Main Word Smart: 1400+ Words That Belong in Every Savvy Student’s Vocabulary

Word Smart: 1400+ Words That Belong in Every Savvy Student’s Vocabulary

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Whether your goal is to get a competitive edge on a specific exam or simply to build your word knowledge, this updated sixth edition of Word Smart gives you the tools you need to transform your vocabulary and start using words with confidence!

WORD SMART, 6th EDITION includes:
• More than 1,400 vocab words that belong in every savvy student's vocabulary
• Lists of common word roots and usage errors 
• Key terms you need to know to understand fields such as finance, science, and the arts
• Need-to-know vocab for standardized tests like the SAT and GRE
• Foreign phrases and abbreviations commonly encountered in reading or conversation

The words in this book come from a careful analysis of newspapers (from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal), magazines (from Time to Scientific American), and books from current bestsellers to classics. We also combed through the SAT and other standardized tests to determine which words are tested most frequently. We sifted out the words that most people know, and focused on words that most people misunderstand or misuse.

You can be confident that with Word Smart, you'll get the help you need to communicate more clearly and effectively, understand what you read, and score higher on standardized tests!
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1 comment
Qali bakhsh
Yes that is good efforts
17 November 2020 (09:20) 

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Quick Quiz #61

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. pacify


a. obvious


2. painstaking


b. model


3. palliate


c. supporter of a cause


4. palpable


d. narrow in point of view


5. paltry


e. contradictory truth


6. panacea


f. stingy


7. paradigm


g. calm someone down


8. paradox


h. cure for everything


9. parochial


i. insignificant


10. parody


j. extremely careful


11. parsimonious


k. satirical imitation


12. partisan


l. alleviate

PATENT (PAYT unt) adj obvious

• To say that the earth is flat is a patent absurdity because the world is obviously spherical.

• It was patently foolish of Lee to think that she could sail across the Pacific Ocean in a washtub.

PATERNAL (puh TUR nul) adj fatherly; fatherlike

• Rich is paternal toward his niece.

Maternal (muh TUR nul) means motherly or momlike.

PATHOLOGY (puh THAHL uh jee) n  the science of diseases

Pathology is the science or study of diseases, but not necessarily in the medical sense. Pathological means relating to pathology, but it also means arising from a disease. So if we say Brad is an inveterate, incorrigible, pathological (path uh LAHJ uh kul) liar, we are saying that Brad’s lying is a sickness.

PATRIARCH (PAY tree ahrk) n  the male head of a family or tribe

• The patriarch of the Murphy family, Jacob V. Murphy, made millions selling cobra fillets and established the Murphy family’s empire in the snake meat business.

The adjective is patriarchal (pay tree AHRK ul).

• In the patriarchal country of Spambulia, the ruling monarch can never be a woman, though the current king is such a numbskull that his sister runs things behind the scenes.

A female head of a family is a matriarch, and such a family would be described as matriarchal.

• Spambulia is considering becoming a matriarchy (MAY tree ahr kee).

PATRICIAN (puh TRISH un) n  a p; erson of noble birth; an aristocrat

• Mr. Perno was a patrician and he was never truly happy unless his place at the dinner table was set with at least half a dozen forks.

Patrician can also be an adjective. Polo is a patrician sport.

• The noisy crowd on the luxury ocean liner was patrician in dress but not in behavior; rioters were wearing tuxedos and gowns but throwing deck chairs into the ocean.

PATRONIZE (PAY truh nyze) v  to treat as an inferior; to condescend to

• Our guide at the art gallery was extremely patronizing, treating us as though we wouldn’t be able to distinguish a painting from a piece of sidewalk without her help.

• We felt patronized by the waiter at the fancy restaurant; he ignored all our efforts to attract his attention and then pretended not to understand our accents.

Patronize also means to frequent or be a regular customer of. To patronize a restaurant is to eat there often, not to treat it as an inferior.

PAUCITY (PAW suh tee) n  scarcity

• There was a paucity of fresh vegetables at the supermarket, so we had to buy frozen ones.

• The plan was defeated by a paucity of support.

• There is no paucity of water in the ocean.

PECCADILLO (pek uh DIL oh) n  a minor offense

• The smiling defendant acted as though first-degree murder were a mere peccadillo rather than a hideous crime.

• The reporters sometimes seemed more interested in the candidates’ sexual peccadillos than in their inane programs and proposals.

PEDANTIC (puh DAN tik) adj boringly scholarly or academic

• The discussion quickly turned pedantic as each participant tried to sound more learned than all the others.

• The professor’s interpretation of the poem was pedantic and empty of genuine feeling.

A pedantic person is called a pedant (PED unt). A pedant is fond of pedantry (PED un tree).

PEDESTRIAN (puh DES tree un) adj unimaginative; banal

A pedestrian is someone walking, but to be pedestrian is to be something else altogether.

• Mary Anne said the young artist’s work was brilliant, but I found it to be pedestrian; I’ve seen better paintings in kindergarten classrooms.

• The menu was pedestrian. I had encountered each of the dishes dozens of times before.

PEJORATIVE (pi JOR uh tiv) adj negative; disparaging

“Hi, stupid” is a pejorative greeting. “Loudmouth” is a nickname with a pejorative connotation.

• Abe’s description of the college as “a pretty good school” was unintentionally pejorative.

PENCHANT (PEN chunt) n  a strong taste or liking for something; a predilection

• Dogs have a penchant for chasing cats and mail carriers.

PENITENT (PEN uh tunt) adj sorry; repentant; contrite

• Julie was penitent when Kanye explained how much pain she had caused him.

• The two boys tried to sound penitent at the police station, but they weren’t really sorry that they had herded the sheep into Mr. Ingersoll’s house. They were impenitent.

PENSIVE (PEN siv) adj thoughtful and sad

• Norton became suddenly pensive when Jack mentioned his dead father.

