Negation words: Misleading Roots

Though Halloween is now over, beware of these trick-or-treaters. They are disguised as something they are not. You’ll notice that, in each case, there is a prefix that typically negates the word (in-, im-, un-). In the cases below, these roots are misleading.



Think of somebody, or something, that you simply can’t tolerate. That thing is insufferable. A person bleating into their cell phones on a crowded bus is insufferable. So is a person who only talks about him or herself, and usually in the most flattering vein possible. Depending on the person, certain television shows or genres can be insufferable. This word is derived from the second definition of suffer, which means to put up with, or tolerate.



Impertinent can actually be the opposite of pertinent, but this definition is seldom accounted. Most of the time, impertinent means not showing the proper respect. You can think of it this way – if somebody’s behavior is not pertinent to the given social context, e.g. an occasion calling for formality, then you can think of that person as being impertinent. The definition usually only applies if a person is being rude where respect is expected, and not staid where frivolity is apt.

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If you are thinking of being knocked over the head and lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, you have the wrong word (not to mention a vivid imagination). In this case, the correct word is unconscious. If an act is so horrible and deplorable that it makes everyone around aghast, then that action is unconscionable. Unconscionable can also mean something that is in excess of what is deemed tolerable. This second definition doesn’t have the unethical smear of the first definition.

The felon committed the unconscionable act of robbing a blind person.

The lawyer’s demands were unconscionable, and rather than pay an exorbitant sum or submit himself to any other inconveniences, the man decided to find a new lawyer.



While immaterial can describe a ghost, phantom, or run-of-the mill ectoplasm, immaterial primarily means not relevant.

The judge found the defendant’s comments immaterial to the trial, and summarily dismissed him from the witness stand.



Depending on the circumstances, this can be a very important word. That is, if you read that something is inflammable, that means it can easily light on fire. The opposite would be nonflammable. Strangely enough, inflammable is the same as flammable in the sense that it describes anything that can light on fire. Inflammable – but not flammable – can mean extremely controversial, incendiary.



This word does not mean to make less nervous, but its opposite. If you unnerve a person, you disconcert him or her to the point he or she is likely to fail.

At one time unnerved by math problems, she began avidly “Magooshing”, and soon became adept at even combinations and permutations questions.



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10 Responses to Negation words: Misleading Roots

  1. Prasad N R March 29, 2018 at 5:53 am #

    Many people find GRE verbal insufferable and unnerved enough to give up. I do the opposite. I am polyannaish and panglossian, sardonically hope for a quixotic 330. I am not sure if I can even compare myself with such scores. But, at the same time, it would be ignominious to have failed to try. It is one life, one chance and one opportunity.

  2. Anwesha February 17, 2018 at 7:16 pm #

    According to the first definition of unconscionable, is it synonymous with egregious?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 21, 2018 at 12:34 pm #

      Unconscionable means immoral or extremely unethical. Egregious means clearly wrong or clearly a violation of rules and/or expectations. Not exactly the same meaning, but very close. In fact, the meanings of these two words are so close that “unconscionable” and “egregious” are more or less interchangeable. The main difference is that “egregious” suggests and action that was noticed by other people, who judged it as wrong. Where as an unconscionable action may or may not be seen by others, but is still very wrong. Does that make sense?

  3. Anwesha February 17, 2018 at 7:10 pm #

    Also the word IMPASSIONATE.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 21, 2018 at 12:39 pm #

      I believe you’re asking if “impassionate” can have the same meaning as “unconsionable”? It doesn’t. And actually, this word has a completely unrelated meaning. Now, here’s the interesting thing about “impassionate”– it can be an alternate word for “impassioned.” In that case, the word means “showing powerful emotion.” But it can also mean “not passionate,” or “not showing strong emotion.” So “impassionate” is one of a small number of words in the English language that has two definitions which are the opposites of each other.

  4. Jagadeesh June 3, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    Yes! In fact these are disguised words. I have a small request. After explaining these words, just give some text completion or sentence equivalence questions related to the explained words. I think it will help a lot… Thank you!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 4, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      Hi Jagadeesh,

      Actually, many of these words pop up in the TC/SE questions I’ve already written (which are in the product). But check the blog periodically–I throw in these words, or tricky words like them, in the TC/SE posts I write.

  5. Aman March 28, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Oh yes ,
    that one i am sorry ….

  6. Aman March 26, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    Unconscionable can be one which a normal persons conscious doesnt allow….

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 28, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      Hi Aman,

      Actually, be careful with the use of ‘conscious.’ You mean ‘conscience’ – that little voice in your head that tells you the difference between right and wrong.

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