The Antonym questions on the GRE Verbal section are designed not only to test the strength of your vocabulary, but also your ability to reason from one concept to an opposite concept. You should be able to answer many questions with only a general knowledge of a vocabulary word; however, some challenging questions might require you to make distinctions between more subtle meanings.
Questions in this section will include a word in all capital letters, followed by five answer choices. You will be required to determine the answer choice that is the antonym of, or is most nearly opposite to, the definition of the given word.
In general, the words that appear in the antonym questions are limited to nouns, adjectives, or verbs. Answer choices will be either a single word or a short phrase. Some of the answer choices might be very similar to one another. Your job is to select the best choice from the five options.
Anatomy of a GRE Antonym Question
General Strategies for Antonym Questions
The following are some general strategies that will help you correctly answer GRE Antonym questions:
- Clearly define the given stem word
- Use the correct part of speech
- Beware of homonyms
- Use prefixes, suffixes, roots, and cognates
- Use connotations
- Use the given word in a sentence
- Predict an answer choice
- Use the process of elimination
Clearly Define the Given Stem Word
Because you are looking for an antonym of the given word, it's important that you first determine the meaning of the given word. If you are only somewhat familiar with the given word, it might help to use the word in a sentence or recall a quotation that includes the word. In addition, pay attention to the following suggestions to help you correctly and clearly define the given word.
Use the Correct Part of Speech
Make sure that you recognize whether the word is a noun, adjective, or verb. The best answer will use the same part of speech. The answer choices might help you to make this determination. If all of the answer choices are adjectives, for example, the given word will also be an adjective.
It is important to remember that a single word can often be used interchangeably as a verb and a noun, or a noun and an adjective, or might simply have multiple definitions.
For example, the word "bore" can be:
- A verb, as in "to cause a loss of interest"
- A verb, as in "to drill a hole"
- A verb, as in the past tense of "to bear," which means to "support," "carry," or "have" something
- A noun, as in "a dull or boring person or thing"
The key to successfully answering a GRE Antonym question will often be your ability to quickly switch between possible meanings and select a correct answer based upon your reactions to the answer choices.
Beware of Homonyms
Generally, homonyms are words that are pronounced the same, but have different spellings and different meanings. Be sure that you are defining the correct word. For example, the words "course" and "coarse" are pronounced exactly the same, but have very different meanings. If you mistakenly define "course" as "common or rough," you will have a hard time finding an antonym among the answer choices. Consider the following example of a question similar to those found on the GRE:
The best answer is B. The word "assent" refers to "agreement," so the correct answer is B, "disagreement." If you had defined "assent" as "the act of climbing" (ascent), you would most likely have struggled to find an antonym.
Use Prefixes, Suffixes, Roots, and Cognates
If you have never seen the word before, use your knowledge of prefixes, suffixes, and roots to help you determine the meaning of the word.
Prefix refers to a letter or letters attached to the front of a word to produce a derivative of that word. For example, the prefix "multi-" means "many," as in "multilingual," which means "many languages."
A suffix, on the other hand, is a letter or series of letters added to the end of a word, serving to form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending. For example, the suffix "-less" means "without," as in "careless."
Learn to recognize roots, or stems, that some words have in common. The root provides the basis from which certain words are derived. For example, the Latin root "gen" means "birth, class, or kin," as in "congenital," which refers to a condition that is present at birth.
Keep in mind that GRE test writers rarely use exact opposites. In fact, you should not expect to find a perfect antonym among the answer choices. Remind yourself to look for the word that is "most nearly opposite."
In addition, look for cognates from French, Spanish, or Italian (the modern versions of Latin) if you recognize them. A cognate is a word that means the same or nearly the same thing in more than one language. For example, the word amigo, which means friend in Spanish, the word ami, which means friend in French, and the word amicable, which means friendly in English, all come from the Latin root word for friend, amicus. These words are considered cognates.
Following is an example of how to use a prefix to select the correct answer:
The best answer is C. The prefix "in-" can mean "not, or without." Therefore, something that is "invariable" is "not variable." "Erratic" means "irregular, unpredictable, or subject to change," which is most nearly opposite to "invariable."
Each word in the English language expresses two things: a definition and a connotation. A definition conveys the meaning of the word. A connotation is a positive, negative, or neutral feeling or emotion that is suggested by or associated with a word. For example, the noun "happiness" implies a positive connotation. Using connotations might help you determine the correct answer or at least eliminate a few wrong answers.
