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GRE Vocab Wednesday: “Con”-notations (and Denotations!)

Con- is a tricky root because people often think of “pros” and “cons”, and that con- therefore means “against”, like the root “contra”. “Con-“ actually means “with”, but that usually won’t help you much since the roots that follow “con-“ are usually pretty esoteric. It is better to learn the definition of these “con-“ words. Here are a few high-frequency words and some not-so-high frequency (don’t worry I’ll let you know the difference).


Don’t try to conciliate me with your silly gifts; you’ve lost my trust and that is going to take a long for you to gain back, assuming you ever do.

We’ve all likely upset someone in the past week. Whether we say sorry and hope for the best or give this person a box of chocolates, we are trying to conciliate them. In other words, we are trying to make them less angry. The adjective form of this word, “conciliatory” is also important to know, e.g. a conciliatory gesture.


Until Magellan circumnavigated the globe, Europe had, for centuries, conflated the New World with Asia, giving island groups in the Caribbean the name the “West Indies”, the “indies” based on India.

If you struggle with math but are decent at verbal and say that “the GRE is hard”, you are conflating things a bit. It is specifically the math section that is difficult. To conflate is to lump two different things together, treating them as the same thing.


Before the conflagration was entirely put out, thousands of burnt acres and hundred millions of property damage resulted.

Don’t ever scream conflagration in a crowded theater. Well, it depends what movie is playing. At a showing of Fast and Furious 17, you’ll only get quizzical looks (and likely be pelted by popcorn). For most people do not know that a conflagration is a large fire. Usually, words on the GRE will have both a literal and a figurative meaning. Conflagration, though, means only its literal definition: a large and extensive fire.


The 20’s were easy for Steven, when he didn’t have to account to anybody about being out after midnight; by his mid-30’s, Steve faced such severe connubial constraints that he couldn’t even leave his home without first telling his wife were he was going.

There are two “con-“ words that both relate to a bond between a husband and wife. One of them is a more everyday phrase, one employed by the law; the other has a more poetic flair. I chose the latter because it is not as common, though it could still show up on the GRE. The former, conjugal, is one that a lot of us have heard in the context of “conjugal visit”, which happens when a person, while incarcerated, is visited by his or her spouse.

Connubial, though, is reserved for the more amorous contexts of the holy union (“Their connubial bed, once a place of bliss, had become a battlefield—a Maginot Line down the mattress that neither dared cross”).


Though he wore a constant smile and wielded a ready handshake, Scott was always conniving ways to defraud his clients.

To plot and scheme with the intent of doing bad is to connive. History is full of connivers. Cassius, and to a less extent Brutus, connived to overthrow Julius Caesar. The rise of the Russian monk Rasputin can be chalked up to his being a master conniver. Machiavelli’s The Prince is one big tract on conniving.

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One Response to GRE Vocab Wednesday: “Con”-notations (and Denotations!)

  1. Kaustubh October 29, 2015 at 9:20 am #

    Some people claim that the goal of politics should be the pursuit of an ideal. Others argue that the goal should be finding common ground and reaching reasonable consensus.

    Write a response in which you discuss which view more closely aligns with your own position and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should address both of the views presented.

    actually i had not understood the directions. can you tell me should i agree/disagree or
    partially agree/disagree with this type of essay.

    “In developing and supporting your position, you should address both of the views presented.” and what this actually tell me to do.

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