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GRE Vocab Wednesday: 5 Words You Have to Know

Often I have some overarching theme linking the words. This week, the overarching theme is simply high-frequency GRE vocabulary. So make sure you learn these before test day.


The Constitution, the American flag, George Washington—to many Americans, these three things are inviolate: they are sacred and must be safeguarded against injustice. For those who aren’t overly patriotic or nationalistic, there is usually something we consider inviolate—marriage vows, spiritual deity (or deities), Monday Night Football.


Have to study for a massive final? Is the deadline for a major project at work looming? Need to memorize 1,000 words for that darn test? Well, all of these are onerous tasks—they are demanding and require a lot of effort. Onerous is not used to describe a person. So don’t say your boss is onerous; say the work he requires is onerous.

Whenever a task threatened to become onerous, Nigel contrived a means of making it less so: when forced to cook for a dinner party of twelve, he ordered in.


A tricky word, confound does not relate to “finding” anything. It actually has a few definitions. First off, if you expect something to happen and then you are completely confused when it doesn’t, you are confounded.

Weather forecasters predicted that January—historically the wettest month of the year—would break the drought; yet, they were confounded when only .01 inches of rain fell during the entire month.

Confound can also mean to mix up, i.e. not be able to tell two things apart.

Those with red-green color blindness often confound the two colors, sometimes thinking that a streak of mud on their arm is blood.


Need to get something from someone, but you know they probably won’t like you trying? Well, it’s time to use a little trickery, or in other words it’s time to finagle. Sometimes, when my wife has ordered something really tasty at a restaurant, I will try to finagle more bites by trying to convince her she is full and should save room for dessert. At first this ploy worked, but now she preempts such bald-faced finagling by not offering me anything in the first place.


From the Latin for health, salutary no longer means only by providing healthful benefits; anything that is beneficial is salutary. The decrease in the number of smokers is seen—at least amongst non-smokers—as a salutary effect of anti-smoking legislation. The Internet has brought a wave of salutary changes, making our lives easier by offering Google maps, Yelp reviews, and helpful blogs.

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4 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: 5 Words You Have to Know

  1. Pedram February 25, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    Hi, Chris, thanks for the video.

    are finagle and contrive synonyms?

    Keep up the good work, Magoosh 😀

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele February 25, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      Hi Pedram,

      Good question!

      In a loose sense, the two words are synonyms. But stylistically the two are different (not that the GRE would ever feature both in the answer choices, yet only one will be correct).

      To give you a better idea, here are two sentences that show the difference between the words:

      1) Despite not being on the list, Bart finagled his way into the party, making up some story about how he had left his wallet inside.

      2) Bart contrived a scheme to get into the party, googling the hosts info. and then dropping names of “mutual friends” as he finagled his way in.

      Notice, how contrived applies to a larger, more drawn out plan of deception, whereas finagled implies a quick bit of lying for some end.

      Hope that helps!

      • gowtham April 4, 2014 at 9:05 am #

        Dear magoosh,
        I have trouble understanding the word maudlin , any help much appreciated – thanks in advance!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele April 4, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

          Not a problem :).

          Let’s say you have two friends. Both call you up (separately) and want somebody to talk to. The first friend, Bob, just got dumped by his girlfriend. He expresses that he is disappointed but you end the phone call with Bob relatively upbeat.

          Then, there is Marty–who was also dumped by his girlfriend. Throughout the conversation, Marty complains how sad he is and how no girls really like him, and how he’ll never get married, and how he should just become a priest.

          Marty is maudlin: he is self-pitying to the point of tears.

          Hope that helps!

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