Quick Quiz #62

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. patent


a. male head of a family


2. paternal


b. minor offense


3. pathology


c. unimaginative


4. patriarch


d. thoughtful and sad


5. patrician


e. boringly scholarly


6. patronize


f. science of diseases


7. paucity


g. treat as an inferior


8. peccadillo


h. negative


9. pedantic


i. obvious


10. pedestrian


j. aristocrat


11. pejorative


k. scarcity


12. penchant


l. fatherly


13. penitent


m. sorry


14. pensive


n. strong liking

PEREMPTORY (puh REMP tuh ree) adj final; categorical; dictatorial

Someone who is peremptory says or does something without giving anyone a chance to dispute it.

• Asher’s father peremptorily banished him to his room.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

PERENNIAL (puh REN ee ul) adj continual; happening again and again or year after year

• Mr. Lorenzo is a perennial favorite of students at the high school because he always gives everyone an A.

• Milton was a perennial candidate for governor; every four years he printed up another batch of his campaign bumper stickers.

Flowers called perennials are flowers that bloom year after year without being replanted.

Biennial (bye EN ee ul) and centennial (sen TEN ee ul) are related words. Biennial means happening once every two years (biannual means happening twice a year). Centennial means happening once every century.

PERFIDY (PUR fuh dee) n  treachery

• It was the criminals’ natural perfidy that finally did them in, as each one became an informant on the other.

• I was appalled at Al’s perfidy. He had sworn to me that he was my best friend, but then he asked my girlfriend to the prom.

To engage in perfidy is to be perfidious (pur FID ee us).

PERFUNCTORY (pur FUNGK tuh ree) adj unenthusiastic; careless

• John made a couple of perfunctory attempts at answering the questions on the test, but then he put down his pencil, laid down his head, and slept until the end of the period.

• Sandra’s lawn mowing was perfunctory at best: she skipped all the difficult parts and didn’t rake up any of the clippings.

PERIPATETIC (per uh peh TET ik) adj wandering; traveling continually; itinerant

• Groupies are a peripatetic bunch, traveling from concert to concert to follow their favorite rock stars.

PERIPHERY (puh RIF uh ree) n  the outside edge of something

• José never got involved in any of our activities; he was always at the periphery.

• The professional finger painter enjoyed her position at the periphery of the art world.

To be at the periphery is to be peripheral (puh RIF uh rul). A peripheral interest is a secondary or side interest.

Your peripheral vision is your ability to see to the right and left while looking straight ahead.

PERJURY (PUR jur ee) n  lying under oath

• The defendant was acquitted of bribery but convicted of perjury because he had lied on the witness stand during his trial.

To commit perjury is to perjure oneself.

• The former cabinet official perjured herself when she said that she had not committed perjury during her trial for bribery.

PERMEATE (PUR mee ayt) v  to spread or seep through; to penetrate

• A horrible smell quickly permeated the room after Jock lit a cigarette.

• Corruption had permeated the company; every single one of its executives belonged in jail.

Something that can be permeated is said to be permeable. A permeable raincoat is one that lets water seep through.

PERNICIOUS (pur NISH us) adj deadly; extremely evil

• The drug dealers conducted their pernicious business on every street corner in the city.

• Lung cancer is a pernicious disease.

PERQUISITE (PUR kwuh zit) n  a privilege that goes along with a job; a “perk”

• Free access to a photocopier is a perquisite of most office jobs.

• The big corporate lawyer’s perquisites included a chauffeured limousine, a luxurious apartment in the city, and all the chocolate ice cream she could eat.

A perquisite should not be confused with a prerequisite (pree REK wuh zit), which is a necessity.

• Health and happiness are two prerequisites of a good life.

• A college degree is a prerequisite for many high-paying jobs.

PERTINENT (PUR tuh nunt) adj relevant; dealing with the matter at hand

• The suspect said that he was just borrowing the jewelry for a costume ball. The cop said he did not think that was pertinent.

By the way, impertinent means disrespectful.

PERTURB (pur TURB) v  to disturb greatly

• Ivan’s mother was perturbed by his aberrant behavior at the dinner table. Ivan’s father was not bothered. Nothing bothered Ivan, Sr. He was imperturbable.

PERUSE (puh ROOZ) v  to read carefully

This word is misused more often than it is used correctly. To peruse something is not to skim it or read it quickly. To peruse something is to study it or read it with great care.

• The lawyer perused the contract for many hours, looking for a loophole that would enable her client to back out of the deal.

To peruse something is to engage in perusal.

• My perusal of the ancient texts brought me no closer to my goal of discovering the meaning of life.

Quick Quiz #63

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. peremptory


a. outside edge of something


2. perennial


b. unenthusiastic


3. perfidy


c. penetrate


4. perfunctory


d. lying under oath


5. peripatetic


e. job-related privilege


6. periphery


f. continual


7. perjury


g. disturb greatly


8. permeate


h. necessity


9. pernicious


i. read carefully


10. perquisite


j. treachery


11. prerequisite


k. final


12. pertinent


l. wandering


13. perturb


m. relevant


14. peruse


n. deadly

PERVADE (pur VAYD) v  to spread throughout

• A terrible smell pervaded the apartment building after the sewer main exploded.

• On examination day, the classroom was pervaded by a sense of imminent doom.

Something that pervades is pervasive.

• There was a pervasive feeling of despair on Wall Street on the day the Dow-Jones industrial average fell more than 500 points.

• There was a pervasive odor of mold in the house, and we soon discovered why: the basement was filled with the stuff.

PETULANT (PECH uh lunt) adj rude; cranky; ill-tempered

• Gloria became petulant when we suggested that she leave her pet cheetah at home when she came to spend the weekend; she said that we had insulted her cheetah and that an insult to her cheetah was an insult to her.

• The petulant waiter slammed down our water glasses and spilled a tureen of soup onto Roger’s kilt.

To be petulant is to engage in petulance, or rudeness.

PHILANTHROPY (fi LAN thruh pee) n  love of humankind, especially by doing good deeds

• His gift of one billion dollars to the local orphanage was the finest act of philanthropy I’ve ever seen.

A charity is a philanthropic (fi lun THRAH pik) institution. An altruist (AHL troo ist) is someone who cares about other people. A philanthropist (fi LAN thruh pist) is actively doing things to help, usually by giving time or money.

