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GRE Verbal Section: Analogies

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  1. Answering GRE Analogies Questions
  2. Putting It to Practice
  3. Exam Prep Questions
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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Terms you'll need to know:

  • Analogy
  • Antonym
  • Homonym
  • Synonym

Concepts you'll need to master:

  • Establishing a clear relationship between words
  • Setting up a general relationship sentence
  • Identifying and using relationship types
  • Eliminating obviously incorrect answers

An analogy is a comparison of two things that seem unrelated, but are actually related or similar to each other in some respect. The GRE Analogies section is designed to test your ability to recognize these relationships between words and successfully identify parallel relationships.

Answering GRE Analogies Questions

Questions in this section will include a pair of words in all capital letters, followed by five lettered pairs of words. You will be required to identify the answer choice that expresses a relationship most similar to that expressed in the original pair. Following is an example of an analogy question similar to those found on the GRE General Test, along with a detailed explanation:


  1. player : coach
  2. child : parent
  3. student : teacher
  4. author : publishe
  5. intern : doctor

The first step is to establish the relationship between the words in the original pair. An "apprentice" is typically someone who studies or trains to become a "plumber" or some other tradesperson or professional. Likewise, an "intern" trains to become a "doctor," so answer choice E is correct. Although a "player" could train to become a "coach" and a "student" could train to become a "teacher," other, more plausible relationships exist between those words. Therefore, answer choices A and C are not correct. A "child" could eventually become a "parent," but would not likely study or train to become a "parent," so answer choice B is incorrect. Likewise, an "author" could become a "publisher," but there is no direct, logical connection between first being an author, and then becoming a publisher.

Several strategies can help you to correctly answer GRE analogy questions. Following is a description of those strategies we have found most helpful:

  • Establish the relationship
    • Create a general sentence
    • Use the correct part of speech
    • Beware of homonyms
    • Recognize common relationship types
  • Use the process of elimination

Select the best answer

Establish the Relationship

Before you look at any of the answer choices, attempt to express the relationship between the original pair in your own words. If you can establish a precise connection between the words, you will most likely select the best answer choice.

Create a General Sentence

One successful technique is to create a sentence that expresses a specific relationship between the stem words, and then replace the original words from your sentence with the words in the answer choices. You should look for the most simple relationship first. If more than one answer choice expresses the same relationship, you might have to revise your original sentence to indicate a more explicit connection between the words. For example:


  1. mechanic : car
  2. songwriter : lyrics
  3. desk : office
  4. player : team
  5. actor : screen

Ask yourself what a musician has to do with an orchestra. A musician plays in an orchestra. Or more specifically, a musician plays an instrument as one part of an orchestra as a whole. Your general sentence becomes "A ____ does something as one part of a ____ as a whole." The correct answer is D: A player participates as one part of a team as a whole. Although answer choice B includes words related to music, the exact relationship is not the same as the relationship in the question stem; a "songwriter" does not participate as one part of "lyrics" as a whole. Likewise, the remaining answer choices do not fit logically into the general sentence that you created. A "mechanic" does not do something as one part of a "car" as a whole. Although a "desk" might be considered one part of an "office," a "desk" is an inanimate object, so it does not do something as one part of an "office" as a whole. An "actor" is portrayed on the "screen," but an "actor" does not do something as one part of a "screen" as a whole.

Use the Correct Part of Speech

Don't forget about other possible, secondary meanings of words. If you are having trouble creating a sentence, you might be thinking of the wrong definition or part of speech. The questions will always ask you to compare the same parts of speech. For example, if one of the words in the original pair can be used as either a noun or a verb, all of the corresponding words in the answer choices will be either nouns or verbs, but not both. You can let the answer choices guide you in this way. Consider the following example:


  1. fence : posts
  2. capture : thieves
  3. nest : birds
  4. devise : plans
  5. fire : employees

At first glance, you might have created a general sentence such as "A corral is an enclosure for livestock." However, none of the answer choices fits logically into that sentence. Because "corral" is also a verb that means "to take control or possession of," you must now consider this secondary meaning. A closer look at the answer choices shows you that the first word in the pair is either a verb, or a word that can be used as a verb or a noun. Create another sentence using "corral" as a verb: "The rancher was unable to corral his livestock after they escaped." Manipulate the sentence slightly, as follows: "The police officer was unable to capture the thieves after they escaped." The remaining answer choices do not fit logically into this general sentence.

