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Confusing Words

Jessica DeForest reminds us ...

... the following easily confused words are likely to appear in the verbal sections of the GRE and other standardized tests. These are not homonyms (words that are spelled the differently, have different meanings, but sound and/or are spelled alike but have different meanings, such as they're, their, and there). There are two types:

  1. words that have similar spellings but different meanings. When these words are confused for each other, it is usually because the reader is familiar with one, but not the other (less commonly used) one. A good example is the pair: different and diffident.
  2. a few are confused because their meanings overlap or because the words are used in related contexts. A good example of this type is the frequently confused pair: infer and imply.

I suggest you learn all these words. When you take the GRE, you'll find it was time well spent. Because the best way for you to learn to distinguish these words is to learn both the spelling and the definition, I am not including definitions of most of the words in this list. Looking the words up in the dictionary will help fix the new words in your memory. For really problematic words, however, I do give the definitions.

I've left blanks so you can write in definitions. Alternate shading pairs (or groups) similar words.

viscous
 
vicious
 
restive
 
restful
 
effect
 
affect
 
compass
 
compress
 
indigenous
 
indigent
 
ingenuous (and disingenuous)
 
ingenious (ingenuity)
 
infer
 
imply
 
insensible
 
insensitive
 
elusive
effusive
corroborate
 
collaborate
 
endemic
 
epidemic
 
dissemble
 
disassemble
 
diffident
 
different (difference)
 
deference
 
deprecate (deprecation)
 
depreciate (depreciation)
 
fission
division into two or more parts: Nuclear fission is the principle behind nuclear weapons.
fusion
joining of two or more entities into one, such as in nuclear fusion (the joining of atomic nuclei) or fusion jazz (jazz that joins elements from various musical traditions): They are attempting to harness the energy produced by nuclear fusion
extant
in existence; used especially to refer to the last surviving examples of something passing out of existence, such as an antique book or a nearly extinct species
extent
 length or amount: The extent of corruption in the bureaucracy was well known.
incredulous (credulous)
disbelieving, very doubtful
incredible (credible)
difficult to believe
emulate
to pattern one's behavior (on a respected role model)
imitate
to copy
descry
to make open or plain, by saying
decry
to condemn
engender
to bring into being
endanger
 to put at risk
ambiguous
vague; capable of various interpretations
ambivalent
being of two minds; holding conflicting feelings or attitudes
discomfort (n)
 the lack of ease or comfort
flaunt
to display brazenly or pretentiously
flout
to show an obvious disregard or disrespect for; to treat contemptuously
lied
the past tense of lie, as in "He lied about his age to get into the Army."
lied (pronounced leed)
a song; a type German of song, meant to be sung, as opposed to a purely instrumental tune (since this is actually a German word, the plural is lieder, not lieds)
discomfit (vt)
to disconcert or make uncomfortable

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