PHILISTINE (FIL i steen) n  a smugly ignorant person with no appreciation of intellectual or artistic matters

• The novelist dismissed her critics as philistines, saying they wouldn’t recognize a good book if it crawled up and bit them on the nose. The critics, in reply, dismissed the novelist as a philistine who wouldn’t recognize a good book if it crawled up and rolled itself into her typewriter.

Philistine can also be an adjective. To be philistine is to act like a philistine.

PIOUS (PYE us) adj reverent or devout; outwardly (and sometimes falsely) reverent or devout; hypocritical

This is a sometimes confusing word with meanings that are very nearly opposite each other.

Pious Presbyterians go to church every Sunday and say their prayers every night before bed. Pious in this sense means something like religiously dutiful.

Pious can also be used to describe behavior or feelings that aren’t religious at all but are quite hypocritical.

• The adulterous minister’s sermon on marital fidelity was filled with pious disregard for his own sins.

The state of being pious is piety (PYE uh tee). The opposite of pious is impious (IM pee us).

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

PIVOTAL (PIV uh tul) adj crucial

Pivotal is the adjective form of the verb to pivot. To pivot is to turn on a single point or shaft. A basketball player pivots when he or she turns while leaving one foot planted in the same place on the floor.

A pivotal comment is a comment that turns a discussion. It is an important comment.

A pivotal member of a committee is a crucial or important member of a committee.

• Sofia’s contribution was pivotal; without it, we would have failed.

PLACATE (PLAY kayt) v  to pacify; to appease; to soothe

• The tribe placated the angry volcano by tossing a few teenagers into the raging crater.

• The beleaguered general tried to placate his fierce attacker by sending him a pleasant flower arrangement. His implacable (im PLAK uh bul) enemy decided to attack anyway.

PLAINTIVE (PLAYN tiv) adj expressing sadness or sorrow

• The lead singer’s plaintive love song expressed his sorrow at being abandoned by his girlfriend for the lead guitarist.

• The chilly autumn weather made the little bird’s song seem plaintive.

You could also say that there was plaintiveness in that bird’s song.

Don’t confuse plaintive with plaintiff (PLAYN tif). A plaintiff is a person who takes someone to court—who makes a legal complaint.

PLATITUDE (PLAT uh tood) n  a dull or trite remark; a cliché

• The principal thinks he is a great orator, but his loud, boring speech was full of platitudes.

• Instead of giving us any real insight into the situation, the lecturer threw platitudes at us for the entire period. It was a platitudinous (plat uh TOOD i nus) speech.

PLEBEIAN (pluh BEE un) adj common; vulgar; low-class

Plebeian is the opposite of aristocratic.

• Sarah refused to eat frozen dinners, saying they were too plebeian for her discriminating palate.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

PLETHORA (PLETH ur uh) n  an excess

• We ate a plethora of candy on Halloween and a plethora of turkey on Thanksgiving.

• Letting the air force use our backyard as a bombing range created a plethora of problems.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

POIGNANT (POYN yunt) adj painfully emotional; extremely moving; sharp or astute

The words poignant and pointed are very closely related, and they share much of the same range of meaning.

A poignant scene is one that is so emotional or moving that it is almost painful to watch.

• All the reporters stopped taking notes as they watched the old woman’s poignant reunion with her daughter, whom she hadn’t seen in 45 years.

Poignant can also mean pointed in the sense of sharp or astute.

A poignant comment might be one that shows great insight.

To be poignant is to have poignancy.

Quick Quiz #64

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. pervade


a. painfully emotional


2. petulant


b. spread throughout


3. philanthropy


c. pacify


4. philistine


d. smugly ignorant person


5. pious


e. excess


6. pivotal


f. expressing sadness


7. placate


g. reverent


8. plaintive


h. trite remark


9. platitude


i. rude


10. plebeian


j. crucial


11. plethora


k. love for mankind


12. poignant


l. low-class

POLARIZE (POH luh ryze) v  to break up into opposing factions or groupings

• The issue of what kind of sand to put in the sandbox polarized the nursery school class; some students would accept nothing but wet, while others wanted only dry.

• The increasingly acrimonious debate between the two candidates polarized the political party.

POLEMIC (puh LEM ik) n  a powerful argument often made to attack or refute a controversial issue

• The book was a convincing polemic that revealed the fraud at the heart of the large corporation.

• Instead of the traditional Groundhog Day address, the state senator delivered a polemic against the sales tax.

A polemic is polemical.

PONDEROUS (PAHN dur us) adj so large as to be clumsy; massive; dull

• The wedding cake was a ponderous blob of icing and jelly beans.

• The chairman, as usual, gave a ponderous speech that left half her listeners snoring in their plates.

PORTENT (POR tent) n  an omen; a sign of something coming in the future

• The distant rumbling we heard this morning was a portent of the thunderstorm that hit our area this afternoon.

• Stock market investors looked for portents in their complicated charts and graphs; they hoped that the market’s past behavior would give them clues as to what would happen in the future.

Portentous (por TENT uhs) is the adjective form of portent, meaning ominous or filled with portent. But it is very often used to mean pompous, or self-consciously serious or ominous sounding. It can also mean amazing or prodigious.

A portentous speech is not one that you would enjoy listening to.

A portentous announcement might be one that tried to create an inappropriate sense of alarm in those listening to it.

Portentous can also mean amazing or astonishing. A portentous sunset might be a remarkably glorious one rather than an ominous or menacing one.

POSTULATE (PAHS chuh lut) n  something accepted as true without proof; an axiom

A postulate is taken to be true because it is convenient to do so.

• We might be able to prove a postulate if we had the time, but not now.

A theorem (THEER um) is something that is proven using postulates.

Postulate (PAHS chuh layt) can be used as a verb, too.

• Sherlock Holmes rarely postulated things, waiting for evidence before he made up his mind.

PRAGMATIC (prag MAT ik) adj practical; down-to-earth; based on experience rather than theory

A pragmatic person is one who deals with things as they are rather than as they might be or should be.

• Erecting a gigantic dome of gold over our house would have been the ideal solution to fix the leak in our roof, but the small size of our bank account forced us to be pragmatic; we patched the hole with a dab of tar instead.

