GRE Vocabulary List- When a Preposition Isn’t What it Seems

A Wacky Tongue

If you haven’t already noticed from previous posts, English can be a very misleading language. Oftentimes, words simply aren’t what you expect them to mean. ETS deftly exploits this confusion on the GRE. You, of course, don’t want to be caught unawares test day. So take note of the following words. Each of them contains a preposition that is a ‘red herring’. That preposition will only throw you off the trail as to what the word actually means.


You may think that untoward has something to do with a direction. But untoward does not mean disinclined to walk eastwards. Untoward is an adjective meaning not favorable, inconvenient. A popular GRE synonym for untoward is inauspicious.

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Upon seeing this word, you may imagine a hair stylist busily braiding patrons’ hair. Upbraid, however, relates neither to up nor braiding. It means to scold or berate, and is part of the criticism synonym tree.


If you are writing below the margins of a paper you are not underwriting—you are simply writing below the margins of a piece of paper. Underwrite means to support financially.

The latest symphony broadcast was made possible with the underwriting from various Arts & Humanities associations.


What exactly does it mean to ‘ween’? To go out on Halloween, perhaps? Making an overweening person one who takes a little bit too zealously to candy collecting and wakes up the next morning with a sugar hangover?

The answer of course is none of the above. To be overweening is to be presumptuously arrogant. What exactly does that mean? Say the aforementioned trick-o-treater grabs three times as much candy as everyone else, because he assumes he is entitled to as much candy as he wants.  He would be overweening. Which would make him overweening while Halloweening (okay, I’ll stop before my humor becomes overweening!*).

*Overweening can also refer to ideas/opinions/appetites that are excessive or immoderate.

Again, be sure to commit these words to memory to help yourself have the best possible arsenal of vocabulary come test day.

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