GRE Vocabulary List: Words with Multiple Meanings

GRE vocabulary can be tricky, because many words have double meanings. But, there are some words that have triple, or even quadruple, meanings.

In honor of the Greek god Proteus, known for his ability to change shape at will (and who bequeathed us the GRE word protean), I will call these multiple definition words Proteus words (technically, they are known as polysemous words).


If you are really into horticulture—which is a fancy word for gardening—you’ll known hedges are shrubs, or small bushes that have been neatly trimmed. If you know your finance, then you’ve probably heard of hedge funds (where brokers make their money betting against the market). Hedge can also be used in a verb sense. If you hedge your bets, you play safely. If you hedge a statement, you limit or qualify that statement. Finally, hedge can also mean to avoid making a direct statement, as in equivocating.


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What word means to turn red (especially in the face), to send down the toilet, to be in abundance, and to drive out of hiding? Yep, it’s flush, which has all four of these totally unrelated definitions.



Imagine an evil person who cuts down trees, and then falls himself. Well, that image is capturing three different definitions of fell—to cut down a tree, the past tense of fall (we all know that) and evil. Yes, I know, fell can’t possibly mean evil…but the English language is a wacky one. Fell indeed means terribly evil. Sort of like these Proteus words.



You have arches in architecture, or at a well-known fast-food restaurant. You can arch your back, or a bow. Arches are even a part of your foot. But, did you know that to be arch is to be deliberately teasing, as in, he shrugged off her insults because he knew she was only being arch? Finally, arch- as a root means chief or principal, as in archbishop.



Commonly, when we think of begging, we think of money, or a favor. But, one can also beg a question, and that’s where things start to get complicated. To beg a question can mean to evade a question, invite an obvious question, or, and this is where it starts to get really tricky, to ask a question that in itself makes unwarranted assumptions.

For instance, let’s say you are not really sure if you are going to take the GRE. If somebody asks you when you are going to take the GRE, then that person is assuming you are going to take the GRE. That is, they are begging the question. If you avoid giving a direct answer, then you are also begging the question (albeit in a different sense). Which finally begs the question, how did this whole question begging business get so complicated in the first place?

At this point, you may very well not want to take the GRE. But be reassured—there won’t be too many Proteus words on the test. For the most part, you’ll mainly see secondary and primary definitions. And, if you end up seeing a string of polysemous words, you can exclaim to yourself archly, what a fell test this is! Just don’t flush your score report down the toilet.

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6 Responses to GRE Vocabulary List: Words with Multiple Meanings

  1. Amy November 23, 2018 at 12:11 pm #

    What’s the best way to study words with multiple meanings? Is there an app?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 26, 2018 at 10:27 am #

      Great question! To my knowledge, there isn’t a reliable app for this. Part of the reason there’s no one app that really works for all this is that there are so many words in English that have at least two meanings.

      Fortunately, there are still many good ways to study words that have multiple meanings on the GRE. First and foremost, make sure you notice when a GRE Verbal question features a word with several different possible meanings. It’s especially important to note the times that GRE uses a word in an unusual way.

      For both GRE reading passages and other GRE-like reading practice, you should also keep a word journal of unusual alternate word meanings you come across. As you spot and record these words, two online dictionaries are particularly useful. Use or to look up all the meanings of a given word; these two dictionaries are especially comprehensive for words with multiple meanings.

  2. Chris Lele
    Chris April 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Sure, no problem :). The English language is truly tricky!

  3. Aman April 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Wow these are really tricky …i didn’t knew fell ,beg n flush can have such meanings…
    Thanks Chris

  4. Chris Lele
    Chris November 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Great! I am happy you are enjoying these vocab posts!

  5. Erika Klara November 5, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    Wow Chris!

    You are doing such a wonderful job!


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