GRE Vocabulary Wednesday: In Theory

Text Completion on the Revised GRE love to discuss theories. A physicist has refuted longstanding beliefs; fossil remains found in Kenya undermine prevailing wisdom; an ascendant theory in plate tectonics is not without its detractors.

Whatever the spin on the verbiage may be, you can bet at least one of the questionstest day will discuss a theory. Then there is the entire Reading Comprehension passage, which is filled with words such as the ones below.

Let us know if you have any suggestions for next week’s theme for Vocab Wednesday! Also, we just released our Vocabulary eBook, which compiles all of the lists (like the one below) we have on the blog, so definitely go download it if you like this kind of word list 🙂



Supporting a Theory



Nope it’s not the opposite of front. To back a theory is to support it.



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To posit means to state an idea that forms the basis of a theory. Forward and advance are good synonyms here. Notice that to forward a theory is to offer it up. To back a theory does not mean to come up with a theory but support somebody else’s theory.



Bolster has a wide application. Indeed most of these words do not only apply to theories (though on the GRE that’s typically where you will encounter them).



To maintain means to assert. You wouldn’t maintain a theory (at least stylistically this is not how the word is used). Rather you would maintain that X. Where X can stand for any idea or theory that you want to put forward or advance.



Yep, all these secondary definitions – no wonder the GRE loves questions about theories. Hold is a synonym for maintain.



Those who back a theory are proponents of that theory.



Going Against a Theory



To undermine a theory is to weaken it.



Many people tend to improperly define this word, thinking that refute means to disagree. In reality, refute is a much stronger word, and it means to disprove entirely.

Despite all the controversy it has engendered, the theory of evolution is unlikely to ever be refuted by hard science alone.



Debunk is typically reserved to show that a theory or claim was specious all along.

Claims of Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, and the Yeti will in all likelihood never be truly debunked, as it is difficult to disprove the existence of something that never existed.



Explode is a good synonym for debunk and/or refute. The only reason I’m putting it here is, like ‘hold’ above, the use of explode in this context is surprising. But you can explode a theory or a claim.



Those who try to refute a theory or claim are detractors of that claim.


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