able to help us. ‘Ver’ means true, and ‘vor’ means to eat/swallow. Not too surprisingly then, veracious means true, and ‘voracious’ means very hungry. The noun forms of the words are ‘veracity’ and ‘voracity’, respectively.

After the eight-hour hike he was voracious and scarfed down his mother’s cooking.

The judge doubt the veracity of the defendant’s statement, and sentenced him to prison.


2. Vilify and Vivify

To vilify is to badmouth or disparage. A good mnemonic is the following: ‘evil’ ify is to say evil things about.

Vivify, from the Latin root, viva- life, means to breathe life into.

Hector was vivified by the fresh morning air.

The governor was vilified so harshly in the press so harshly that she resigned.


3. Indignant and Indigent and Indigenous

#3 is aptly this dreaded trio of confusing words. To be indignant means to angry over some perceived outrage. If somebody blatantly cuts to the front of the line, you will feel indignant.

Indigent describes somebody who is so poor he/she cannot afford a roof over his/her head.

Indigenous means native to a certain area.  See, how kooky English is—those words sound so similar yet having nothing to do with one another.

The seeming arbitrariness of the English language made the GRE student indignant.

Many words in English are not indigenous to either America or England, but rather can be traced back to countries such as Turkey and India.

Don’t worry – not getting a perfect GRE score does not mean you will become indigent, roaming the streets and wailing about your indignity.


4. Feckless and Reckless

Reckless is an easy word; feckless is not. Often students assume the two are related. They are not. Feckless means lazy, lacking initiative.

He approached GRE prep with the same fecklessness that led to an undergraduate GPA of 2.5.


5. Ponder and Ponderous

These words mean totally different things, yet, as I’ll show here, they have a shared etymology that explains these divergent meanings. Ponder means to think over something carefully. The root comes from the Latin, ponderare, to weigh/reflect on. When you weigh something (second definition) you think over it carefully.

This use of ‘weigh’ (first definition), as in ‘to weigh 200-pounds (90 kg) relates to ponderous. If someone or something is ponderous they move about slowly and in a labored fashion, as though weighed down. Ponderous, however, has nothing to do with thinking.

He pondered his future, uncertain whether to take the GRE.

Bundled in 30 pounds (14 kg) of clothing, Martin, waddling like a penguin,  ponderously made his way through the snow field.


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16 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Similar Word Pairs (and Trios!)

  1. jay June 26, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    That was an yet another intriguing post. My attempt to make a sentence (rather sentences) with the amazing words you listed above :

    The teachers remarks on the her students autobiography were that the students efforts proved that he was not a ‘feckless’ boy, but the teacher still categorized the work as a ‘ponderous’ writing style. The teacher liked her students ‘veracity’, as he accepts that until last year he had a ‘voracious’ appetite and even a habit to ‘vilify’ people for the peccadilloes that should be overlooked. He admitted that back then, junk food was the only thing that could ‘vivify’ him.
    ( I couldn’t thread in the indi-words in this paragraph 🙂 )

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Another fabulous job! And great using the word ‘peccadillo’ :).

  2. Craig June 20, 2012 at 6:04 am #

    What is the best book for Roots Chris?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Craig,

      I recommend students stay away from learning roots. For a comprehensive take on why I recommend doing so, take a look at our Ebook. In the Ebook, I also recommend far more useful ways to study for vocabulary.

      Let me know if you have any questions as you read through the book :).

  3. Ankush June 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    Thanks Chris! M really finding your Vocab Wednesday blogs to be helpful.. Each blog has some words that iv come across before but u explain it in a different context altogether.. that really helps to broaden ones way of thinkin while dealing wid verbal.. Thanks again.. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm #


      I’m so happy you are finding my videos helpful :).

  4. abhay June 17, 2012 at 3:33 am #

    Nice post….:) happy today….except vivify, i knew the other words.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

      Good work!

  5. pegah June 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    HI Chris,
    I am in a good shape of math and I have practiced Magoosh online Practice questions for 3 times, and thanks for your great video lessons,My problem is Vocab. I have to get score of at least 500 and my score now is 340 and I have only 2 weeks to improve my vocab. can you plz help me? and also what is the best thing to do for this two weeks to prepare for the test?
    Thanks again 🙂

    • pegah June 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

      By the way English is my second Language , and I thinks this is my problem.

      • Chris Lele
        Chris June 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

        No worries :). It’ll be a little tougher, but you can still do it! (many of our customers do not speak English as their first language).

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Pegah,

      Reviewing your mistakes and learning high-frequency vocab is probably your best bet. I’m sorry my lessons weren’t able to help you get beyond a 340. I would also recommend that you go through the blog, picking up the vocab words here. Of course, you should make sure to go through our ebooks as well.

      Let me know how everything goes :).

      • pegah June 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

        Thanks Chris, I have already started memorizing the Ebook vocabs, and now I have more confidence about the GRE vocabs
        again thanks for respond 🙂

  6. pegah June 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    Thanks Chris, It is my first time that i visit Magoosh blog, and it was really helpful. i will put checking magoosh blog on my daily to do list 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      Great! Glad to have you here :).

      • rajesh June 16, 2012 at 9:50 am #

        hai chris may i get some suggestions regarding how to improve my vocabulary?

        i wrote exam in may and i got 142 in vocab so i need some suggestions to improve.

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