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GRE Analogies

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Analogies Introduction

Analogies are part of the verbal section of the GRE. Expect nine analogies questions on each of the two verbal sections.

The suggested time allowed is 60 seconds on average per question early on to allow you to become familiar with this pacing.

After working with the strategies and engaging the practice sets, you are encouraged to reduce time spent on these questions to 45 seconds each.

Analogies Overview

The relationship between the original pair of words is critical with analogies questions. Initially, we express the relationship is by using two variables, X (first word) and Y (second word). Later, we’ll use the actual words.

[This question is less difficult.]

The issue isn’t what the X (coral) in the original pair has in common with the Xs in the five alternatives: it’s what the X/Y (coral/reef) relationship in the original has in common with the X/Y relationship in the credited response.

The questions in the analogies section are formulaic. They resemble the “equation of proportionality” in mathematics. Try to express the relationship as precisely as possible. You may have to try again to identify the credited choice.

[This question is less difficult.]

The single colon (:) means “is to” and the double colon (::) means “as,” so that a completed analogy will read: “Fish is to water as plant is to soil.” Note the word survives describes the central or essential relationship in the given analogy.

In this question-type, analogies represent a connection between four words. So, the relationship between the words in the pair you choose must mirror the relationship of the given pair.

Analogy answer choices generally have some sort of relationship between each pair of words (as in this question). But it is possible the test maker could present a word pair without an apparent relationship. Consider footpath and hurricane.

Obviously, if the answer pair doesn’t have some kind of association it can’t match the given.

Create a sentence that expresses the relationship between the given pair. Then, examine each answer choice in turn for a bond that parallels (or at least is similar to) the given pair.

If more than one choice fits (or worse, none fit) compose another, more precise sentence and repeat the comparison.

[This question is less difficult.]

Consider all alternatives as this question-type encourages comparative analysis.

Note here that the relationship between the verb and noun (give/gift) is personal in nature, an exchange between people.

The relationship between the given words can be refined more precisely by a quick perusal of the answer choices.

A preamble is more focused and reflects on the statute that follows while an introduction makes clear what follows in a textbook. This answer is not perfect but is the best among the choices.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

A preamble precedes a statute or code.

(A) Denouement means finale.
(B) Instructions are directions that guide assembly of an item like toy.
(C) An introduction to a textbook provides guidance and organization.
(D) Choreography is the structure, plan, or organization upon which a (dance) recital is performed.
(E) A horse precedes a cart (actually a horse pulls a cart).

Difficult questions may encourage you to make an intelligent guess between two or more possible choices.

On the paper-based GRE the questions become more difficult as you move along.

But on the GRE Computer Based Test (GRE/CBT) the level of difficulty of an analogy question on the screen you’re viewing is determined by how you answered the previous question(s).

[This question is more difficult.]

These are all GRE words that have appeared on past exams.

  • punctilio-etiquette, protocol
  • materialism-desire for possessions as most important
  • impoverished-state of being poor
  • discomfort-lack of physical comfort
  • apathetic-lack of enthusiasm or interest
  • antidote-medicine to counteract a poison
  • ceremonious-grand and formal occasions
  • vigor-physical strength and good health, enthusiasm
  • pedestrian-dull

Incarceration can be a form of punishment (incarcerate is not necessarily a negative that always refers to a prison). Incarceration can also mean custody or restraint.

Tenure can be granted based on scholarship. But the given analogy has a negative feeling about it and doesn’t seem to refer to an achievement.

Institutionalizing (placing someone in a residential institution) can happen for psychological (mental and emotional state of a person) reasons.

[This question is more difficult.]

Bind and constrained are near synonyms.

Correct (v) (put or make right) does not involve the same mental state as discipline (showing a controlled form of behavior). You don’t correct someone for a disciplined reason.

  • control-determine the behavior
  • liberated-showing freedom from social conventions

Incarcerate and institutionalize have the word confinement in common, but for different reasons, yet the analogy works.

Analogy Categories

The question categories that follow are often encountered on the GRE. Of course, there are an unlimited number of analogy relationships and ETS is always free to introduce new ones.

Yet, whatever the analogy question entails, test-takers can always use the basic strategies I discuss in this set.

The questions that follow illustrate each of the 17 categories. Reviewing these questions within the framework of a classification allows you to help recognize similar characteristics of a companion question on the exam.

This familiarity promotes understanding and aids your efforts.

1. Analogies with Synonyms

Although execute has several meanings, one of its primary meanings is the same as that of implement, to put into effect or to carry out. Creating a phrase is straightforward when the words are synonymous.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

You may not know the exact meaning of all 12 words. Don’t panic. Often, it is enough to have a sense of what a word means or how it is typically used. Sometimes, your answer choice may not seem dictionary-perfect but it only has to be the best of the bunch.

