GRE Vocabulary: Common but Unknown Words

August 24, 2017

This post originally appeared on the Magoosh GRE blog.

When studying for the GRE exam, you’ll come across some words more obscure than others. How can you decide if a word is obscure and not just difficult to remember? One way is to enter it into the nytimes.com search box. Doing so allows you to see how often the word has come up in the New York Times over the last 100+ years. A “common” word should show up at least five times a year.

The words below are all relatively common words, according to the New York Times. Yet, they are words that don’t typically come up on GRE word lists or GRE tests. At the same time, they are words whose definitions may elude you.

Phonetically, it sounds like something malicious you’d say to someone you just duped. Succor actually means aid or assistance, especially during trying times. For instance, when your GRE test date is finally here, and—halfway through the test dat marathon—you refuel with liquid succor in the form of a Gatorade.

Succor

The hurricane was so devastating that much of the population did not receive succor—food, assistance, shelter—for nearly a week after the storm had hit.

Imagine a judge, stern-faced and black robed, presiding over a court. He or she probably isn’t going to crack a joke anytime soon. The judge’s manner and bearing are gravitas personified. In other words, gravitas is used to describe a serious, dignified manner.

Gravitas

The incumbent vice president was known for his gravitas, rarely smiling in public and always holding his head high.

Something that is accepted or reputed to be the case—though it may not actually be true—captures the essence of putative. Though I’m the titular head of household, my wife is the putative head of household. Meaning anyone who comes over knows that my wife takes care of most of the household stuff, a role that includes delegating stuff to husband. Other contexts include, a government in which the president is supposed to lead the country, though the putative leaders—the ones who truly control the country—are usually part of the president’s inner circle.

Putative

After an unrelenting rainstorm, the streets will be strewn with debris: tree branches, litter spewed out by overflowing drains, yesterday’s newspapers. This scattered material is collectively known as detritus. Of course, we don’t need some violent event to spawn detritus.

Detritus

Just looking at my desk, I can see the detritus of wasabi nuts and almonds that I’ve been nibbling on over this week (hmm…I should probably clean that up).

Bereft can be a confusing word. It is either the past tense of the verb bereave or an adjective meaning deprived of something. Bereave—we are talking about the verb now—means to deprive someone of a loved person. In other words, when somebody loses a loved one he or she is in a period of bereavement. This definition isn’t all too different from the adjective bereft—though the context is very different:

Bereft

Massive oil spills have left the surrounding water bereft of any aquatic life.

After the economic downturn, the city center was bereft of the dynamism that had once made it such a coveted place to live.

Now that you’ve learned a few GRE words, it’s time to continue your studies! Remember, practice makes perfect! Continue reading literature where these words are likely to occur (New York TImes, The Economist, etc.) and arm yourself with quality practice test material. You’re well on your way to an expansive vocabulary and higher GRE score!

About The Author

Chris Lele, Guest Blogger
Chris Lele, Guest Blogger

Chris Lele is the GRE/SAT Expert at Magoosh Test Prep. For the last ten years, he has been helping students excel on the SAT and the GRE. In this time, he’s coached 5 students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points, and he’s taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog, and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.




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