Here is an example of how to use a connotation to help you select the correct answer:
- tentative disagreement
- personal philosophy
- simple hypothesis
- legitimate claim
- indirect statement
The best answer is D. The word "fallacy" has a negative connotation because it relates to something that has errors, flaws, or is false. It comes from the Latin word "fallere," which means "to deceive." Therefore, the best answer will have an opposite, or positive connotation. Answer choice A is slightly negative, answer choice B is neutral, answer choice C is neutral, answer choice D is positive, and answer choice E is neutral but slightly negative. The connotations of the given word and the answer choices lead you to answer choice D, "legitimate claim."
Use the Given Word in a Sentence
Unfortunately, you cannot guess the meaning of an unfamiliar word from the context in GRE antonym questions. The good news is that you have probably seen or heard the unfamiliar word, or some version of it, at some point in your life. Create a sentence that uses the word in a familiar way, and use the sentence to help you establish the definition of the word. Substitute the answer choices for the word in the sentence; the choice that successfully reverses the meaning or tone of the sentence is the best choice. Consider the following example:
- remaining active
- creating confusion
- lurking about
The best answer is A. You probably have heard the word "dormant," which means "inactive." "Dormancy," then, refers to the "state of being dormant, or inactive." Use the word in a sentence: "The bear awoke after several months of dormancy." Now, insert the answer choices; the one that changes the meaning of the sentence the most will be the correct answer. When you insert answer choice A, the sentence becomes, "The bear awoke after several months of remaining active." Because the bear remained active for several months, it was not dormant during that period of time. Therefore, answer choice A is best. Answer choices B and C are nonsensical, answer choice D is a synonym of "dormancy," and answer choice E means "being in conflict," which is not an antonym of "dormancy."
Predict an Answer Choice
Before you look at the answer choices, try to predict an antonym on your own. Remember that experts create incorrect answers to distract you. If you predict an answer before you look at the answer choices, you can begin to eliminate words and are less likely to get caught up in these confusing, incorrect answers. If your antonym matches one of the answer choices, it is most likely correct. The following examples and detailed explanations show you how predicting an answer can help you to eliminate obviously incorrect answer choices:
The best answer is C. Because "local" generally refers to a specific place on earth, an antonym would most likely involve the entire earth. "Global" is a word that could easily be predicted and is the correct answer. You also could have easily eliminated most of the other answer choices by predicting an answer such as "nearby" or "in the same city."
The best answer is C. You might have predicted "regular" or "orderly" as antonyms of "random." Both are correct, but neither appears as an answer choice. However, "systematic" is a synonym of both of your predicted answers, so answer choice C is correct. Answer choice D, "deliberate," might have been tempting, but "systematic" is more opposite because it implies a sense of order. Be sure to look at all of the answer choices before you select a final answer, even if your predicted antonym is among the choices. Eliminate clearly incorrect answers as you work through the choices.
Use the Process of Elimination
This strategy is useful if you are unable to find the correct answer using any of the previously mentioned strategies. Look at each answer choice and determine whether you know something about each word or phrase, and use that information to eliminate answer choices that are clearly incorrect. For example, if you find answer choices that have similar meanings, all of those choices can usually be eliminated. The process of elimination can be time-consuming, so it should generally be saved for "last-ditch" efforts in selecting the correct answer. You will probably employ this strategy in conjunction with the others mentioned, eliminating answer choices that do not fit logically into the sentence that you created.
Practice Antonym Questions
Directions: Each question below contains a word in capital letters and five answer choices. Each answer choice contains a word or phrase. Select the word or phrase that best expresses a meaning opposite to the word in capital letters.
The best answer is C. The word that has a meaning most opposite to "receive" is "deliver."
- lowest point
- greatest length
- furthest distance
- shortest height
- smallest curve
The best answer is A. The "apex" is the "highest point," so the phrase with the most opposite meaning is "lowest point."
The best answer is C. The word "insipid" means "dull" or "lacking interest." Therefore, the word with the most opposite meaning is "interesting."
The best answer is E. Someone who is "solicitous" is generally "caring and concerned," whereas someone who is "negligent" exhibits "little care or concern." Therefore, "negligent" is most opposite in meaning to "solicitous."
The best answer is C. The word "venal" generally refers to someone who is "corrupt," or "open to bribery," whereas an "ethical" person is "moral" and would not likely be "corrupt." Therefore, "ethical" has a meaning most opposite to that of "venal."