Other GRE Analogies with Synonyms

  • discretion-guardedness
  • imperiousness-arrogance
  • milk(v)-extract
  • mock-imitate
  • dormant-inactivity
  • malleable-plasticity


  • complete-finish
  • transact-carry out
  • convey-transport
  • codify-systematize
  • reinstate-restore
  • verify-demonstrate accuracy
  • debase-degrade
  • oblige-be indebted or grateful

2. Analogies with Antonyms

Antonyms are words that are opposite in meaning. Rarely on the exam are the antonyms as clear-cut as black/white or right/wrong.

This variety of analogies is challenging, primarily because they are vocabulary-based.

The correct choice here is based on the intensity of the given pair as related to the credited answer pair.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

Other GRE Analogies with Antonyms

  • multiply-divide
  • audacious-trepidation
  • implacable-compromise


  • rebut-to deny, contradict
  • acquiesce-agree to, comply
  • masticate-munch, crunch
  • disperse-to break up, spread, distribute
  • prohibit-forbid (which is a near opposite to allow)

3. Analogies and Variables

There is a strong relationship between the sensation of hunger and the act of eating (hunger usually results in eating).

The statistical tool of correlation measures the strength of the association (connection) of any two variables. The link between these variables and the vigor of their dependency are often framed as an analogy and arise in question-format on the GRE.

For us it’s most important to recognize these (sometimes) immeasurable quantities and create a sentence that places the words in this relationship.

[This question is less difficult.]

Other associations and relationships

  • study-pass
  • plant-harvest (reap-sow)
  • thirsty-drink
  • smoking-heart disease
  • education-income
  • tobacco advertising-consumption
  • behavior problems-academic underachievement
  • delinquency-substance abuse
  • excessive alcohol use-addiction
  • sleeplessness-memory lapses
  • stressful life events-major depression

4. Whole and Part

Whole and part relationships are fairly easy to identify but they often mask a more sophisticated, sometimes obscure, secondary relationship. The key is to contemplate an alternate, yet complementary, connection.

The superficial relationship between a tree (whole) and its root (part) is readily apparent. But this relationship fits each of the five choices except (B).

At second glance, try to determine the relationship between tree and root in a more precise, utilitarian way.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

More GRE whole and part (set, subset) relationships

  • automobile-wheels
  • fish-gill
  • body-bones
  • integers-ten
  • humor-slapstick
  • symphony-movement
  • glider-strut
  • novel-chapter
  • quadrilateral-rhombus
  • dance-waltz

5. Action and Reaction

Issac Newton’s third law is deceptively simple. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So, the terms action and reaction often refer to forces.

But action and reaction can arise in GRE analogy questions. These are not always easy to spot. Some can be forces of nature; others involve physical movement; still others include day-to-day activities (as here).

Construct a phrase that makes the relationship apparent. In the present problem, a personal exchange can be envisioned with the word pair: QUESTION : ANSWER. By articulating as precise an analogy as possible with the given pair of words, your task becomes easier.

[This question is more difficult.]

Other analogies with Action and Reaction

  • injury-bleeding
  • wind on sail-boat movement
  • athletic activity-increased heart rate
  • income-taxes
  • volcano-lava

6. Object and Activity

Eating at a table involves a positional relationship between the object (table) and the activity (eating). Express this connection in a phrase.

[This question is less difficult.]

The easier analogy questions employ simple words (everyday vocabulary) testing the relationship between and among words.

As we’ll see, the more difficult analogy questions involve more challenging vocabulary.

Other GRE Analogies with Object and Activity

  • hammer-nail (v)
  • truck-transport
  • canvas-paint (v)
  • emollient-soothe
  • screen-movie

7. Actor and Action

The initial phrase provides the best verb to describe the judge’s role in a trial. Examining the choices tests your exactness. Trial (no pun) and error is an acceptable plan of action on analogies.

[This question is less difficult.]

Other GRE Analogies with Actor and Action

  • pilot-navigates
  • referee-officiates
  • professional-compensated
  • despot-oppressive
  • rookie-observes
  • wag-jokes
  • rebel-resists
  • debater-persuades

8. Subject and Verb

This type is similar to actor and action, except the second word is a verb. If you say:

“What a thief does is steal.”

(D) What a salesperson does is persuade
(E) What a dentist does is drill

Both (D) and (E) seem acceptable.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

State a more precise articulation of the relationship between thief and steal. Which is more closely analogous to thief steal?

Stealing is a thief’s main occupational trait, as persuasion is a salesperson’s central personality characteristic, whereas a dentist does much more than just drill.

9. Word and Variation

If it is not readily apparent that (D) is the credited response, you may still benefit by forming a sentence such as:

“The plural of medium is media.”
“More than one medium is media.”

[This question is less difficult.]

In this way you can eliminate all but one of the possibilities without necessarily knowing whether loci is the plural of locus.

