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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Descriptive Words

The following words are often times perfect to describe people. Though pinning down the exact definitions of these words can be more difficult than uttering, “Hey, that guy is such and such.” That’s why in addition to providing definitions, I’ve provide an example sentence that gives a little bit of context before the word in question appears.


1. Staid

– sober, serious, grave, adhering to a sense of propriety

Making Joel laugh proved difficult. He always seemed to feel that laughter, even a mere smile, was inappropriate. That wasn’t to say he was antisocial. He simply preferred to remain serious, as though such staidness conferred upon him a sense of dignity. Of course that was the case until we discovered Joel’s predilection for Irish whiskey.


2. Stolid

– dull, impassive, emotion-less, almost giving the sense of stupidity

Boris never became excited. With glazed eyes, he would greet both mundane news and the most extraordinary revelations. Were it not for his rare quips—suggesting at least a capacity for humor—Boris’s coworkers would think he was the victim of some massive head trauma.


3. Retiring

– fond of being alone, typically departing from the social circle, preferring privacy to the mob, shy

Harold rarely came out of his den. When he did so, he was pleasant enough, exchanging a few pleasantries with guests. But whenever the conversation would start dragging on, he would subtly edge his way back into his study, once again safely ensconced in his world of books.

This word should not be confused with ‘retiring’, as in ‘he will be retiring next fall.’


4. Redoubtable

– causing fear; worthy of awe; employed humorously and cheekily to show that somebody is big and scary

Even now I can remember the redoubtable Ms. Knowles, my 3rd grade grammar teacher. Like the Napoleon of syntax, she would march each morning in our room, wooden ruler in hand, ready to rattle knuckles at even the slightest misplaced modifying phrase with her ruler. Ouch! (Sorry Ms. Knowles).

This word does not relate to ‘doubt’ but comes from an Old French verb meaning ‘to fear.’


5. Expansive

– talkative, effusive, out-going in social situations (the opposite of ‘retiring’)

Often retiring, if not downright stolid, Chester, with only a single glass of wine, would strike up conversations with those around him. By the second glass, he would become expansive, sharing intimate details of his past with perfect strangers. Unfortunately, by the third glass, he’d become a redoubtable drunk, haranguing others for being in cahoots with government spies.

Expansive call also mean wide-ranging in scope.

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15 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Descriptive Words

  1. Len July 17, 2012 at 9:20 am #

    Here is a practice paragraph that I made up:

    A typical college party is composed of a myriad of colorful characters. There will always be at least one staid designated driver stuck in a corner listening to an inebriated friend speak expansively about a recent crush. While one stolid person is stuck to the coach because they are too far gone to move or interact with other people. Another essential element to any get together is at least one retiring freshman in the corner who is too afraid to speak to the upperclassmen. Of course this scene always terminates when a couple of redoubtable police officers come knocking at the door.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      Good job! Definitely a typical college party, except for all those GRE words that dropped by :).

  2. jay June 26, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

    Hi chris

    Thats a great post. I came across two of the words for the first time 🙂 I’ll try to make a paragraph:

    The old man’s neighbors considered him ‘staid’ as they hadn’t seen him in a merry mood since long. He had a habit to visit the park every evening. The kids in the park found him ‘redoubtable’ and never let their ball bounce toward him. He seemed ‘retiring’ to the other old people in the park because he never interacted much. He had a ‘staid’ pet dog that would walk abreast with him, but never bark or react to anything. In all , everyone thought that the old man was a lot of things, but being engagingly ‘expansive’, had never been one of them.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      Hi Jay,

      Great use of the words! A coherent story of a misunderstood curmudgeon, or is he just retiring.

      Anyhow keep the fun paragraphs coming, and I encourage all Magoosh users to do the same :).

  3. vaisnavi June 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    srry nature of persons

  4. abhay June 25, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    such nice words….a single word beautifully describing the personality of a person….knew four of these…so preening myself a bit….
    also for fact GRE has a proclivity to double meaning word. Any innocuous soul will think that expansive is covering wide range and fall prey to decoys of GRE.
    Enjoyed your post 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 26, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

      Hi Abhay,

      I’m glad you enjoyed these words! And yes, I am sure many an innocuous soul has fallen prey to the artifice inherent in some of these words.

  5. vaisnavi June 25, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Majority of the gre vocabulary enunciate the descriptive naure of persons like Gadfly( An annoying person), Dudgeon, Asinine, Vainglorious, Mountbank and many more.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

      Yes, those are all good descriptive words. But I think the majority of GRE descriptive words are not as nuanced as these.

  6. jay June 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    Thanks for the interesting post 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 26, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

      You are welcome!

  7. Craig June 24, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    Chris. Is studying roots at all any good? Why would all the books use them? Wordsmart roots good? Also are learning synonyms good and for those what do you recommend doing? Thanks so much.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm #


      These are all great questions. In fact, I am going to write a post on word roots and address it next week’s vocab Wed.

      The short of it: many books are peddling roots because, at a basic level, they do help. But only at a very basic level. So if you are a non-native speaker or a high school freshman, knowing that mal- means bad and poly- means many is helpful. By the time you get to GRE level vocabulary applying roots becomes a very spotty fallback. More often then not, you’ll be tricked by a word.

      As for synonyms, definitely group them together, but learn the important differences between words that are ostensibly similar.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Sammy June 22, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    You repeatedly mention reading the NYT as a means to getting better at ‘active reading’. How exactly should I go about reading the articles on the NYT? Should I be meticulous enough as to take notes and write a brief recapitulation of the articles I have read?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Hi Sammy,

      Good question! A brief recap would be helpful. Sometimes simply doing this in your head is helpful. As long as you make sure you give a faithful recap vs. simply stating, ‘the article was about fossil fuels.’

      As for which articles. stick to Science, Arts, Book Reviews. The weekend Sunday Magazine has extended articles dealing with complex issues. In general, I’d avoid the Top 10 recommended, unless they happen to be about science.

      Hope that helps!

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