Pragmatism (PRAG muh tiz um) is the belief or philosophy that the value or truth of something can be measured by its practical consequences.

PRECEDENT (PRES uh dunt) n  an earlier example or model of something

Precedent is a noun form of the verb to precede, or go before. To set a precedent is to do something that sets an example for what may follow.

• Last year’s million-dollar prom set a precedent that the current student council hopes will not be followed in the future. That is, the student council hopes that future proms won’t cost a million dollars.

To be unprecedented is to have no precedent, to be something entirely new.

• Urvashi’s consumption of 500 hot dogs was unprecedented; no one had ever eaten so many hot dogs before.

PRECEPT (PREE sept) n  a rule to live by; a principle establishing a certain kind of action or behavior; a maxim

• “Love thy neighbor” is a precept we have sometimes found difficult to follow; our neighbor is a noisy oaf who painted his house electric blue and who throws his empty beer cans into our yard.

PRECIPITATE (pri SIP uh tayt) v  to cause to happen abruptly

• A panic among investors precipitated last Monday’s crisis in the stock market.

• The police were afraid that arresting the angry protestors might precipitate a riot.

Precipitate (pri SIP uh tit) can also be an adjective, meaning unwisely hasty or rash. A precipitate decision is one made without enough thought beforehand.

• The school counselor, we thought, was precipitate when she had the tenth grader committed to a mental hospital for saying that homework was boring.

PRECIPITOUS (pri SIP uh tus) adj steep

Precipitous means like a precipice, or cliff. It and precipitate are closely related, as you probably guessed. But they don’t mean the same thing, even though precipitous is often used loosely to mean the same thing as precipitate.

A mountain can be precipitous, meaning either that it is steep or that it comprises lots of steep cliffs.

Precipitous can also be used to signify things that are only figuratively steep. For example, you could say that someone had stumbled down a precipitous slope into drug addiction.

Quick Quiz #65

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. polarize


a. massive and clumsy


2. polemic


b. rule to live by


3. ponderous


c. practical


4. portent


d. powerful refutation


5. portentous


e. steep


6. postulate


f. cause to happen abruptly


7. pragmatic


g. cause opposing positions


8. precedent


h. ominous


9. precept


i. earlier example


10. precipitate


j. omen


11. precipitous


k. axiom

PRECLUDE (pri KLOOD) v  to prevent something from ever happening

• Ann feared that her abysmal academic career might preclude her becoming a brain surgeon.

PRECURSOR (pri KUR sur) n  forerunner; something that goes before and anticipates or paves the way for whatever it is that follows

• The arrival of a million-dollar check in the mail might be the precursor of a brand-new car.

• A sore throat is often the precursor of a cold.

• Hard work on the practice field might be the precursor of success on the playing field.

PREDILECTION (pred uh LEK shun) n  a natural preference for something

• The impatient judge had a predilection for well-prepared lawyers who said what they meant and didn’t waste her time.

• Joe’s predilection for saturated fats has added roughly a foot to his waistline in the past twenty years.

PREEMINENT (pree EM uh nunt) adj better than anyone else; outstanding; supreme

• The nation’s preeminent harpsichordist would be the best harpsichordist in the nation.

• The Nobel Prize-winning physicist was preeminent in his field but he was still a lousy teacher.

    See our listing for eminent.

PREEMPT (pree EMPT) v  to seize something by prior right

When television show A preempts television show B, television show A is shown at the time usually reserved for television show B. The word preempt implies that television show A is more important than television show B and thus has a greater right to the time slot.

A preemptive action is one that is undertaken in order to prevent some other action from being undertaken.

• When the air force launched a preemptive strike against the missile base, the air force was attacking the missiles in order to prevent the missiles from attacking the air force.

PREMISE (PREM is) n  an assumption; the basis for a conclusion

• In deciding to eat all the ice cream in the freezer, my premise was that if I didn’t do it, you would.

• Based on the premise that two wrongs don’t make a right, I forgave him for insulting me rather than calling him a nasty name.

PREPOSSESS (pree puh ZES) v  to preoccupy; to influence beforehand or prejudice; to make a good impression on beforehand

This word has several common meanings. Be careful.

When a person is prepossessed by an idea, he or she can’t get it out of his or her mind.

• My dream of producing energy from old chewing-gum wrappers prepossessed me, and I lost my job, my home, my wife, and my children.

• Experience had prepossessed Larry’s mother not to believe him when he said that someone else had broken the window. Larry had broken it every other time, so she assumed that he had broken it this time.

• The new girl in the class was extremely prepossessing. The minute she walked into the room, her classmates rushed over to introduce themselves.

Unprepossessing means unimpressive, but the word is only mildly negative.

• The quaint farmhouse had an unprepossessing exterior, but a beautiful interior. Who would have imagined?

PREROGATIVE (pri RAHG uh tiv) n  a right or privilege connected exclusively with a position, a person, a class, a nation, or some other group or classification

• Giving traffic tickets to people he didn’t like was one of the prerogatives of Junior’s job as a policeman.

• Sentencing people to death is a prerogative of many kings and queens.

• Big mansions and fancy cars are among the prerogatives of wealth.

PREVAIL (pri VAYL) v  to triumph; to overcome rivals; (with on, upon, or with) to persuade

When justice prevails, it means that good defeats evil.

• The prosecutor prevailed in the murder trial; the defendant was found guilty.

• My mother prevailed on me to make my bed. She told me she would punish me if I didn’t, so I did.

The adjective prevailing means most frequent or predominant. The prevailing opinion on a topic is the one that most people hold. If the prevailing winds are out of the north, then the wind is out of the north most of the time. A prevailing theory is the one most widely held at the time. It is prevalent (PREV uh lunt).

PRISTINE (PRIS teen) adj original; unspoiled; pure

An antique in pristine condition is one that hasn’t been tampered with over the years. It’s still in its original condition.

A pristine mountain stream is a stream that hasn’t been polluted.

PRODIGAL (PRAHD uh gul) adj wastefully extravagant

• The chef was prodigal with her employer’s money, spending thousands of dollars on ingredients for what was supposed to be a simple meal.

