10 Tricky GRE words that aren’t what they seem!

GRE vocabulary is filled with tricky GRE words. Especially troublesome are the ones that seem familiar to you but have a secondary meaning you are not aware of, or has a definition that is quite contrary to what you might imagine it means.

Tricky GRE words :
secondary meanings &
counter-intuitive definitions

In this article let’s explore some of these often-tested tricky GRE words that are very likely to appear on the GRE.

Continue reading to find more in-dept explanations and real word usage of these words; plus a totally crazy revelation about three set of “common” words that you probably don’t know the actual meaning of!

1. COW (verb) : cause to submit by intimidation

An innocuous looking word; yet, ‘cow’ as a verb means to intimidate someone into submitting to one’s wishes.

Other forms: Cowed into (something).

Bill reiterated that he will not be cowed into staying quiet and will continue being an advocate dedicated to exposing the truth.

2. WAG (noun) : a funny and intelligent person

The verb wag is what a dog would do. The word ‘wag’ as a noun, however, is a person who is witty, funny and humorous. This is the kind of person who is fun to have in social gathering; quick witted and always guaranteeing a laugh!

Other forms: waggish.

One local wag says voters face a choice between “the evil of two lessers.”


3. QUALIFIED (adjective) :  not complete or absolute; limited

The words ‘qualify‘, ‘qualified‘ and ‘qualification‘ have several commonly known meanings. However it does have a meaning that most aren’t aware of. Exams such as GRE, GMAT and SAT love adding a level of complexity to questions and answers by using this word to throw students off their games!

Compare these sentences

“John loves Dominos Pizzas.”
This sentence shows unrestrained love or enthusiasm about Dominos Pizzas.

“Joseph loves Dominos Pizzas, but he dislikes the service and ambience.”
In this sentence Joseph qualified his love or enthusiasm for Dominos. You could also say that Joseph has qualified love towards Dominos.

It was oddly radiant, as certain small, qualified smiles sometimes are.


4. PEDESTRIAN (adjective) : dull; lacking inspiration

You might have heard ‘pedestrian’ used as a noun to refer to someone who walks. Yet, this common word has a secondary meaning that not many are aware of.

Pedestrian as an adjective is used to describe something that is lacking inspiration and therefore is dull and boring.

I won’t tell you what they say to each other, except to note that it is both commonplace and shocking, as tragedy tends to be when it’s embedded in the pedestrian details of everyday life. It is not a scene of resolution or closure or even full explanation.


5. FLAG (verb) : become tired or less enthusiastic

You’re probably aware of multiple definitions of the verb “to flag”. For instance the phase to ‘flag off’ means to set something in motion, to “kick off”; to ‘flag something’ for review is to suggest that you are marking something that seems suspicious – to become alert!

Did you know though that ‘to flag’ also means to be drained of energy or enthusiasm? It could also be used to mean that something is losing momentum or intensity.

Other forms: flagging, flagged.

The increase suggests that home sales may rebound this year after months of flagging purchases.


6. COLOR (verb) : influence, in a negative way; to distort

The word color as a verb can mean ‘to influence’ or ‘to distort’ usually suggesting that the truth or reality gets influenced negatively as a consequence.

For instance: The jury, during high profile murder trials, are prohibited from watching the news since it is believed that watching news reports about the case could color their perceptions and prevent them from being disinterested.

Other forms: colored (adj) (v); colour / coloured (brit)

 “The Hungarian government campaign color the truth and seeks to paint a dark picture of a secret plot to drive more migration to Europe”, the EU correspondent said.


7. PAN (verb) : to criticise severely

Not the pan you are thinking about! The verb pan suggests that someone of something is being criticised very badly for being ‘not-good-enough’.

Other forms: panned (v)

She was also featured in editorial cartoons that were widely panned as racist and sexist – which the prime minister subsequently condemned.


8. DISINTERESTED and DISPASSIONATE (adjective) : impartial; without bias

The words disinterested does mean to be uninterested, but GRE almost always only tests it’s other definition – which is to be impartial or without bias. This is true for the word ‘dispassionate‘ too.

Why is this the case? because the word ‘interest’ suggests a hidden predisposition or partiality towards something. Disinterested therefore shows lack of such underling “interests”. A judge who is disinterested or dispassionate, by the way, would be considered a good judge!

What are the words used to express lack of interest or passion? Well, uninterested and passionless might be the better alternatives.

Other forms: disinterest (n), dispassion (n); disinterestedness (adj), dispassionateness (adj).

One aspect of it is to dispute the very possibility that a judge, reporter or expert might act in a disinterested, objective fashion.


9. ARTFUL and CRAFTY (adjective) : clever, deceitful, cunning

Neither of these words mean to be ‘artistically creative’! They instead suggest that someone has the ability to out-wit someone; in that they can be deceitful and cunning! These words can be used interchangeably and mean the same thing.

What’s the word to describe artistic creativity then? Perhaps artistic!

Other forms: artfulness, craftiness (adj); craftily (adv)

Indeed, changing minds sometimes requires a dash of crafty Trojan-horse-style marketing.


10. ARTLESS and CRAFTLESS (adj) : without cunning and deception

Now that we know what artful and crafty mean, it should be straightforward what artless and craftless mean. And as predicted these mean to lack guile, deception or cunning. A simpleton might be called artless since he lacks the cunning and cleverness to deceive or manipulate.

Other forms: artlessness, craftlessness (adj)
Note: Craftless and craftlessness are not as widely used as artless and artlessness.

“But in contrast to New York itself, I wanted to design it with extreme simplicity, unsophisticated, almost primitive and with naïve artlessness,” Kawakubo says.


Enjoyed this article? Learn more advanced English words through fun themes and word roots. Checkout the Advanced Vocabulary Course by Plusprep.