Commonly Confused GRE Pairs – A Confusing Day of ‘V’s

Vindictive vs. Vindicate

These words look very similar, so their definitions must be somewhat related. Right? Actually, the two words are very different. To be vindictive means to have a very strong desire for revenge.

As for vindicate, it means to prove oneself right. What, exactly, does this mean? Say you claim to your friends that you will score at the 95th percentile on the verbal. They doubt your claim, and lightly tease you on your lofty and seemingly unattainable goal. Now, it’s up to you to prove that you can do it. If you score at the 95th percentile on test day, then you’ve vindicated yourself. You’ve proven that your original claim was correct. If you score way below that…well, then you avoid your friends for some time.

Vicarious vs. Vicissitude

Isn’t travel great? You get to experience other cultures, and see the world. Well, actually, sometimes traveling can be more stressful than a rush-hour commute—lost luggage, stolen items, and inclement weather are just a few of the many woes that can beset the traveler.

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So, why not stay at home and watch the travel channel? With just one flick of the wrist, you can journey to the distant lands of Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat. Enjoying something through another person’s experiences—in this case the host of the travel show—is to live vicariously. The contexts, of course, can vary widely. Maybe your best friend has told you all about his or her graduate school experiences via weekly blog posts. Now you, too, feel that you’ve gone through grad school. That’s living vicariously.

A vicissitude is any change in one’s circumstances, usually for the worse. That is, life is full of ups and down that are beyond our control. Those are the vicissitudes. Speaking of, traveling—especially any of those quit-your-job six-week jaunts through Europe—is full of vicissitudes, so again, sometimes it’s better to stay at home and tune into the travel station (as long as the remote control doesn’t give out).

Venal vs. Venial

You definitely do not want to confuse these two. To call someone venal is to say they are corrupt, and likely to accept bribes. To be venial actually doesn’t refer to a person but rather a sin or an offense. A venial offense is one that is minor and pardonable.

His traffic violations ran the gamut from the venial to the egregious—on one occasion he simply did not come to a complete stop; another time he tried to escape across state lines at speeds in excess of 140 mph. 

Veracious vs. Voracious

These words not only deviate by only one letter, they also sound very similar. As for their definitions, you definitely do not want to confuse them. Veracious means truthful; voracious means hungry, either literally or figuratively.

Steven was a voracious reader, sometimes finishing two novels in the same day.

Venerate vs. Enervate

Okay, fine, this one is deviating from the agenda a little. Still, despite not starting with a ‘v’, enervate actually contains all the letters found in ‘venerate’, only scrambled. As for their meanings, these two words are anything but similar. To venerate someone is to respect that person deeply. To enervate, on the other hand, is to sap that person of energy.

Dave found the professor’s lecture so enervating that not even a potent cup of joe could keep his eyes from drooping.

The professor, despite his soporific lectures, was venerated amongst his colleagues, publishing more papers yearly than all of his peers combined.



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13 Responses to Commonly Confused GRE Pairs – A Confusing Day of ‘V’s

  1. Prasad N R March 29, 2018 at 7:24 am #

    The spindly GRE score makes my resume venal. Low scores of my GRE verbal cannot have venial excuses for me.

  2. Jonathan Close January 22, 2018 at 2:24 pm #

    I still see a connection between vindictive and vindicate. One’s motive is very similar in both cases. They seek to right a wrong whether by revenge or academic means they are trying to prove the action or accusation against them was unjustified. That they come from the same Latin root makes perfect sense to me.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 24, 2018 at 6:51 pm #

      Hi Jonathan,

      That’s a good point! I think that this is a strong foundation for a
      to help someone remember these words. I would caution, however, that these definitions are a little oversimplified. Just because you are being vindictive doesn’t mean that you are in the right or that your revenge is justified. In fact, vindictive carries a strongly negative connotation–people who are vindictive might see themselves as “righting a wrong”, but really they are mean-spirited and nasty. Vindicate carries a more positive connotation. Our point here is that we can’t take these words on face value–while they may share a root, the words are pretty far apart on the linguistic tree in terms of specific meaning, connotation and how they are used in context. These details are super important on the GRE 🙂

  3. mike wilmeth July 29, 2016 at 8:11 pm #

    I’m far from an English major but I see a relation in that seeking vindication is vindictive. I do see a slight difference. Is there a common root meaning in the words when you go to the origin?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 2, 2016 at 10:39 am #

      This is a correct observation. Although “vindictive” and “vindication” have significantly different meanings, they do come from two Latin root words that originally were closer in meaning. “Vindication” started out as the Latin word “vindicationem,” which meant “to claim something or avenge something.” The “claim” part of this meaning can still be seen in “vindication,” because if you’re vindicated, you can claim you were right or claim a victory of sorts. “Vindictive” comes from the Latin “vindicta,” a noun that simply means “revenge.” And vindictive people want to get revenge or retribution.

  4. Debi May 30, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    I was wondering what the exact difference between vindicated and venerated is. Is venerated also used in overcoming something, as is vindicated? They seem to both result in respect.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 31, 2016 at 3:08 am #

      Hi Debi 🙂

      Good question! The verb vindicate means to use evidence to justify something or to clear someone/something from blame. For example, someone who was accused of a crime but later proven innocent via evidence could be described as vindicated. On the other hand, venerate refers to feeling a deep respect or awe towards something. For example, as notes, we could say that “Mother Teresa was venerated for her work with the poor.”

      I hope this helps you see the difference between vindicated and venerated 🙂

      • Debi Andersen May 31, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

        Thanks so much!

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 2, 2016 at 3:12 am #

          You’re welcome, Debi! 😀

  5. PJ October 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    I looked for info about vindictive versus vindicate and stumbled on your article. Thanks! But I wonder if you’d come across with a further comment. Can vindicate be turned into an adjective? For instance, was scoring 95 on the test a vindicative event for the person who was vindicated? This usage is a problem for me because I have heard “vindicative” used in places where it could only mean “vindictive.” Since proving oneself right and seeking revenge are drastically different, this ambiguity could really hurt someone.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      Hi PJ,

      That’s a good question–and I’m happy you asked it. See, vindicative is considered archaic and isn’t even in most collegiate dictionaries (you’ll have to go to the 40-pound unabridged dictionaries to find it).

      And that’s a good thing–that the word is no longer common currency, since it is a very confusing word. According to the hoary Century Dictionary vindicative can either mean vindicating or vindictive. It’s a word best left consigned to the lexical dustbin of history, and I’m sure that the GRE would not *vindicate* the word by ever using it on the GRE :).

  6. KT February 24, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Can you use venal and vicissitude in sentences, please?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris February 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

      The judge was venal – you only needed to pay him 1,000 dollars and he’d let you off.

      Many once great athletes know very well the vicissitudes of life – at 50, they are often forgotten and sometimes toil away at some menial job just to pay the bills.

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