• The young artist was prodigal with his talents: he wasted time and energy on greeting cards that might have been devoted to serious paintings.

• The prodigal gambler soon found that she couldn’t afford even a two-dollar bet.

To be prodigal is to be characterized by prodigality.

Quick Quiz #66

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. preclude


a. outstanding


2. precursor


b. triumph


3. predilection


c. seize by prior right


4. preeminent


d. wastefully extravagant


5. preempt


e. unspoiled


6. premise


f. natural preference


7. prepossess


g. preoccupy


8. prerogative


h. right or privilege


9. prevail


i. assumption


10. pristine


j. forerunner


11. prodigal


k. prevent

PRODIGIOUS (pruh DIJ us) adj extraordinary; enormous

• To fill the Grand Canyon with ping-pong balls would be a prodigious undertaking; it would be both extraordinary and enormous.

• The little boy caught a prodigious fish—it was ten times his size and might more easily have caught him had their situations been reversed.

See also prodigy.

PRODIGY (PRAHD uh jee) n  an extremely talented child; an extraordinary accomplishment or occurrence

• The three-year-old prodigy could play all of Beethoven and most of Brahms on her harmonica.

• Barry was a mathematical prodigy; he had calculated pi to 100 decimal places almost before he could walk.

• Josephine’s tower of dominoes and Popsicle sticks was a prodigy of engineering.

PROFANE (proh FAYN) adj not having to do with religion; irreverent; blasphemous

Profane is the opposite of sacred. Worshiping the almighty dollar is profane. Profane can also mean disrespectful of religion. Cursing in class would be profane.

Sticking out your tongue in church would be a profane gesture.

Profane can also be a verb.

• You profaned the classroom by cursing in it.

• Nick profaned his priceless Egyptian statue by using it as a doorstop.

The noun form of profane is profanity (proh FAN uh tee).

Spray painting the hallways at school would be an act of profanity.

PROFESS (pruh FES) v  to declare; to declare falsely or pretend

• Jason professed to have taught himself calculus.

• No one in our town was fooled by the candidate’s professed love for llama farmers; everyone knew she was just trying to win votes from the pro-llama faction.

PROFICIENT (pruh FISH unt) adj thoroughly competent; skillful; good (at something)

• Lillian was a proficient cabinetmaker. She could make a cabinet that would make you sit back and say, “Now, there’s a cabinet.”

• I fiddled around at the piano for many years but never became proficient at playing.

• Lucy was merely competent, but Molly was proficient at plucking canaries.

Proficiency is the state of being proficient.

PROFLIGATE (PRAHF luh git) adj extravagantly wasteful and, usually, wildly immoral

• The fraternity members were a profligate bunch; they held all-night parties on weeknights and nearly burned down their fraternity house with their shenanigans every weekend.

• The young heir was profligate with her fortune, spending millions on champagne and racehorses.

PROFOUND (pruh FOUND) adj deep (in several senses)

Profound understanding is deep understanding.

To say something profound is to say something deeply intelligent or discerning.

Profound respect is deep respect. Profound horror is deep horror.

The noun form of profound is profundity (pruh FUN duh tee).

PROFUSE (pruh FYOOS) adj flowing; extravagant

• When we gave Marian our house, our car, and all our clothes, her gratitude was profuse.

• My teacher said I had done a good job, but his praise was far from profuse. I got the feeling he hadn’t really liked my epic poem about two dinosaurs who fall in love just before they become extinct.

• The grieving widow’s tears were profuse. She had tears in profusion.

PROLETARIAT (proh luh TER ee ut) n  the industrial working class

The proletariat is the laboring class—blue-collar workers or people who roll up their shirtsleeves to do an honest day’s work.

PROLIFERATE (proh LIF uh rayt) v  to spread or grow rapidly

• Honey bees proliferated when we filled our yard with flowering plants.

• Coughs and colds proliferate when groups of children are cooped up together during the winter.

• The police didn’t know what to make of the proliferation of counterfeit money in the north end of town.

PROLIFIC (proh LIF ik) adj abundantly productive; fruitful or fertile

A prolific writer is a writer who writes a lot of books. A prolific artist is an artist who paints a lot of pictures.

• The old man had been extraordinarily prolific; he had thirty children and more than one hundred grandchildren.

Quick Quiz #67

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. prodigious


a. declare


2. prodigy


b. irreverent


3. profane


c. abundantly productive


4. profess


d. flowing


5. proficient


e. extremely talented child


6. profligate


f. extraordinary


7. profound


g. spread rapidly


8. profuse


h. deep


9. proletariat


i. thoroughly competent


10. proliferate


j. extravagantly wasteful


11. prolific


k. industrial working class

PROMULGATE (PRAHM ul gayt) v  to proclaim; to publicly or formally declare something

• The principal promulgated a new dress code over the loud-speaker system: red, green, yellow, and blue were the only permissible artificial hair colors.

PROPENSITY (pruh PEN suh tee) n  a natural inclination or tendency; a predilection

• Jessie has a propensity for saying stupid things: every time she opens her mouth, something stupid comes out.

• Edwin’s propensity to sit around all day doing nothing came into conflict with his mother’s propensity to kick him out of the house.

PROPITIOUS (pruh PISH us) adj marked by favorable signs or conditions

• Rush hour is not a propitious time to drive into the city.

• The early negotiations between the union and the company had been so propitious that no one was surprised when a new contract was announced well before the strike deadline.

PROPONENT (pruh POH nunt) n  an advocate; a supporter of a position

Proponent and opponent are antonyms.

• The proponents of a tax increase will probably not be re-elected next fall.

PROPRIETARY (pruh PRYE uh ter ee) adj characteristic of an owner of property; constituting property

To take a proprietary interest in something is to act as though you own it.

• George felt proprietary about the chocolate cookie recipe; he had invented it himself.

• The company’s design for musical toilet paper is proprietary. The company owns it, and outsiders can’t look at it for nothing.

A proprietor (pruh PRYE uh tur) is an owner.

