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GRE Vocabulary List: Double Trouble Secondary Meanings

What do the following words have in common?

Essay, Flag, List, Appropriate

The answer: they are verbs.

I should also add that each word has another meaning very different from the usual meaning. In this case, that secondary definition happens to be a verb.

So, Uh, Which Definition Are They Testing…

For each question, whether antonyms, analogies, or sentence completions, the answer choice will always have the same parts of speech, and that part of speech will match the word(s) in the question.

Take a look at the following example:


(A)  to not attempt

(B)  informally declare

(C)  to trifle with

(D) deceive unjustly

(E)  discuss openly

Notice that each of the answer choices is a verb. Therefore, essay must be a verb. Because we are dealing with the GRE, a notoriously tricky exam, you can bet that the verb form of essay will not mean to write an essay. The secondary definition of the word essay is to attempt. The opposite is (A). Note the trap answer (B). Often with double meanings, GRE vocabulary will try to trap you by putting an opposite that reminds you have the common meaning of a word. For example, when we think of an essay, we think of a formal piece of writing.

As for the secondary meaning of the other words:

Flag – to lessen in intensity

This word usually modifies interest, attention, energy, etc.

His attention flagged on the last section of the GRE.

List – to tilt over. (e.g. The tree listed in the wind.)

Appropriate – 1. To take by force.  2. To allocate.

You’ll notice that appropriate not only has one secondary meaning that is a verb, but it also has another definition. If you are really observant you’ll notice that these two definitions are in opposite, i.e. to take something is the opposite of allocating it. A word that has these two definitions that are in opposite to each other is known as a contranym or a Janus word.

Like confusing words, secondary meanings are likely to pop up on the exam. So, the takeaway is, if you are going to ace the GRE make sure to know your secondary meanings.

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4 Responses to GRE Vocabulary List: Double Trouble Secondary Meanings

  1. sonali August 18, 2016 at 12:20 pm #


    The verb form of ‘flag’ also means = to signal
    How can we decide, which one to follow?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

      Great question. Sometimes multiple meanings of verbs can pose a real RC challenge, but in this case, it’s pretty easy to distinguish between the two definitions of flag-as-verb. “To signal” and “to lessen in intensity” are significantly different meanings, and context will make it quite obvious which meaning you’re dealing with. An additional helpful hint: in my experience, “to lessen in intensity” is a much more common use of “flag”… on the GRE at least. “To signal” is more common in general English usage. But of course, the GRE loves to take you off the beaten path when it comes to vocabulary. 😉

  2. Arfaqur Rahman March 17, 2016 at 10:48 am #

    Hi Chris, I was just wondering if ‘peruse’ [meaning read carefully and casually ] and ‘compendium’ [meaning collection and summary are Janus words too???

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 18, 2016 at 6:53 am #

      Hi Arfaqur 🙂

      Excellent question! Peruse is an great example of a Janus word or contronym, since it has two opposing definitions:

      Peruse (v)
      1. to skim or read without attention to detail
      2. to read or examine in detail.

      We could also consider compendium a Janus word. Compendium can be used to describe both the summary/abstract and a collection of various works.

      Hope this helps 🙂

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