Note that (A), (C), and (E) do not express this relationship and (B) contains singular synonyms.


  • idiom-phrase, mode of expression
  • locus-position, place
  • radium-a chemical element

10. Comparative Degree

Numerous permutations of this question variation appear on the GRE. It is an ETS favorite. Comparative degree can refer to:

small : tiny surprise : shock
teaspoon : quart bitter : acidic
lake : pond angry : vitriolic
large : humongous happy : estatic
desire : lust
smell : stink
funny : hilarious
embarrassment : shame

[This question is less difficult.]


  • damp-moist
  • saturate-soaked
  • gregarious-sociable
  • reclusive-solitary
  • aloof-distant
  • affable-sociable

11. Human Characteristics

This antonyms question category refers to human characteristics that may be physical, mental, or behavioral.

[This question is more difficult.]


  • insolent-rude, disrespectful
  • deferential-well-mannered, civil
  • bumptious-self-important, conceited
  • erudite-scholarly
  • unapproachable-distant, removed
  • supercilious-overbearing, pompous
  • hermitic-solitary
  • parsimonious-stingy
  • insightful-intuitive
  • affluent-wealthy
  • endearing-lovable

12. Reliance or Dependence

Reliance or dependence may involve a person (professional), concept (theory), ability (athlete), plant (tree), or government (sovereignty).

The relationship is such that a condition (almost certainly) must exist for an activity to go forward or a person (or entity) to be successful.

[This question is more difficult.]

Other Analogies with Reliance or Dependency

  • capital-industrialist
  • dexterity-surgeon
  • agility-acrobat
  • argument-lawyer
  • evidence-investigator
  • patrons-retailer

13. Parts and Pieces

Questions involving parts and pieces arise occasionally on the GRE. We’ve seen strut (holding up a wing on a plane), rudder and anchor on a boat, and other, somewhat obscure, terms.

[This question is more difficult.]

Other GRE Analogies with Parts and Pieces

  • tablecloth-table
  • muffler-neck
  • radius-ulna
  • disguise-costume
  • inventory-stock
  • athlete-trophy
  • denture-teeth
  • foil-saber


  • tiller-a horizontal bar fitted to the head of a boat’s rudder post and used as a lever for steering
  • airfoil-the basic form of the wings to give flight
  • joystick-the control or steering column of an aircraft
  • biplane-an early type of aircraft with two pairs of wings, one above the other

14. People, Places, and Positions

This category focuses upon people and where they are, who they are, or what they do. We’ve seen a few of these.

[This question is more difficult.]

Other Analogies with People, Places, and Positions

  • comedian-humorist
  • conductor-orchestra
  • judge-ombudsman
  • physician-surgeon


  • cinephile-a person who is fond of motion pictures
  • gladiator-a man trained to fight
  • armament-military weapons and equipment
  • horticulturist-the art or practice of garden cultivation
  • botany-the scientific study of plants.

15. Containers

This category describes carriers and keepers of a wide variety; where you can put it, keep it, ship it, and store it.

This category may also provide words that tell you where someone (or something) lives, exists, works, plays, or simply, is found.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

Other Analogies with Containers

  • horses-corral
  • birds-aviary
  • lava-volcano
  • teacher-classroom
  • rash-epidermis
  • denture-mouth


  • tuber-a root that grows underground
  • implement-a device or hand tool
  • membrane-a pliable sheet-like structure acting as a boundary, lining, or partition in an organism
  • cell-smallest structural and functional unit of an organism

16. Secondary Meanings

One of the words in the given relationship may anticipate a secondary meaning. If you spot this possibility your best plan is to re-think the given relationship, then review the five answer choices in light of the (potential) secondary meaning.

  • field(n)-use for athletic events
  • field(v)-deal with
  • entertain(v)-amuse, provide enjoyment
  • entertain(v)-give attention to, consider

[This question is more difficult.]

Other Analogies with Secondary Meanings

  • milk(v)-extract
  • arrest(v)-hold someone’s attention
  • august(adj)-venerable
  • brook(v)-tolerate, endure
  • bolt(v)-run
  • temper(v)-harden
  • dupe(v)-trick


  • canvass-solicit votes or opinions

17. Define or Describe

Occasionally, the first word in the given analogy will (partially) define or describe (in brief) the second word.

If you sense this relationship, create a sentence (or phrase) with the verb means (defined as) or looks like (described as). Then use this sentence to examine the five choices.

[This question is of average difficulty.]

Other Analogies that Define or Describe

  • envelop-blanket(v)
  • inform-inspire
  • overdose-drugs
  • flock-birds


  • alacrity-cheerful readiness
  • concavity-surface or outline of a circle or sphere
  • voracity-devouring food
  • acuity-sharpness, keenness of thought or vision
  • nativity-birth

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