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GRE Vocabulary Wednesdays: Popular GRE Words

There is no overarching theme this week, besides the fact that each word below is very likely to show up on the GRE. None of these words are easy GRE words – they are all quite difficult and most likely would not show up in the easiest vocabulary section. You could very well see them in the very first verbal section.



Ameliorate comes from Old French via the word meilleur, which means to make better (if you speak Spanish you may notice the similarity to the word mejor). To ameliorate means to make a bad situation or condition better.

While antibiotics have an ameliorative effect, destroying microorganisms, oftentimes antibiotics can upset the body’s natural balance, leading to the proliferation of other bacteria, such as C. difficile.



To be perspicacious is to be discerning and astute. Somebody who is perspicacious can walk into a room and quickly pick up on people’s personalities, even if those people have said very little. Nose burrowed in Orwell or Dosteovsky, a perspicacious reader does not to go scrambling for the Cliff Notes; he or she has the penetrating insight necessary to fathom even some of the more recondite themes.

A good way to remember perspicacious is to remember that per- is the root for through and spic- is the root for to see. Somebody who is perspicacious can see through things to the heart of the matter.

Perspicacious should not be confused with the similar sounding word, perspicuous. The latter means easy to understand, and typically refers not to a person’s aptitude but an account or written work that is easy to understand.

For all his perspicacity on the human condition, the author was remarkably gauche in polite company, often prattling on about some esoteric tomes as his interlocutor became visibly agitated.  



This is one of GRE’s favorite words. Over the years it has made numerous appearances on actual tests. Part of the reason is students think the word has a neutral or positive connotation. Knowing that the root fid- means faith will only hurt you. See, the per- is different from the usual per- that we just saw in perspicacious. This per-, which is not at all common, means ill-effect.So perfidy means disloyalty and treachery. A person who is perfidious has an ill-effect on the faith of their friend.

Today Benedict Arnold has become synonymous with the word ‘traitor’ – his perfidy towards his country came to the fore when he tried to sabotage the fledgling original colonies by conspiring with the British.



Ever read a movie review in which the reviewer is highly critical of a movie and really cuts into the movie’s flaw with scathing wit? Well, if you haven’t, just open up any edition of the New Yorker and such trenchant commentary will jump off the page. Trenchant, which describes any commentary that is biting and scathing, is different from asperity in that it does not describe a person’s manner.



A person known for a harsh tone or manner is known to have asperity. I remember a teacher I had in 2nd grade, who only had to stand in front of the class to silence. For the way in which she knitted her brows and wielded the ruler spoke of the utmost asperity. Her harsh demeanor in no way belied the way spoke—when she called my name my blood would curdle.


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13 Responses to GRE Vocabulary Wednesdays: Popular GRE Words

  1. Akib April 11, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I have just decided to take GRE and am completely lost with thousands of materials floating around all over internet.

    From my previous experience with standardized test, my weakest area is verbal, specially questions related to vocabulary. I see you have already talked about few of the materials to improve vocab in this post. However, can you share a complete list of materials that should be studied for encountering vocabulary related questions from all difficulty levels?

    Also, I am actually working with a start up and can’t really devote much time for studying. So I believe I have to prepare for a longer period of time to ace the GRE. Right now, I am planning to take GRE early next year (probably Feb/ March). I found that the package for Magoosh is valid for 6 months. So if Magoosh suits my taste, do you recommend that I purchase this in September or October this year?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      Hi Akib,

      There are indeed a plethora of materials floating around out there. I recommend using Barron’s 1100 Words You Need to Know, as I great place to start out. It contains easy GRE words and also some more difficult ones. It is excellent for self-study as it provides plenty of opportunity for you to learn words in context.

      In terms of flashcards, MGRE offers an excellent set. You can start off with the Beginner set – that way you are not tackling the challenging vocabulary off the bat.

      As for Magoosh, our plan does run out after 6-months, so you may want to wait until later to purchase. In the meantime, I’d recommend MGRE as the best material on the market.

