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GRE Antonyms

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Antonyms Introduction

Antonyms are words opposite in meaning to one another, like freedom and oppression. The Antonyms questions have appeared on the GRE since 1995, and together with Analogies, Sentence Completion, and Reading Comprehension questions, comprise the current verbal sections of the GRE.

Here are the directions that you’ll find on the GRE exam:

Each question below consists of a word in capital letters, followed by five words or phrases (with ovals). Choose the word or phrase that is most nearly opposite in meaning to the word in capital letters. Since some of the questions require you to distinguish fine shades of meaning, be sure to consider all the choices before deciding which one is best.

This video introduces you GRE Antonyms:

[This question is less difficult.]

Try to create a sentence from the given word: crest, which means “top of something.”

The river was expected to crest tonight.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • resource – assets, materials
  • trough – open container for animals to eat or a low point
  • vulnerable – susceptible to attack

The Given Word

The “given word” (an ETS term) and five words (or phrases) are provided as answer choices. You are to choose the word or phrase that is “most nearly opposite in meaning” to “given word.”

Clearly, antonym questions test the depth and breadth of your vocabulary. More on vocabulary as we move along.

This video reviews another Antonyms question:

[This question is of average difficulty.]

The given word is almost always one word, most commonly an adjective. But note that the answer choices – for example, (A) lacking in wholesomeness, and (D) making progress – can be phrases.

Make a phrase or couple the given word with another word – for example, cryptic message.

Here are other pairs:

Key Word Phrase
flippant flippant attitude
abject abject poverty
kindred kindred soul
dilated dilated eyes
mitigating mitigating circumstances
benign benign tumor
perjured perjured testimony
travesty travesty of justice
unmitigated unmitigated gall
alleviate alleviate pain


Vocabulary to Remember

  • amenable – open and responsive
  • wholesome – suggestive of good health and well-being
  • enthusiastic – eager enjoyment, interest, or approval
  • stubborn – dogged determination
  • progress – moving forward, advancing
  • intrinsic – belonging naturally, essential

This video reviews another Antonyms question:

[This question is of average difficulty.]

His responses were too cryptic to be understood.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • cryptic – mysterious, obscure
  • interesting – arousing curiosity
  • proper – genuine, appropriate
  • transparent – allowing light to pass through, obvious, conspicuous
  • noticeable – easily seen
  • usable – fit to be used

Question Difficulty

ETS claims that “the purpose of the antonyms questions is to measure not merely the strength of one’s vocabulary but also the ability to reason from a given concept to its opposite.”

ETS further states: “Antonyms may require only rather general knowledge of a word or they may require one to make fine distinctions among answer choices.”

These statements may be true, but unless you can readily define the given word, the question becomes instantly more challenging.

Try this more difficult question:

[This question is more difficult.]

Focus on the prefix in catabasis. Cata- means down.

He made a catabasis into the underworld.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • catabasis – a descent of some type
  • tormented – severe physical or mental suffering
  • ascending – go up or climb
  • fury – wild or violent anger
  • tempt – entice
  • contemplate – look thoughtfully at something


Prefixes, suffixes, and word roots provide excellent clues to word meaning. If you don’t recognize the given word, try to determine the meaning of the prefix.

Here are a few prefixes. It may be a good investment to devote some study time to these.

Prefix Meaning Words
dis- negation, removal disadvantage, dismount
hypo- under hypodermic, hypothermia
peri- round, about perimeter


Try figuring our the prefix in this example:

[This question is less difficult.]

Vocabulary to Remember

  • codify – arrangement by a plan or system
  • disarrange – put out of place
  • destroy – wreck
  • deploy – move into position
  • envelop – surround completely
  • bring – carry

The company codified their policies into a handbook.

Timing and Pacing

On the GRE, 22 Antonym questions are integrated with Reading Comprehension, Analogies, and Sentence Completion questions. An average of 30-45 seconds per question is the suggested pace for Antonyms.

The Practice Sets have time constraints to allow you to become familiar with pacing.

Try to answer this question as fast as you can:

[This question is less difficult.]

Many words do not have precise opposites, so look for the answer choice that implies a meaning most nearly opposite to the given word. Circuitous, in this context, means indirect.

The parade followed a circuitous route through town.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • circuitous-a longer than direct route
  • sullen – sulky, gloomy
  • direct – shortest way
  • fortunate – lucky
  • intermediate – average level of knowledge or skill
  • predisposed – inclined to a specified attitude or action


Some students find the antonyms questions daunting and frustrating because they seem to focus so much on vocabulary.

The chart below compares the four verbal GRE question-types as to the academic skills tested—vocabulary versus analysis.

Antonyms Analogies Sentence Completion Reading Comp
Vocabulary High Med-High Med-High Med-High
Analytical Skills Low-Med High High High


Try this question:

[This question is of average difficulty.]

The county authorities disseminate health information.

Vocabulary to Rembember

  • disseminate – disperse
  • press closely – position of contact in a short distance
  • calculate – determine the number of something
  • suppress – subdue
  • explain thoroughly – describing it in most detail
  • ordain – make (someone) a minister or priest

Secondary Meanings

The exam writers often provide a given word that anticipates a secondary meaning. This will test your ability to refocus and contemplate another meaning.

It’s frustrating when you define the given word and no precise opposite appears among the choices. When that happens, think secondary meaning.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

Another, more obvious clue, is to note the part of speech for the given word and the answer choices; here they are all verbs.

