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GRE Vocab Wednesday:The Root ‘Con-‘

The root con-, which means against, can be confusing for a number of reasons. First off, many think of ‘con’ in terms of ‘pros and cons.’ In doing so, they misinterpret words beginning with ‘con-.’ (‘Contra’ is the root meaning against).

Secondly, even if you apply the knowledge that ‘con-’ means with, you will not be able to decipher any word beginning with ‘con.’ In many cases, knowing the root will not help you; you must know the word.

Below is a cluster of ‘con-’ words, some of which the root ‘con-’ will help, others in which trying to apply roots will only confound you. (Confound means to confuse; it does not mean ‘with found.’ So much for roots!).



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To conciliate a person or persons is to placate them. An angry mob can be conciliated (hopefully!); one can conciliate an upset friend. The adjective form, conciliatory, is also common. A conciliatory gesture is one in which a person is doing something to show that he or she is trying to make peace with another person.



With this word knowing roots can help you. Convivial describes a person or place that is full of life (Con- = with, Viv– =  life). A party where everybody is having a good time can be said to have a convivial atmosphere. A person at the party who is telling a story in an animated fashion is convivial.



Debating a point? The person you are debating with just made an excellent point? Well, then you can concede that he/she made an excellent point. Writing a GRE essay? (That’s almost a rhetorical question on this site!) Well, if you want to show that your thesis does not always hold true under every condition, then you are offering up a concession point.

Concede can also mean to give up or surrender one’s territory. This use of the word is similar to ‘cede’ (‘cede’ showed up on the recent PowerPrep test).



To consecrate is to make holy (Con- = with, sacer – = sacred). Usually, the church does the consecrating, meaning they are conferring (another ‘con’ word) a blessing upon something. The opposite—to desecrate—means to mar something that is considered holy. In this case, the church is typically not the perpetrator.



Contrive is one of those quintessential GRE words—it’s definition does not really give you a sense of the word. That is when you see it in context, the usage won’t, at least at first glance, seem to match up with the definition. Speaking of which, contrive means to bring about usually in a manner that shows a forced or unnatural quality (see, I told you. Doesn’t help much). Let me now use ‘contrive’ in a couple of sentences:

During the interview, he contrived to come across as someone who was a go-getter, yet his resume experience—or lack thereof—clearly belied such an attempt. 

Unlike the performances of her youth, in which she seamlessly inhabited the role, the performances of her later years were contrived, as though she were calling out to audiences, “look how convincingly I can portray my character.”


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