We’ll introduce a word and its definition prior to occasionally making a comment on why some students frequently miss the respective word. Please note that when a word has more than one definition, we’ve chosen the version most frequently tested on the GRE.
Definition: lacking wit or imagination
Something that is prosaic is dull, commonplace, or unimaginative. Students sometimes incorrectly associate this word with bucolic. Prosaic contains the same root as the word prose.
Definition: found in the ordinary course of events
While it’s somewhat in the same cluster as prosaic, quotidian includes a more temporal facet and refers to a daily, usual, or customary occurrence of something. If you see both quotidian and prosaic paired together as an answer choice, and the question refers to something happening on a daily basis, quotidian will be the correct choice.
Definition: impatient, nervous
Restive typically means restless or uneasy. It can also mean stubborn and refusing to move forward (kind of like my miniature dachshund puppy). This word trips up a lot of students given its similarity to the words restful and rest. So, keep in mind that restive is actually quite the opposite of restful.
Definition: bad, hurtful
Pernicious means causing a subtle or gradual type of harm. The key here is the subtle or gradual nature of it. Experiencing a car crash isn’t pernicious, but getting all your news from TikTok might be.
Definition: lacking self-confidence
Diffident is used to describe a type of personality, referring to a lack of confidence or self-worth. A diffident individual may be overly restrained and perhaps reluctant or even timid.
Definition: doubtful, uncertain
Equivocal means allowing for the possibility of multiple meanings, often with an intent to deceive or be deliberately ambiguous. Students sometimes incorrectly assume this word shares a similar meaning with equivalence.
Definition: having or showing profound knowledge
Erudite means having or showing great knowledge. Example: The erudite student, no stranger to the library, achieved a top percentile score on the GRE.
Prodigal means wasteful or extravagant in a reckless manner. Students occasionally incorrectly assume prodigy and prodigal are synonymous due to the phrase “prodigal son”.
Definition: worthy of high praise
Laudable means to be deserving of praise or commendation. Some students incorrectly associate laudable with a negative connotation due to the phrase “less laudable”. So, be sure to recall that laudable, when used without a modifier, means praiseworthy.
Definition: brief and to the point; effectively cut short
Laconic means using very few words, perhaps even expressing a lot in the process; concise. Unlike diffident, laconic doesn’t imply any lack of confidence due to using few words.
Definition: disturb the composure of
Enervate means to sap energy from or weaken. Students often incorrectly equate enervate with invigorate when in reality they are basically antonyms. Example: Studying for too long without a break left the student enervated.
Definition: mixed feelings or emotions
Ambivalence means uncertainty or having mixed feelings, often due to an inability to decide or by a desire to do conflicting things. Students frequently mistake ambivalence for indifference. Indifference implies you have no particular feelings about something while ambivalence means you feel pulled in two directions about something and can’t decide.
Definition: highly excited by eagerness, curiosity, etc.
Agog means to be very excited about something with great eagerness, curiosity, or anticipation. Feeling as if she had aced the exam, the student was agog to find out her GRE score.
Artless means free from deceit and without guile. Artless sometimes incorrectly gets a negative connotation, when in reality, it is purely positive.
Definition: characterized by unusual lightness and delicacy
Gossamer is used to refer to something very light, thin, or delicate such as a veil. For a musical characterization of the word, please refer to the second studio album of American electro pop band Passion Pit.
Definition: a loud bombastic declamation expressed with strong emotion
A harangue is a long and aggressive or vehement speech; tirade or rant.
Definition: lacking taste or flavor or tang
Insipid means lacking interest or vigor. It can also mean boring, vapid, or dull. Students sometimes incorrectly associate insipid with a malicious intent perhaps due to another common GRE vocabulary word: insidious.
Definition: effusively or insincerely emotional
Maudlin means tearfully or weakly emotional. Side note, emerging artist and Columbia philosophy major, Maude Latour, has some killer indie pop/rock tracks. And, although you can’t spell Maude without maud-, I wouldn’t necessarily classify her tunes as maudlin.
Definition: confuse, perplex
Nonplussed means to be utterly perplexed or puzzled completely. Example: Upon seeing all available answer choices and not recognizing a single GRE vocabulary word, the student felt completely nonplussed.
Urbane refers to a person who is courteous and refined in manner.
Definition: artificial and inferior
Ersatz typically refers to a substitute product, most often of inferior quality. Example: The cruise ship vacationer gleefully purchased an imitation designer Bvlgari watch at the flea market. Unfortunately, the ersatz product melted in the sun the very next day.
Definition: a medicine used to relieve pain
Anodyne means not likely to cause controversy; weakened and made bland.
Euphony means an agreeableness of sound, producing a pleasing effect to the ear. While it sounds similar to a melodious symphony, the word is often used to describe a pleasant combination or succession of words as with poetry.
Definition: in existence
Extant means still in existence and surviving.
Definition: showing sorrow
Lachrymose means mournful, tear inducing, and sad.
Definition: very generous
Munificent means immensely generous in an unusual way. Munificent should in no way be confused with maleficent (working to produce harm or evil).
Definition: lowest point
Nadir means the lowest point, often used to refer to a point of great despair or adversity.
Definition: (of language) transparently clear; easily understandable
Pellucid means easily understood, clear, or lucid (clear and comprehensible) in meaning.
Definition: a person who is uninterested in intellectual pursuits
A philistine is a person who is lacking in culture or hostile to the arts.
A polemic is a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.
Definition: displaying or suggesting a lack of maturity
Puerile means childishly silly and trivial.
Definition: not sensible about practical matters; idealistic and unrealistic
Quixotic means exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, and impractical.
Definition: a person skilled in telling anecdotes
A raconteur is one who is skillful and gifted at storytelling. Example: Jack White, the musician, is quite the raconteur, having won multiple Grammy Awards.
Definition: inducing mental lethargy
Soporific means causing or tending to cause sleep. Example: The old professor failed to notice the soporific effect his lecture had on his students.
Definition: characteristic of an enemy or one eager to fight
Belligerent means eager or quick to argue and fight; aggressively defiant. Also, see truculent.
Definition: someone new to a field or activity
Tyro means a beginner in learning something; novice. Example: Though early to her studies, the ambitious GRE tyro was fixated on achieving a top score.
Definition: encouraging; favorable
Auspicious means favorable, opportune, and promising of success. Example: Her life as a graduate student at Cornell University was off to an auspicious start.
Definition: given to sudden behavior change
Capricious means unpredictable or whimsical.
Inculpate means to charge with wrong-doing or accuse.
Definition: plausible but false
Specious means superficially plausible but actually wrong or incorrect. Often used to describe an argument.
Definition: repeated too often; overfamiliar through overuse
Banal means lacking in originality; obvious and boring. Example: While some may argue that TikTok has ruined modern music by allowing for the rise of songs with banal, repetitive lyrics, the reality is that this claim has been made for decades following the introduction of new technologies.
Leadership or dominance over a country or group.
Definition: liveliness and eagerness
Alacrity means an eager willingness to do something. Students often mistakenly assume alacrity has a negative connotation when in reality the word is actually quite positive. Example: Sarah studied with such alacrity that all of her classmates assumed she would ace the exam.
Definition: lack, scarcity
Paucity means a lack of something. Example: With his car recently totaled, Thomas quickly discovered the paucity of reasonably priced used cars in his local area.
Definition: not causing disapproval
Innocuous means harmless; not likely to produce any ill effects. Example: Dessert in moderation is more or less innocuous. Note, innocuous can also mean inoffensive.