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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Even More Words from the New ETS Verbal Guide

It’s always a good idea to make sure you know every word that has appeared in official materials. The GRE tends to reuse words in future questions. The recently released verbal question guide is no exception. You should carefully go through the book, making sure you know each word.

Below are some important words that have yet to be featured in Vocab Wednesday.*



Mean looking, irritable and unfriendly, surly is not a word you’d want to invite to the vocabulary party. People who are surly are standoffish and look like they want to start a fight. The word is typically reserved for men; just make sure not to call any surly-looking man Shirley. You may get a knuckle sandwich.



From the noun enigma, which is a puzzle or mystery, enigmatic can describe anything that is puzzling. Enigmatic streaks in the sky are often taken as signs of UFO’s (at least in certain parts of the country). The disappearance of flight 370 is enigmatic. The process by which GRE selects the exact vocabulary words to put on the test is enigmatic.



If something is harmful or damaging, it is detrimental. The word is typically wrapped up with the preposition “to”, and used with non-human agents. You wouldn’t say I am detrimental to him, because I punched him after he called me Shirley. Rather, noise can be detrimental to your performance on a standardized test. Smoking can be detrimental to your health.



Blah, don’t talk to me. I want to crawl into a corner and veg out. That’s the credo of the phlegmatic, one who is generally unemotional and doesn’t react too much. That said, a phlegmatic type is loath to even have a credo. Not reacting, sluggish-even, a phlegmatic person wouldn’t be fun to have at the vocabulary party. Then again, who is phlegmatic and who is not is often a matter of context. Every time I ride public transportation, I can see many phlegmatic expressions (and a few surly ones!).



Stubborn to the point of being resistant just for the heck of it, obdurate is best left for extreme situations. “I will not do what you are asking of me. End of story.” That’s basically what anybody who is being obdurate is saying.



I think of things bouncing in water when I think of buoyancy. And I’m not too far in that regard, since buoyancy is the property of water that allows thing to float. The GRE isn’t after this definition so much as the definition of the word in its figurative sense. A person who is buoyant is upbeat and cheerful (buoyancy is definitely coming to the vocab party!!!). Just as the buoys stay above water, so too do the buoyant souls—keeping their heads above the waters of vicissitudes that life always brings.

*Did you miss the first Vocab Wednesday posts on ETS Verbal Guide vocabulary?
Find them here and here!


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5 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Even More Words from the New ETS Verbal Guide

  1. Anne June 19, 2015 at 7:17 pm #


    This may sound bad, but I’m a super busy student who is naturally bad at standardized tests. I perform poorly on the vocabulary section and I think it’s because I don’t have the time to memorize word groups or 100s of definitions. I was wondering if you had any suggestion on the most efficient way for someone to study the vocab. I’m putting in all the time I can to studying and I’m struggling a lot.

  2. Mohammed Tag El Asfia October 11, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    What’s the opposite of buoyant that you mentioned in the video ?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 13, 2014 at 11:37 am #

      Hi Mohammed,

      That was a joke 🙂

      The opposite of ‘boy ant’ is ‘girl ant’ 🙂

  3. Manish September 24, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Hey chris,

    Good video…please cover more vocabularys from the new ets book! looking forward to it!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 13, 2014 at 11:36 am #


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