It’s no secret that the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE contains a myriad of challenging vocabulary words that are sure to confound even the most ardent logophiles (n. lover of words). But with so many words to learn, where should you begin?
If you’re looking to solidify your understanding of some of the most common GRE vocabulary words, we’ve got your list. Continue reading to discover some of the high frequency words you could expect to find on the GRE come exam day.
How We Organized This Essential GRE Word List
After perusing (v. to examine carefully or at length) the frequent GRE vocabulary word lists provided by the top-rated prep courses, we selected frequently missed words that were common across providers to form our essential GRE vocabulary list. While we don’t intend for this list to be comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination, we do hope it can be a good place to start for you to learn some of the most common GRE vocabulary words.
At the end of this post you can find a list of free resources that will help you take your vocab game up to the next level. Happy studying.
Most Common GRE Vocabulary Words
For this list, 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.
Prosaic: (adj.) Something that is prosaic is dull, commonplace, or unimaginative. Students sometimes incorrectly associate this word with bucolic (adj. Referring to an idyllic rural life). Prosaic contains the same root as the word prose (n. Ordinary or commonplace writing).
Quotidian: (adj.) 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.
Restive: (adj.) 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.
Pernicious: (adj.) 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.
Diffident: (adj.) 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.
Equivocal: (adj.) 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.
Erudite: (adj.) 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: (adj.) Prodigal means wasteful or extravagant in a reckless manner. Students occasionally incorrectly assume prodigy and prodigal are synonymous due to the phrase “prodigal son”. However, a prodigal son is not necessarily an impressive young person. Rather, a prodigal son is one who spends money wastefully (perhaps on six-figure crypto kitties).
Laudable: (adj.) 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.
Laconic: (adj.) Laconic means using very few words, perhaps even expressing a lot in the process; concise. Unlike diffident (which can refer to a reluctance to speak up), laconic doesn’t imply any lack of confidence due to using few words.
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Enervate: (v.) 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.
Ambivalence: (n.) 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.
Agog: (adj.) 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: (adj.) Artless means free from deceit and without guile. Artless sometimes incorrectly gets a negative connotation, when in reality, it is purely positive.
Gossamer: (adj.) 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.
Harangue: (n.) A harangue is a long and aggressive or vehement speech; tirade or rant.
Insipid: (adj.) 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 (adj. Working in a seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect).
Maudlin: (adj.) Maudlin means tearfully or weakly emotional. Side note, emerging artist and Columbia philosophy major, Maude Latour, has some killer indie pop/rock tracks (see the ‘Starsick’ EP). And, although you can’t spell Maude without maud-, I wouldn’t necessarily classify her tunes as maudlin.
Nonplussed: (adj.) 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: (adj.) Urbane refers to a person who is courteous and refined in manner.
Ersatz: (adj.) 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.
Anodyne: (adj.) Anodyne means not likely to cause controversy; weakened and made bland.
Euphony: (n.) 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.
Extant: (adj.) Extant means still in existence and surviving.
Lachrymose: (adj.) Lachrymose means mournful, tear inducing, and sad.
Munificent: (adj.) Munificent means immensely generous in an unusual way. Munificent should in no way be confused with maleficent (working to produce harm or evil).
Nadir: (n.) Nadir means the lowest point, often used to refer to a point of great despair or adversity.
Pellucid: (adj.) Pellucid means easily understood, clear, or lucid (clear and comprehensible) in meaning.
Philistine: (n.) A philistine is a person who is lacking in culture or hostile to the arts.
Polemic: (n.) A polemic is a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.
Puerile: (adj.) Puerile means childishly silly and trivial.
Quixotic: (adj.) Quixotic means exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, and impractical.
Raconteur: (n.) 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.
Soporific: (adj.) Soporific means causing or tending to cause sleep. Example: The old professor failed to notice the soporific effect his lecture had on his students.
Belligerent: (adj.) Belligerent means eager or quick to argue and fight; aggressively defiant. Also, see truculent.
Tyro: (n.) 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.
Auspicious: (adj.) Auspicious means favorable, opportune, and promising of success. Example: Her life as a graduate student at Cornell University was off to an auspicious start.
Capricious: (adj.) Capricious means unpredictable or whimsical.
Inculpate: (v.) Inculpate means to charge with wrong-doing or accuse.
Specious: (adj.) Specious means superficially plausible but actually wrong or incorrect. Often used to describe an argument.
Banal: (adj.) 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.
Hegemony: (adj.) Leadership or dominance over a country or group.
Alacrity: (n.) 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.
Paucity: (n.) 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.
Innocuous: (adj.) 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.
Free GRE Vocabulary Flashcards
When I was studying for the exam, I spent dozens of commutes and lunch breaks studying with Magoosh’s Free GRE Vocabulary Flashcards app. Their app is easily one of the most efficient and effective ways to master anywhere from 100 to 1,000 of the most important, high frequency GRE words for the exam.
Also, if you’re looking for a review course to help you ace the exam or meaningfully improve your score, check out our review of the Magoosh GRE prep course.
How to Improve GRE Vocabulary
Aside from purely direct study methods such as utilizing GRE vocabulary flashcards and following a well-structured review course, there are a number of other ways you can meaningfully improve your GRE vocabulary. See below for a list of our recommendations.
- Read challenging material from a wide variety of sources frequently. When you come across unfamiliar words, note them and look up their definitions.
- Use a mobile flashcard app such as AnkiApp to keep track of the words you’ve discovered on your own. This app makes creating your own flashcard decks quick and easy. It also incorporates a spaced repetition algorithm to improve your recall of hard GRE words. Work these decks into your standard vocabulary study routine.
- When you’re able to study alone, practice saying the vocabulary words out loud along with their definitions.
- Create your own visualizations and made-up anecdotes to help remember the words you continuously miss. The weirder and more individualized your visualizations the better.
- Try a well-structured review course with an emphasis on GRE vocabulary such as Achievable. It’s one of the best ways to learn tough GRE vocab that I’ve found.