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GRE Vocab Wednesday: Words Students Always Mix Up

Comprehensive vs. Comprehensible

Many mix up these two words, thinking that both refer to comprehend, as in to understand. However, only ‘comprehensible’ relates to comprehend, and means intelligible.

Comprehensive, on the other hand, means thorough, wide-ranging in scope.

Until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, hieroglyphics were not comprehensible, but seemed nothing more than a jumble of pictograms and slashes.

Rosetta Stone is a language program that provides a comprehensive immersion into another language: dialogues, grammar, and visual stimuli are all employed to help a person acquire a foreign tongue.

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Overweening vs. Overbearing

These two words aren’t actually too far apart in meaning. Overweening means excessive and overbearing means bossy and arrogant. I doubt both will ever be the answer choices and that you’ll have to discriminate between them. Nonetheless, it is a good idea not to mix them up completely.

Charles is overweening, puffing his chest out like a troubadour whenever he walks into a room full of people.

My boss became overbearing, treating me like some mere lackey, adept at only bringing coffee and making photocopies.


Portentous vs. Ponderous

Portentous actually has two definitions, neither of which relates to ponderous (a word that recently surfaced on a vocab Wednesday session). Portentous can mean pretentious (which come to think of it sounds very similar to portentous) in a way that you take yourself way too seriously.

The other definition of portentous is ominous, threatening, premonitory.  As in:

The clouds were portentous, great gray billowy beasts ready to burst forth in a deluge of apocalyptic proportions.


Seamy vs. Seemly

Neither of these words relates to seem or seemingly, both of which mean to give the appearance of something. Both ‘seamy’ and ‘seemly’ relate to decorum: what is considered proper—and by extension—improper behavior.

‘Seamy’ refers to the inappropriate side of things. Celebrity rags are filled with seamy scandals regarding certain stars who manage to become pixilated and drive a vehicle into a fence, only to wake up in jail with a mug shot making the rounds on Twitter feeds.

‘Seemly’ refers to behavior that is proper and fitting. Needless to say it is rarely used to refer to celebrities.

Of note is the word ‘unseemly.’ It is the opposite of ‘seemly’ and a synonym with ‘seamy.’ Just a little confusing, right?.


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