PROPRIETY (pruh PRYE uh tee) n  properness; good manners

• The old lady viewed the little girl’s failure to curtsy as a flagrant breach of propriety. She did not approve of or countenance such improprieties.

• Propriety prevented the young man from trashing the town in celebration of his unexpected acceptance by the college of his choice.

Propriety derives from proper, not property, and should not be confused with proprietary.

PROSAIC (proh ZAY ik) adj dull; unimaginative; like prose (as opposed to poetry)

• Her description of the battle was so prosaic that it was hard for her listeners to believe that any of the soldiers had even been wounded, much less blown to smithereens.

• The little boy’s ambitions were all prosaic: he wanted to be an accountant, an auditor, or a claims adjuster.

PROSCRIBE (proh SKRYBE) v  to outlaw; to prohibit

• Spitting on the sidewalk and shooting at road signs were both proscribed activities under the new administration.

• The young doctor proscribed smoking in the waiting room of his office.

The act of proscribing is proscription; an individual act of proscribing is also a proscription.

PROSELYTIZE (PRAHS uh luh tyze) v  to convert (someone) from one religion or doctrine to another; to recruit converts to a religion or doctrine

• The former Methodist had been proselytized by a Lutheran deacon.

• The airport terminal was filled with proselytizers from a dozen different sects, cults, and religions. They were attempting to proselytize the passengers walking through the terminal.

PROTAGONIST (proh TAG uh nist) n  the leading character in a novel, play, or other work; a leader or champion

• Martin Luther King Jr. was a protagonist in the long and continuing struggle for racial equality.

• The protagonist of the movie was an eleven-year-old boy who saved his hometown from destruction by eating all the doughnuts that the mad scientist had been using to fuel his nuclear reactor.

• The mad scientist was the boy’s chief antagonist. An antagonist is an opponent or adversary.

PROTRACT (proh TRAKT) v  to prolong

• The trial was so protracted that one of the jurors died of old age.

• The commencement speaker promised not to protract her remarks, but then she spoke for two solid hours. It was a protracted speech.

PROVIDENT (PRAHV uh dunt) adj preparing for the future; providing for the future; frugal

• We were provident with our limited food supplies, knowing that the winter ahead would be long and cold.

• The provident father had long ago set aside money for the college education of each of his children.

To be improvident is to fail to provide for the future.

• It was improvident of the grasshopper not to store any food for the winter, unlike his acquaintance the provident ant.

Quick Quiz #68

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. promulgate


a. natural inclination


2. propensity


b. good manners


3. propitious


c. advocate


4. proponent


d. prohibit


5. proprietary


e. prolong


6. propriety


f. leading character


7. prosaic


g. constituting property


8. proscribe


h. frugal


9. proselytize


i. dull


10. protagonist


j. marked by favorable signs


11. protract


k. convert


12. provident


l. proclaim

PROVINCIAL (pruh VIN shul) adj limited in outlook to one’s own small corner of the world; narrow

• The farmers were provincial; they had no opinions about anything but the price of corn and no interest in anything except growing more of it.

• New Yorkers have reputations for being sophisticated and cosmopolitan, but most of them are actually provincial; they act as though nothing of interest had ever happened west of the Hudson River.

PROVISIONAL (pruh VIZH uh nul) adj conditional; temporary; tentative

• Louis had been accepted as a provisional member of the club. He wouldn’t become a permanent member until the other members had had a chance to see what he was really like.

• The old woman’s offer to donate $10,000 to the charity was provisional; she said that she would give the money only if the charity could manage to raise a matching sum.

PROXIMITY (prok SIM uh tee) n  nearness

• I can’t stand being in the proximity of a kid’s birthday party. There is just too much noise.

• In a big city, one is almost always in the proximity of a restaurant.

PRUDENT (PROOD unt) adj careful; having foresight

• Joe is a prudent money manager. He doesn’t invest heavily in racehorses, and he puts only a small part of his savings in the office football pool. Joe is the epitome of prudence.

The opposite of prudent is imprudent.

• It was imprudent of us to pour gasoline all over the floor of our living room and then light a fire in the fireplace.

PURPORTED (pur PORT id) adj rumored; claimed

• The heiress is purported to have been kidnapped by adventurers and buried in a concrete vault beneath the busiest intersection in Times Square. No one believes this story except the psychic who was consulted by the police.

To purport something is to claim or allege it.

PUTATIVE (PYOO tuh tiv) adj commonly accepted; supposed; reputed

• The putative reason for placing the monument downtown is that nobody had wanted it uptown.

When you use the word putative, you emphasize that the reason is only supposed, not proven.

Quick Quiz #69

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. provincial


a. commonly accepted


2. provisional


b. nearness


3. proximity


c. narrow in outlook


4. prudent


d. rumored


5. purported


e. careful


6. putative


f. conditional


QUALIFY (KWAHL uh fye) v  to modify or restrict

You already know the primary meaning of qualify. Here’s another meaning.

• Susan qualified her praise of Judith by saying that her kind words applied only to Judith’s skillful cooking and not to her abhorrent personality. Judith was upset by Susan’s qualification.

• The library trustees rated their fund-raiser a qualified success: many more people than expected had come, but virtually no money had been raised.

An unqualified success is a complete, unrestricted success.

QUALITATIVE (KWAHL uh tay tiv) adj having to do with the quality or qualities of something (as opposed to the quantity)

If a school achieves a qualitative improvement in enrollment, it means the school is being attended by better students. If the school achieves a quantitative (KWAHN i tay tiv) improvement, it means the school is being attended by more students.

• The difference between the two restaurants was quantitative rather than qualitative. Both served the same dreadful food, but the second restaurant served more of it.

QUERULOUS (KWER uh lus) adj complaining; grumbling; whining

Although a query is a question, querulous does not mean questioning.

• The exasperated mother finally managed to hush her querulous child.

• The querulous voices of the students, who believed that their quizzes had been graded too harshly, could be heard all the way at the other end of the school building.

