GRE Vocab Wednesday: Don’t Get CONned


Con- is a root meaning ‘with’. It doesn’t actually mean “against”, as in pros and cons (that root would be contra). Of course, that doesn’t really help you with most words beginning with con-, since the roots that follow are not always clear-cut.


To come up with a preposterous story is to concoct a story. Let’s say you are late to an important meeting. Rather than fess up that you were simply late, you concoct this story about a six-car pile-up blocking all the lanes of a highway. Though I’d suggest telling the truth (the Twitter feed—or lack of Twitter feed on the “accident”—might reveal your concoction for what it is—a bald-faced lie).


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In this case, the root is downright esoteric, since this word does not relate to con- but to the old Latin, condonare, which means to refrain from punishing. Condone, more specifically, means to turn a blind eye from actions that should be condemned because they are morally objectionable. In other words, you let something happen that you shouldn’t.


The combination of the roots con- and fer- means to bring together. Somewhat helpful for the definition of this word: to have a conference. But the more important meaning, at least for the GRE, is to bestow or grant, as in an award or certificate. A pope can confer is blessing upon a chosen few. The dean of the school can confer a diploma upon the lucky few.


Conducive means helping bring about a healthy or positive situation. The sound of waves crashing against the beach is conducive to sleep; utter quiet and a non-distracting environment are, for most people, conducive to studying. Vocabulary Wednesday—hopefully conducive to helping these words stick.


You are late to the airport, yelling at the cabbie because you think he is dyslexic–65 mph does not mean 56 mph, you feel like roaring. You finally get to the airport where they ask you for your passport. You rifle through every coat pocket, open every zipper in your luggage and then you get that feeling….that’s consternation: the unholy marriage of anxiety and dismay.

To end this story in a happy vein: you find your passport in your back pocket, but when you get to the gate, much to your consternation the flight has been delayed two hours (that is better than having to go all the way back home to get a passport).


Do you puff out your chest and walk around the room (any room!), as though you own it? Well, hopefully the answer is ‘no’, but if you answered ‘yes’, then you might be conceited: excessively proud of oneself.

A far less common definition relates to the world of art and writing. A conceit is a clever idea. In the novella Animal Farm, George Orwell satirizes Communist Russia, using animals to stand for actual people. That’s a pretty cool literary conceit. I watched a movie in which the protagonist has to kill a future version of himself. That’s definitely an intriguing conceit (the sci-fi genre is full of them!).


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4 Responses to GRE Vocab Wednesday: Don’t Get CONned

  1. Ishmam April 15, 2015 at 8:12 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    Hope you’re doing well.
    I’ve been studying the ‘Themed lists’ from the Magoosh Vocabulary ebook and I see that the example sentences provided often have words that I don’t know.e.g. From the list ‘Money Matters: Can’t Spend it Fast Enough’ I’ve read the word ‘Prodigal’ along with the example sentence provided which is, ”Successful professional athletes who do not fall prey to prodigality seem to be the exception—most
    live decadent lives.”
    In this sentence I didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘decadent’ and I had to look it up.
    I’ve faced similar situations for some other words as well.
    So do I need to learn these words,which are within the sentences too? Or should I just learn the ‘title’ words that make up the lists?

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 16, 2015 at 3:46 pm #

      Hi Ishman,

      Good question! When coming up with those sentences, I wanted to make sure the words used in the examples (not including the vocabulary word) were easier, but no so easy that they were basic words. In other words, the GRE would expect you to know the other words used in the sentence. So I definitely recommend you learn those words too!

      Hope that helps 🙂

  2. Ashwin April 11, 2015 at 2:46 am #

    Hello Sir,
    I watched and learned the words with root – con but i came across “Contrite” word and realised it doesn’t have to do with the meaning -“with” and its an exception. So, as you have told about making it stick through mnemonics, how we make out list considering the exceptions too?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 14, 2015 at 8:35 am #

      Hi Ashwin,

      Yes, there are some exceptions; but rather than memorize these exceptions, it is best to learn the meaning of the con- words without using the roots. As I noted in the post, knowing the “with-” part doesn’t help anyhow :).

      So a mnemonic for contrite…let’s see. He ‘con’ always felt guilt because he said ‘trite’ things.

      That’s just a mnemonic I came up with, so if that doesn’t work for you, see if you can come up with your own–which usually works better because you are the original creator of the mnemonic.

      Hope that helps!

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