Beware of Homonyms

Be aware of homonyms, which are words that sound alike but have different meanings. For example, "mettle" is a noun meaning "courage or fortitude," whereas "meddle" is a verb meaning "to interfere." As in the earlier discussion regarding parts of speech, let the answer choices help you to determine the meaning of the words in the original pair. It is likely that you will know the meaning of some of the words in the answer choices and be able to establish a relationship between some of the word pairs listed. Use this knowledge to eliminate answer choices in which the word pairs do not have a clear connection, as well as to identify the correct meaning of the words in the original pair.

It might help to study a list of common homonyms; a search on the Internet will yield many websites devoted to this topic.

Recognize Common Relationship Types

GRE analogies questions require you to consider many different possible relationships. After you are able to determine a specific relationship for the original pair, select the answer choice that expresses a relationship in the same way. Most GRE questions tend to fall into one of several common categories of relationships. The following list includes many of the common analogy relationships tested on the GRE:

  • Definition/Evidence—One word in a pair helps to define the other word; or, one word in a pair is a defining characteristic of the other word.

    • Example:


      A "paragon," by definition, is a "model or example of excellence."


      A "crater" is "concave"; therefore, being "concave" is a defining characteristic of a "crater."

  • Synonym/Antonym—One word in a pair is a synonym or antonym of the other word.

    • Example:


      The nouns "fascination" and "interest" have a similar meaning. They are synonyms.


      The adjective "stingy" is the opposite of the adjective "generous." They are antonyms.

    Note that synonyms and antonyms do not have to come from the same parts of speech.



      To be "contrary," which is an adjective, is to "oppose," which is a verb. These words have similar meanings, even though the parts of speech are not the same.


      "Skeptical," an adjective, means that you "do not believe," which is the opposite of the verb "believe." These words are opposite in meaning, even though the parts of speech are not the same.

  • Type/Kind—One word in a pair is a type or example of the other word.

    • Example:


      "French" is a type of "language."

  • Degree/Intensity—Both words in a pair are similar in concept, but vary in intensity. In other words, one word in the pair is stronger, harsher, or more intense. Words can also vary spatially, by size, weight, and so on.

    • Example:

      PHOBIA : FEAR ::

      A "phobia" is a "disabling, exaggerated fear," which is far more extreme than a typical "fear."

  • Purpose/Function—One word in a pair describes the purpose or function of the other word.

    • Example:

      NEEDLE : STITCH ::

      The purpose or function of a "needle" is to "stitch."

      Note that "stitch" can be used as either a noun or a verb. You could also say that a "needle" is used to create a "stitch."

  • Component/Part—One word in a pair represents one part of the other word, which represents a whole; or, one word is simply a component of the other.

    • Example:

      ACTOR : CAST ::

      An "actor" is one member of an entire "cast" of actors.


      FLOUR : BREAD ::

      "Flour" is a component of "bread."

  • Cause and Effect—One word leads to or results in the other word.

    • Example:


      "Preparation" will most likely lead to "success."



      The presence of "antibodies" results in "protection" against infection.

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 in the pair, and use that information to eliminate answer choices that are clearly incorrect. 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, for instance.

Select the Best Answer

Remember that the test experts create incorrect answers to distract you; if you establish a relationship beforehand, you will be less likely to get caught up in any confusing, incorrect answers the test writers have set up. If your relationship matches a relationship expressed in ONE of the answer choices, it is most likely correct.

It might be difficult to determine an answer choice without eliminating a few incorrect answers first. Beware of obvious answer choices. At first glance, several choices might appear to express a similar relationship to the original pair. The correct relationship will be paralleled in only one of the answer choices; you might have to dig a little deeper to discover the true relationship. For example:


  1. audience : theater
  2. birds : nest
  3. sailors : submarine
  4. freight : warehouse
  5. students : classroom

One possible relationship between "passengers" and "airplane" is that passengers are in an airplane. At first glance, several answer choices appear to have the same relationship as the words in the question stem: A "theater" holds an "audience;" "freight" is in a "warehouse," and so on. There cannot be more than one correct answer, so you should look for a more specific relationship. Create a sentence using the words in the question stem: An "airplane" transports "passengers" from one place to another. Only the words in answer choice C can be logically inserted into this sentence.

Be sure to consider all of the answer choices before you select a final answer, even if you think you have already found the correct one. If you are struggling to find just one correct answer, make your relationship statement more specific or, if you must, adjust the relationship entirely.

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