QUIXOTIC (kwik SAHT ik) adj romantic or idealistic to a foolish or impractical degree

The word quixotic is derived from the name of Don Quixote, the protagonist of Miguel de Cervantes’s classic 17th-century novel. Don Quixote had read so many romances about the golden age of chivalry that he set out to become a knight himself and have chivalrous adventures. Instead, his romantic idealism almost invariably got him into trouble. To be quixotic is to be as foolish or impractical as Don Quixote in pursuing an ideal.

• For many years Mr. Morris had led a quixotic effort to repeal the federal income tax.

• The political organization had once been a powerful force in Washington. However, its membership had dwindled, and its causes had become increasingly quixotic.

Quick Quiz #70

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. qualify


a. having to do with quantity


2. qualitative


b. foolishly romantic


3. quantitative


c. complaining


4. querulous


d. modify or restrict


5. quixotic


e. having to do with quality


RAMIFICATION (ram uh fuh KAY shun) n  a consequence; a branching out

A tree could be said to ramify (RAM i fye), or branch out, as it grows. A ramification is a consequence that grows out of something in the same way that a tree branch grows out of a tree trunk.

• The professor found a solution to the problem, but there are many ramifications. Some experts are afraid that she has created more problems than she has solved.

RANCOR (RANG kur) n  bitter, long-lasting ill will or resentment

• The mutual rancor felt by the two nations eventually led to war.

• Jeremy’s success produced such feelings of rancor in Jessica, his rival, that she was never able to tolerate being in the same room with him again.

To feel rancor is to be rancorous.

• The rancorous public exchanges between the two competing boxers are strictly for show; outside the ring, they are the best of friends.

RAPACIOUS (ruh PAY shus) adj greedy; plundering; avaricious

• Wall Street investment bankers are often accused of being rapacious, but they claim they are performing a valuable economic function.

The noun form is rapacity (ruh PAS uh tee).

REBUKE (ri BYOOK) v  to criticize sharply

• We trembled as Mr. Solomon rebuked us for flipping over his car and taking off the tires.

A piece of sharp criticism is called a rebuke.

• When the students got caught cheating on their French test, the principal delivered a rebuke that made their ears twirl.

REBUT (ri BUT) v  to contradict; to argue in opposition to; to prove to be false

• They all thought I was crazy, but none of them could rebut my argument.

• The defense attorney attempted to rebut the prosecutor’s claim that the defendant’s fingerprints, hair, clothing, signature, wallet, wristwatch, credit cards, and car had been found at the scene of the crime.

An act or instance of rebutting is called a rebuttal (ri BUT ul). Rebut and refute are synonyms.

RECALCITRANT (ri KAL suh trunt) adj stubbornly defiant of authority or control; disobedient

• The recalcitrant cancer continued to spread through the patient’s body despite every therapy and treatment the doctors tried.

• The country was in turmoil, but the recalcitrant dictator refused even to listen to the pleas of the international representatives.

RECANT (ri KANT) v  to publicly take back and deny (something previously said or believed); to openly confess error

• The chagrined scientist recanted his theory that mice originated on the moon; it turned out that he had simply mixed up the results of two separate experiments.

• The secret police tortured the intellectual for a week, by tickling her feet with a feather duster, until she finally recanted.

An act of recanting is called a recantation.

RECIPROCAL (ri SIP ruh kul) adj mutual; shared; interchangeable

• The Rochester Club had a reciprocal arrangement with the Duluth Club. Members of either club had full privileges of membership at the other.

• Their hatred was reciprocal; they hated each other.

To reciprocate (ri SIP ro kayt) is to return in kind, to interchange, or to repay.

• Our new neighbors had us over for dinner several times, but we were unable to reciprocate immediately because our dining room was being remodeled.

Reciprocity (res uh PRAHS uh tee) is a reciprocal relation between two parties, often whereby both parties gain.

RECLUSIVE (ri KLOOS iv) adj hermitlike; withdrawn from society

• The crazy millionaire led a reclusive existence, shutting herself up in her labyrinthine mansion and never setting foot in the outside world.

• Our new neighbors were so reclusive that we didn’t even meet them until a full year after they had moved in.

A reclusive person is a recluse (REK loos).

• After his wife’s death, the grieving old man turned into a recluse and seldom ventured out of his house.

• Emily Dickinson, one of America’s most creative poets, became a recluse after her father’s death in 1874—she kept in contact with friends and family through cards and letters.

RECONDITE (REK un dyte) adj hard to understand; over one’s head

• The philosopher’s thesis was so recondite that I couldn’t get past the first two sentences.

• Every now and then the professor would lift his head from his desk and deliver some recondite pronouncement that left us scratching our heads and trying to figure out what he meant.

• The scholarly journal was so recondite as to be utterly incomprehensible.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

Quick Quiz #71

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. ramification


a. hard to understand


2. rancor


b. criticize sharply


3. rapacious


c. consequence


4. rebuke


d. mutual


5. rebut


e. hermitlike


6. recalcitrant


f. bitter resentment


7. recant


g. stubbornly defiant


8. reciprocal


h. publicly deny


9. reclusive


i. contradict


10. recondite


j. greedy

RECRIMINATION (ri krim uh NAY shun) n  a bitter counteraccusation, or the act of making a bitter counteraccusation

• Melissa was full of recrimination. When I accused her of stealing my pen, she angrily accused me of being careless, evil, and stupid.

The word is often used in the plural.

• The courtroom echoed with the recriminations of the convicted defendant as he was taken off to the penitentiary.

To make a recrimination is to recriminate. The adjective is recriminatory (ruh KRIM uh nuh tor ee).

REDOLENT (RED uh lunt) adj fragrant

• The air in autumn is redolent of wood smoke and fallen leaves.

• The flower arrangements on the tables were both beautiful and redolent.

Something that is redolent has redolence.

Redolent also means suggestive.

• The new play was redolent of one I had seen many years ago.

REDUNDANT (ri DUN dunt) adj unnecessarily repetitive; excessive; excessively wordy

• Erica had already bought paper plates, so our purchase of paper plates was redundant.

• Shawn’s article was redundant—he kept saying the same thing over and over again.

An act of being redundant is a redundancy. The title “Department of Redundancy Department” is redundant.

REFUTE (ri FYOOT) v  to prove to be false; to disprove

• His expensive suit and imported shoes clearly refuted his claim that he was poor.

