Learning the meaning of root words, prefixes, and suffixes can sometimes help you deduce the definition of an unfamiliar GRE vocabulary word. However, this strategy isn’t always reliable, and it can take you down the wrong path on test day. That’s why we’ve compiled this word list with commonly confused GRE root words and prefixes to help you prepare for the trickiest ones of them all!
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Table of Contents
- Confusing Prefixes (Pre-, Per-)
- Re- Doesn’t Always Mean Again
- Mis-, In-, Im-, Un- Typically Negates but Not Always
- Con- (with) Is Not the Opposite of Pro-
Confusing Prefixes (Pre-, Per-)
You’ll often see the GRE root words per- or pre- on the exam, and, understandably, might get them confused. Don’t fall into the trap of these commonly confused GRE prefixes! “Pre” typically means “before” (as you can see in the word “prefix” itself!) and the “per” typically means “through.”
Example Per- Words
Ever done dishes before? As far as daily experiences go, this one represents the nadir for most. As a result, when we do dishes, we do them in a routine way. To do something in such a way is to be perfunctory. The word also carries with it the connotation of carelessness—done through a careless manner.
If you are peremptory you are bossy and domineering. It can also mean wanting something right away. As the latin roots are “per” (through) and “emere” (to take), this makes sense.
Example: My sister used to peremptorily tell me to do the dishes, a chore I would do perfunctorily or avoid doing altogether.
Example Pre- Words
A preemptive action takes place in anticipation of (or before) another action.
Example: My boss preemptively got defensive before she even heard the feedback from her evaluation.
As the roots of “precocious” mean “before” and “knowing,” it would make sense that this word refers to someone (a child typically) who is wise beyond their years.
Bonus “Pre-” Words:
GRE Prefixes Pop Quiz!
Choose the correct antonym for the word MEEK:
Show Correct Answer
The answer is (B) peremptory. Since meek means to be shy or soft-spoken, it is the opposite of peremptory, which means to be domineering. Knowing these, and other, potentially confusing prefix words can make a big difference in your performance on test day.
Re- Doesn’t Always Mean “Again”
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Roots are not always your friends. In many cases, they can be downright misleading. For example, take the case of “re-“. It does not always mean again when added to the beginning of a word.
This does not mean to miss again. It means to be negligent in one’s duty.
Sounds like rest. It’s actually the opposite and means restlessness.
Example: The crowd grew restive as the comedian’s opening jokes fell flat (sorry, Charlie).
Bonus “Re-” Words:
GRE Prefixes Pop Quiz!
Fill in each of the blanks with the correct answer.
Many had complained that the president was known for boring, even _(i)__ speeches. Unsurprisingly, the president droned on in his latest speech as the crowd grew _(ii)_, and _(iii)_ for a leader who would be able to galvanize, not bore, them.
Show Correct Answers
Answers: C, B, A
Mis-, In-, Im-, Un- Typically Negates but Not Always
You’ll notice that there is a prefix that typically negates the word (mis- in-, im-, un-). For example, notice how equity becomes it’s opposite with the added ‘in-‘. Or how an “unconscionable” act is so horrible and deplorable that it goes against the “conscience?” Or consider how “align” means to position something correctly and how “misalign” means to move it out of position.
Here are some additional examples of how these roots manifest in words:
When Prefix Rules Don’t Apply
However, sometimes these prefixes are connected to a group of letters that don’t mean anything alone. For example, when considering the word “inveigle,” which means to obtain through flattery and deception, what exactly is a “veigle?”
Below are some examples of GRE vocabulary that don’t follow the above word roots pattern:
Missive comes from the Latin “to send”—a very apt meaning. A missive is a formal letter. It’s not a typical GRE word and I can’t imagine it turning out as the correct answer. However, it might in some cases make for a very good distractor.
Meant to point out that something is silly or foolish, inane typically modifies words relating to speaking: comment, chatter, conversation, remark, etc.
Sure, this word can refer to fragrant, burning sticks redolent of spice and. But there is a second, very different meaning, that might show up on the GRE: to make someone really angry, so that’s you are setting them on fire (figuratively, of course).
The Pros to Your Cons
GRE Root Words with Pro-
We usually think of words that begin with “pro-” as being just that: they are positive words exuding good cheer. The root “pro-” can have several meanings. Often, a word that begins with “pro-” doesn’t actually contain the root “pro-“. “Pro-” is part of a larger word. Often, this larger word is not positive. A good example is the word “prosaic”, which means dull, unimaginative.
The root scribe conjures up the image of a bespectacled man hunched over a desk writing. Interestingly, the root does apply to writing and “pro-” is used in the sense of forward. Yet, the word has a slightly negative ring to it; to proscribe is to ban or forbid. The Catholic Church, if it wanted to ban something, would put the order in writing, hence the “scribe-” root.
Make sure not to mix this word up with prescribe, which means to offer treatment.
Bonus “Pro-” Words:
GRE Root Words with Con-
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. Here are some examples.
Knowing GRE root words can help you with this definition. Convivial describes a person or place that is full of life (Con- = with, Viv– = life). A party where everybody is having a good time can be said to have a convivial atmosphere. A person at the party who is telling a story in an animated fashion is convivial.
To conciliate a person or persons is to placate them. An angry mob can be conciliated (hopefully!); one can conciliate an upset friend. The adjective form, conciliatory, is also common. A conciliatory gesture is one in which a person is doing something to show that he or she is trying to make peace with another person.
Bonus “Con-” Words:
So there you have it—the most commonly confused GRE root words and prefixes to know and learn. For more on GRE root words, check out this sample lesson on root words from our Magoosh GRE program! If you’re ready to dive into another category of commonly confused words, head over to our GRE Vocabulary List: Words with Multiple Meanings!