A Guide to the GRE/Words in Context

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The GRE will ask questions about the meaning of words in context.

These will often be words with secondary meanings. Be sure to practice identifying the meaning of words in context.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845, was an autobiographical work which garnered a great deal of attention 5 and popularity during the abolitionist movement in the United States. However, since the abolition of slavery in the United States, the utility of the book has arguably commuted from that of promoting a 10 particular policy agenda to one of mere history and entertainment for its readers. In this light, several aspects of the book which served its original purpose are inhibitive to these new purposes. For 15 example, the book does not describe how Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery. At the time it was written, this was for obvious reasons - so as not to give away a secret. However, in contemporary 20 context, this arouses great curiosity in readers, who inevitably turn to Douglass' second autobiographical work, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 after the realization of Douglass' 25 goals of the first book. Practice

1. As used in the passage, “commuted” (line 9) most nearly means

(A) declined (B) shifted (C) appeared (D) manifested (E) elucidated

2. As used in the passage, “inhibitive” (line 14) most nearly means

(A) conducive (B) pejorative (C) ambiguous (D) detrimental (E) counterintuitive

3. As used in the passage, “realization” (line 24) most nearly means

(A) learning (B) receipt (C) promotion (D) expostulation (E) accomplishment


3.05 Words in Context

 Answers to Practice Questions

1. (B)

This is an example of an atypical use of a word being tested on the GRE. “Commuted” means moved or changed. Usually in the 21st century it is used to refer to traveling for work purposes. In this context, however, it refers to a change.

“Declined” means having taken a downward turn or having decreased, while “appeared” means having come into view or presented itself. “Manifested” also means having presented itself or come to fruition, and “elucidated” means having been explained or made clear.

2. (D)

“Inhibitive” means tending to stop or slow something. The passage is explaining how many of the old features of Douglass' book, which was written to inspire the abolitionist movement, are now detrimental to the story; for instance, readers don't know how he escapes.

“Conducive” means tending to accomplish a particular result, while “pejorative” means derogatory or tending to evoke negative feelings about a subject. “Ambiguous” means prone to more than one meaning, and “counterintuitive” means tending to go against one's instinctive feelings on a matter.

3. (E)

This is another good example of a common secondary meaning of a word. As used here, “realization” means the fulfillment or accomplishment of a goal. “Realize” normally means acquiring knowledge of something; however, in this context it refers to accomplishment.

“Learning” means acquiring knowledge, while “receipt” refers to the act of taking something after being given or delivered the thing. “Promotion” means to place something in a better position than before, while “expostulation” refers to stating something to be true or arguing for this to be the case.