So, what does repair mean as a verb?

repair (v) – mend and repair (v) – go to

We repaired to the tranquility of the library.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • remain – stay
  • ripen – mature
  • hurry – quickly
  • use – utilize
  • satisfy – indulge

Here are more common words with primary and secondary meanings. But, note that tender has still additional meanings.

Word Primary Meaning Secondary Meanings
tender gentle (v) sensitive to pain (adj), an offer (n)
color how an object reflects or emits light (n) to affect (v)
cardinal position (n) of great importance (adj)


[This question is of average difficulty.]

She tendered her resignation to the CEO.

  • tender (adj) – caring, kind, kindly
  • tender (v) – put forward, present
  • proffer to (v) – reach out with something to someone for acceptance, an offer
  • comply with (v) – obey, carry out
  • renege on (v) – go back on a promise
  • to exercise (v) – to use a right
  • to fulfill (v) – satisfy

The primary meaning for the Given Word may not be relevant to our search. As here, the primary definition for the given word, catholic, does not seem to be in sync with the answer choices. Here are some other words with secondary meanings.

Word Primary Meaning Secondary Meanings
brook stream (n) to endure, tolerate (v)
list a number of written items (n) to lean or tilt (v)
pedestrian a person walking along a road (n) commonplace (adj)


[This question is more difficult.]

As a city, Paris can satisfy the most catholic of tastes.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • Catholic – of the Roman Catholic (Christian) faith
  • catholic – wide variety of things, all-embracing
  • irreverent – lack of respect
  • intolerant – lack of patience with views, beliefs of others
  • diaphanous – translucent and delicate
  • narrow – small
  • destitute – poor

Here is the primary definition of the word critical, used in a sentence together with two additional meanings.

  • Critical means to be carping, caviling, picky, fussy, hair-splitting, faultfinding, derogatory, disparaging, nagging, disapproving, finicky, and censorious.

Why do you have to be so critical?

[This question is more difficult.]

  • Critical also means decisive, crucial, grave, urgent, momentous, pressing, hazardous, precarious, risky, harrowing, serious, sensitive, vital, and perilous.

It was a critical time in the nation’s history.

Still other connotations include discriminating, judgmental, analytical, diagnostic, and judicious.

It takes years to develop one’s critical abilities.

Some words carry multiple meanings like turgid (two meanings) that are somewhat fuzzy.

  • Turgid – to become larger.

In early spring the creek is fast-moving and turgid.

  • Turgid – bombastic (pretentious).

The university lecture series was affected and turgid.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

Vocabulary to Remember

  • pompous – irritatingly grand
  • shallow – of little depth
  • still – no movement or sound
  • modest – unassuming
  • swollen – becoming rounder or larger

Near and No Antonyms

Sometime exact opposites may not be available among the answer choices.

  • enfranchise – give suffrage to

Foreigners should be enfranchised for local elections.

  • eradicate – destroy forever
  • imagine – form mental image
  • chain – shackle
  • disconnect – disengage
  • consume – ingest

[This question is of average difficulty.]

Oddly, it may seem, some words don’t have opposites or exact opposites. If they arise among the answer choices, they can be eliminated immediately.

  • titles or professional names: employee, lawyer, surgeon
  • names of things like colors or objects: purple, clock
  • certain verbs: read, exceed, imagine, see, experience, eat, drive, drink, write, view, blink, say


A suffix changes the meaning of a word. The suffix -ate (to make) provides an insight.

Suffix Meaning Words
cian having a specific skill pediatrician


less without mindless, gutless
ment act of commitment,



[This question is more difficult.]

President Lincoln consecrated certain civil war battlefields as shrines.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • consecrate – to make holy
  • appraise – assess value
  • recognize – acknowledge, reward
  • calibrate – correlate measurements
  • demonstrate – show existence or truth
  • imprecate – utter (a curse) or invoke (evil) against someone or something.

Word Roots, Prefixes, Suffixes

Recognizing word roots may help you determine word meanings. Here are some common word roots.

Root Meaning Words
alter other alternate, alter ego
cap take, seize capacity, capture, captivate
mut change mutant, mutate


[This question is more difficult.]

The virus is able to mutate into new forms immune to the vaccine.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • mutate – change in form, character, or nature
  • stagnate – become inactive or dull
  • metamorphose – cause to change completely
  • implicate – incriminate
  • excoriate – criticize severely (negative connotation)
  • infiltrate – enter or gain access

Working Vocabulary

The average persons’ working vocabulary is about 10,000 words. The words we use daily are a small fraction of the lexis of that language. English, for example, contains approximately 600,000 words.

When tackling Antonyms problems ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the given word in your working vocabulary?
  • Can I articulate an opposite? Make a sentence?
  • Am I familiar with its (perhaps, various) connotations?

If you answered yes, you’ll have a chance to locate the antonym and answer the question correctly.

[This question is less difficult.]

Recognition Vocabulary

Typically, a person will recognize and comprehend many more words than they use in daily conversation. Recognition vocabulary can be improved by exposure to new language information. You can learn new words by studying roots, suffixes, prefixes and studying new word definitions.

She had received expert academic advice.

Vocabulary to Remember

  • expert – a person with comprehensive knowledge
  • wizard – magician
  • connoisseur – authority
  • aviator – flyer
  • neophyte – novice
  • controller – a financial officer

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