Homonyms, Homophones, and the GRE

The analogies and antonyms sections of the GRE often contain words that you have never seen before, especially if you haven't been an especially avid reader. However, other words will look completely familiar and yet you still may have difficulty finding the correct analogy or antonym. When this happens, stop and ask yourself if the word you're looking at has other definitions than the one you have in mind. Many words will confuse you not because you've never seen or heard them before, but because they are similar to or homonyms or homophones for more familiar words.

Homonyms are words that are spelled and/or pronounced alike but have different meanings. Homophones are words that sound alike (and may be spelled alike) but have different meanings. For example, to bore (as in to cause someone to lose interest) is a homonym for to bore (to drill a hole). To bore is a homophone for boar (a wild swine). More familiar homophones include to, too, two; their, there, they're; and its, it's.

Often, the definition you need in order to solve the problem is not the one that first comes to mind. Being ready to switch definitions quickly is can, therefore, be key to doing well on the analogies and antonyms. For related information on strategies for solving analogies and antonyms, see the Easily Confused Words and Suffixes pages in this web site.

The list below contains a few homonyms that have appeared on GREs. I will be updating the list with additional homonyms and a homophones section. Study and learn these and add to the list with other homonyms (and homophones) you come across so they won't trip you up during the exam.

This list is not exhaustive, nor are all the possible forms and meanings of these words necessarily listed here. For the purposes of the GRE, however, the given definitions should be sufficient.

 

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Homonyms

Word

Meanings

Example of less common meaning

husband               

1. n. a male spouse. 2. v. to manage frugally. to conserve. ___husbandry n. management.

(2) Our mother was so good at husbanding resources that we never went hungry, even when our parents both lost their jobs.___This college offers many courses in animal husbandry.

appropriate           

1. adj. correct, proper, or in good taste. 2. v. to take for one's own use. to take possession of, without consent

(2) The advancing army appropriated food and other supplies from the territories they occupied.

flag        

1. n. banner. 2. v. to wane or weaken

(2) When the runner's strength begins to flag, she walks for a few minutes, then gradually increases her speed.

fry

1. v. to cook in hot oil. 2. n. baby fish

The newborn fry are easy prey to larger fish in the area.

lied

1. v. past tense. to tell an untruth. 2. n. (plural: lieder) German. a song, lyric, or ballad.

This opera was inspired by a traditional lied.

bore

1. v. to cause one to lose interest. 2. v. to drill a hole. adj. similar to or pertaining to objects that drill holes.

Pickleworms bore into the fruit of cucumber and squash plants to feed on their flesh.

die

1. v. to cease to live. 2. n. a mold used for shaping pieces of metal for incorporation into tools or other products

(2) These car models are so similar that the same die can be used for most body parts, such as the doors, hood, roof, and trunk cover.

sap

1. n. sugary liquid found in trees. 2. v. to deplete or weaken.

(2) Chronic sleep deprivation will eventually sap the vitality of those who suffer from it.

wag

1. v. to wave back and forth, as a dog's tail. 2. n. a joker. someone who keeps people amused with humorous stories

(2) John's reputation as a wag insured he would be invited to many parties.

foil

1. n. a thin sheet made of metal. 2. n. a type of rapier or sword. foils: the sport or practice of fencing with such swords. 3. n. a person or thing used in a comparison in order to make another person or thing seem superior. 4. v. to spoil or thwart; to prevent the success of.

(3) She had brought so many obviously unsuitable suitors home to her parents that they acted as foils; when she introduced John, he seemed an excellent prospect by contrast and her parents were happy to agree to the marriage. (4) The unexpected return of their parents foiled their plans for a party.

milk

1. n. opaque liquid secreted by the mammary glands. 2. v. to extract by action similar to milking. to drain the strength from or exploit.

(2) John became very good at milking his misfortunes for all the sympathy he could get.

screen

1. n. a flat surface on which to project an image. 2. N. a mesh designed to allow passage of some things while excluding others, as a window screen. 3. v. to select some items from a larger group.

(3) The applicants were screened based on their resumes before the finalists were selected for interviews.

slight

1. adj. small, as for quantity or amount. 2. n. an insult or other act showing disrespect. 3. v. to insult or show disrespect

(3) The director decided to list the actors' names alphabetically, so as not to slight anyone.

fawn

1. n. a baby deer. 2. v. to behave in an excessively humble or obsequious manner.

(2)Charlie always fawned over his professors so much that all the other students disliked him.

strut

1. v. to walk in such a way as to show great pride or confidence. 2. n. a support for an airplane wing or other projecting part.

(2) Because the struts were made of inferior material, the wings of that plane became unstable.

muffler

1. n. an object for suppressing noise. 2. n. a scarf worn around the neck for warmth.

(2) Our mother would never let us leave the house without our mufflers and mittens in the winter.

hack

1. v. to chop. 2. n. a bad or unoriginal writer.

(2) Even though he worked for the New York Times, he always felt like a hack.

temper

1. n. emotional state or anger, as in "she has quite a temper." 2. v. to moderate or to strengthen.

(2) She tried to remember to temper her words so as not to offend her listeners.

lumber

1. n. wood used for building. 2. v. to move heavily or without grace.

(2) The Frankenstein monster lumbered toward the little girl.

     

Homophones[1]

Word

Meanings

Example

waver

v. vacillate or move back and forth

 

waiver

n. release or special exemption from a rule

Most of the students tried to get waivers of their overdue fines.

wave

n. a moving swell on the surface of a body of water. v. to sweep the hand or arm or some object.

 

waive (see waiver)

v. to relinquish

We refuse to waive the reading of the indictment.

chorale

n. a type of hymn (sung) or a choir

 

corral

n. a fenced enclosure for cattle or horses. v. to herd cattle or horses (or people) into one place

Maimie always corraled Marnie into serving as secretary for the meetings.

[1] Meanings and./or examples only given when confusion might otherwise arise.

Copyright © Jessica DeForest, 2000. All rights reserved

 

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