      Good luck!

      • Akib April 12, 2013 at 7:58 am #

        Thanks a lot for your comment, Chris!

        Just one more question: how should I integrate Magoosh free e-book for Vocab in the list? Will I get too many overlaps between Magoosh and other materials you suggested?

        Best wishes!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele April 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

          Hi Akib,

          First off, overlaps are not a bad thing :). They allow you to strengthen the connection with words you’ve already learned by allowing you to see the questions in a new light.

          That said, there is quite some overlaps with Magoosh words and the words on the other lists. But you’ll definitely be getting a lot of new words, and the book does a good job of telling you what the really high-frequency GRE words are.

          Hope that helps, and good luck!

  2. Hesam April 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Hi sakethram
    You are welcome !
    As Chris has told me, sticking to 1100 words is 30% of the job to get a high score.
    It is like warming up, the laborious ,and to some extent fun , part of your preparation is to dig up words in sophisticated articles which ideas are convoluted. Read as much as you can dude, READ.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 5, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

      Thanks Hesam!

      Great advice :)!

    • sakethram April 6, 2013 at 12:59 am #

      Thanks Hesam!!

      Can you pls advice what kind of articles should i look for in Nytimes,any suggestions? such that it not only enhance my read skills also a good vocab!

      Chris you too?

  3. Hesam April 4, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    Hi Chris
    Here is some comments on the words, hope it ameliorate our using-in-context of these words.
    Anything that can lift a burden can ameliorate.
    context usage: While I applaud efforts to ameliorate staggering obesity levels among those most vulnerable, I dissent on the solutions.

    If you have perspicacity, you are good at discerning what is really going on where others might only see surface clue! If someone is perspicacious, we might also say they have a “shrewd mind,” or a “keen intelligence, assessing situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions.

    context usage: Bees who seem to find the shortest path connecting many flowers in a meadow provide another example of what appears to be animal perspicacity!

    A good sentence to remember: When your supervisor’s “Late again!” greeting causes your entire future to pass before your eyes, he is speaking with asperity.:(
    Note that the harshness that asperity implies can also apply to conditions and even surfaces!
    But, most often, you will see asperity used in reference to grumpy human beings!

    The Italian press unanimously comments with asperity on the exclusion of Italy from the alliance.

    Actually, one can exploit the latin roots of thie very word. Here is my argument:
    The Latin root of perfidy is made up of per, or “through,” and fidem, or “faith.” So in order for perfidy to happen, there has to have first been a sense of faith in place, which was then broken or betrayed!!

    …calling the prosecutors’ conduct acts of “perfidy” and “skulduggery” and noting that their false statements to the court might be “prosecuteable criminal conduct.”
    Note that a prosecutor is a lawyer who works for a state or government organization so that he/she is deemed to be trusted yet betayes!

    For the word trenchant I highly encorage you to refer to verbal advantage.

    Ref:, NYtimes.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      Great Hesam,

      I really liked how you found great in-context sentences. That’s really taking the initiative :).

      Good job too on your own sentences :).

  4. sakethram April 4, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Thank you for the words, but i also see that few of the other words are also completely new to me in the sentence you have used 🙁

    im working on Barrons 1100 GRE words should that be sufficient to encounter atleast 75% of words on the test day? please advice

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

      Hi Sakethram,

      If you make your way through 1100 Words… you should be able to identify most of the words on the easy section, about 50-60% on the medium, but probably fewer on the tough section, if you get the tough section.

      For the tough section, I’d recommend going through Magoosh’s vocab and MGRE Advanced words. Many words will be redundant with Barron’s but you’ll learn quite a few new words. And remember: whenever you see words you don’t know–such as the ones in my post–write them down somewhere :).

      Good luck!

      • sakethram April 5, 2013 at 4:58 am #

        Sure, thanks a lot!! and yeah your posts making me to believe that i can crack Verbal this time, i believe gre is about mental perception as well!

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