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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Treacherous Homophones

English is full of words that sound like other words, and the GRE loves to take advantage of the confusion that may result. Since the definitions for the words are pretty straightforward, I’ve included relatively challenging sentences, some of which use vocabulary from recent—and not so recent—Vocabulary Wednesdays.


We are not talking about presents that have a shiny bow on top. To be rapt is to be completely attentive and engaged. Movies that are so well crafted that we cannot take our eyes from the screen hold us rapt.

Cal Tech physicist Richard Feynman was known not just for his inimitable ability at handling complex equations but for his ability to impart this esoteric knowledge with such fervor that his audience could not help but be rapt.


A crazy word, in that it is the opposite of a word that sounds exactly like it. To raze is to tear down and destroy, the very opposite of raise. A building can be raised on the backs of hard workers but can be razed by a platoon of bulldozers.

Most of the old squatter buildings were razed to make way for a new shopping center—yet another sign of the inexorable march of gentrification. 


Not to be confused with voracious, which means very, very hungry, veracious means truthful. A witness’s testimony—so long as that person tells the truth—can be described as a veracious statement.

Even if we are to accept Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Constitution as veracious, there are apparent contradictions—we can have untrammeled freedoms yet be free from the incursions of others—that preclude putting his ideas into practice.


When I was really young, my mother used to buy frozen concentrated orange juice in a can, from which the water had been removed and to which you would, upon opening, have to add four parts water. Much to my mother’s dismay, I’d often try to eat the cube of condensed orange (hey, I was into sugar).

Diffuse is the opposite of concentrate, though there is no such thing as diffuse orange juice (that would be diluted orange juice). But if I had added fifteen parts of water to the orange (instead of biting into the semi-frozen chunk of soon-to-be OJ), the sugar would have become very diffuse.

Diffuse can be used as a verb, meaning to spread, as in big news stories quickly diffuse through the blogosphere, or an adjective, as in diffuse ideas, held together by a tenuous narrative thread.  Diffuse should not be confused with defuse, as in to defuse a bomb, or reduce some negative quality.

The contexts in which the word diffuse can be used are themselves diffuse, including anything from the consistency of mixtures to the transmission of ideas.


This word sounds much like complacent, which means self-satisfied and happy with the way things are at the moment, even though danger may be lurking around the corner. So don’t be complacent: remember that complaisant means willing to please others and obliging. As somebody who teaches SAT to high school students, complaisant students are the best. They always do the homework without becoming querulous. Such students, unfortunately, tend to be the exceptions.

Ever complaisant as a child, Sarah only needed three months of university in New York City to morph into an outright rebel, a piercing for every traffic light in Manhattan.


Yes, I know, I’ve taut test prep for a long time. Oops, was that a spelling error or just a nonsensical pun? Taut means pulled tight, as in a child’s nighttime blank-y spread over a queen-sized bed. Or Usain Bolt’s calf muscles as he explodes out of the blocks.

Figuratively speaking, taut can refer to writing that is very controlled and economical.

Compared to the diffuse oeuvre of most 19th century authors, that of Albert Camus seems taut, each word integral to the meaning the author aims to impart.


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6 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Treacherous Homophones

  1. Prasad N R April 7, 2018 at 6:06 am #

    GRE test beings with a score of 340. Everytime I make a mistake because of synonyms like “complaisant” and “compliant” and “suffuse” and “diffuse”, I am rapt of my score.

  2. Mireille November 21, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    …what I’d like to confirm, though is that we’re getting close to an end here! 😀 I mean, really…how many more of these words still up your sleeve?! Do not get me wrong when I ask you “Are you EVER gonna stop?!”, but instead…try to understand where I’m coming from. Once I was done creating lists in with each and every flashcard from the App, then I had an epiphany “How about Vocab Wednesdays?!!” So there I am, taking deep breaths and going back to my friend, to create OTHER lists with each and every word from Vocab Wednesday (which, Shivankit, by the way, some of them do overlap).

    OK, so be it. Here I am now, just done building 15 more lists of 50’ish words each, but now the problem… you’re still going, you just wouldn’t stop!! 😀

    Please. Just say “Mireille, we’re almost there!”. Please?! 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 24, 2014 at 10:51 am #

      🙂 🙂 🙂

      Love this comment!

      Great point: all things must come to an end–even the GRE lexicon (or at least my whimsical deployment of it every Wednesday).

      For now–meaning the foreseeable future–there will be more words, more wacky Wednesdays :).

      And who knows, maybe I’ll circle back on many old words, drawing even deeper from the well of wisdom that the passing years have afforded me…or maybe I’ll just slouch into one-sentence explanations delivered in an eerie monotone 🙂

      • Mireille November 24, 2014 at 11:06 am #

        …I guess we’ll bear with you, then! 🙂 Just to make the weight a bit easier to carry, when you think you have a percentage in mind, maybe you can drop it here; luckily, the flashcards and the Vocab Wednesdays so far took care of the first 50% of all GRE lexicon already! It’d probably be too presumptuous of me to hope for more than that… 🙂

  3. Shivankit November 19, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    Hi Chris ,

    I am a premium Magoosh Member and have started using the Magoosh GRE FlashCard App .

    I have been watching the GRE Vocab Wednesday Videos.They are brilliant.

    I wanted to confirm if all the words present in the 112 GRE Vocab Wednesday Videos cover the words or are same as the words present in the Magoosh GRE FlashCard App or does the App have more words ?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 24, 2014 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Shivankit,

      There is significant overlap, but most of the flashcards words are drawn from Vocab Wed. that are at least a year old. You should be able to find non-flashcard words amongst the more recent videos.

      Hope that helps!

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