• I refuted Billy’s mathematical proof by showing him that it depended on two and two adding up to five.

An act of refuting is called a refutation.

• The audience enjoyed the panelist’s humorous refutation of the main speaker’s theory about the possibility of building an antigravity airplane.

Something that is indubitable, something that cannot be disproven, is irrefutable.

• Claudia’s experiments with jelly beans and pencil erasers offered irrefutable proof that jelly beans taste better than pencil erasers.

REITERATE (ree IT uh rayt) v  to say again; to repeat

• The candidate had reiterated his position so many times on the campaign trail that he sometimes even muttered it in his sleep.

• To reiterate, let me say once again that I am happy to have been invited to the birthday celebration of your adorable Pekingese.

An act of reiterating is called a reiteration.

RELEGATE (REL uh gayt) v  to banish; to send away

• The most junior of the junior executives was relegated to a tiny, windowless office that had once been a broom closet.

• The new dad’s large collection of jazz records was relegated to the cellar to make room for the new baby’s larger collection of stuffed animals. The father objected to the relegation of his record collection to the cellar, but his objection did no good.

RELENTLESS (ri LENT lis) adj continuous; unstoppable

To relent is to stop or give up. Relentless, or unrelenting, means not stopping.

• The insatiable rabbit was relentless; it ate and ate until nothing was left in the botanical garden.

• The torrential rains were relentless, eventually creating a deluge.

RELINQUISH (ri LING kwish) v  to release or let go of; to surrender; to stop doing

• The hungry dog refused to relinquish the enormous beef bone that he had stolen from the butcher’s shop.

• The retiring president relinquished control of the company only with the greatest reluctance.

• Sandra was eighty-five years old before she finally relinquished her view of herself as a glamorous teenaged beauty.

REMONSTRATE (ri MAHN strayt) v  to argue against; to protest; to raise objections

• My boss remonstrated with me for telling all the secretaries they could take off the rest of the week.

• The manager remonstrated, but the umpire continued to insist that the base runner had been out at third. When the manager continued to remonstrate, the umpire threw her out of the game.

An act of remonstrating is a remonstration.

RENAISSANCE (REN uh sahns) n  a rebirth or revival

The Renaissance was a great blossoming of art, literature, science, and culture in general that transformed Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. The word is also used in connection with lesser rebirths.

• The declining neighborhood underwent a renaissance when a group of investors bought several crumbling tenements and turned them into attractive apartment buildings.

• The small college’s football team had endured many losing seasons but underwent a dramatic renaissance when the new coach recruited half a dozen 400-pound freshmen.

Renaissance can also be spelled renascence (ri NAY suns).

RENOUNCE (ri NOWNSE) v  to give up formally or resign; to disown; to have nothing to do with anymore

• Despite the pleadings and protestations of her parents, Deborah refused to renounce her love for the leader of the motorcycle gang.

• The presidential candidate renounced his manager after it was revealed that the zealous manager had tried to murder the candidate’s opponent in the primary.

To renounce is to make a renunciation (ri nun see AY shun).

Quick Quiz #72

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. recrimination


a. surrender


2. redolent


b. disown


3. redundant


c. rebirth


4. refute


d. argue against


5. reiterate


e. fragrant


6. relegate


f. banish


7. relinquish


g. say again


8. remonstrate


h. bitter counteraccusation


9. renaissance


i. unnecessarily repetitive


10. renounce


j. prove to be false

REPARATION (rep uh RAY shun) n  paying back; making amends; compensation

To make a reparation is to repair some damage that has occurred.

This word is often used in the plural.

• The defeated country demanded reparations for the destruction it had suffered at the hands of the victorious army.

• After the accident we sought reparation in court. Unfortunately, our lawyer was not competent, so we didn’t win a cent.

Something that cannot be repaired is irreparable (i REP uh ruh bul).

Note carefully the pronunciation of these words.

REPERCUSSION (ree pur KUSH un) n  a consequence; an indirect effect

• One repercussion of the new tax law was that accountants found themselves with a lot of new business.

• The declaration of war had many repercussions, including a big increase in production at the bomb factory.

REPLENISH (ri PLEN ish) v  to fill again; to resupply; to restore

• The manager of the hardware store needed to replenish his stock; quite a few of the shelves were empty.

• The commanding general replenished his army with a trainload of food and other supplies.

• After the big Thanksgiving meal, everyone felt replenished.

An act of replenishing is a replenishment.

• The replenishment of our firewood supply was our first thought after the big snowstorm.

REPLETE (ri PLEET) adj completely filled; abounding

• The once-polluted stream was now replete with fish of every description.

• The bride wore a magnificent sombrero replete with fuzzy dice and campaign buttons.

• Tim ate all nine courses at the wedding banquet. He was filled to the point of repletion.

REPREHENSIBLE (rep ri HEN suh bul) adj worthy of severe blame or censure

• He put the cat in the laundry chute, tied the dog to the chimney, and committed several other reprehensible acts.

• Malcolm’s manners were reprehensible: he ate his soup by drinking it from his empty wineglass and flipped his peas into his mouth with the back of his salad fork.

REPRISAL (ri PRYE zul) n  a military action undertaken in revenge for another; an act of taking “an eye for an eye”

• The raid on the Iranian oil-drilling platform was a reprisal for the Iranians’ earlier attack on the American tanker.

• Fearing reprisals, the CIA beefed up its security after capturing the insurgent leader.

REPROACH (ri PROHCH) v  to scold, usually in disappointment; to blame; to disgrace

• The police officer reproached me for leaving my car parked overnight in a no-standing zone.

Reproach can also be a noun. To look at someone with reproach is to look at that person critically or accusingly. To be filled with self-reproach can mean to be ashamed.

Impeccable behavior that’s beyond fault is irreproachable (ir ri PROHCH uh bul).

• Even though Jerome did hit Mabel on the head, his motive was irreproachable: he had merely been trying to kill a fly perched on her hairnet.

REPROVE (ri PROOV) v  to criticize mildly

• Aunt May reproved us for eating too much, but we could tell she was actually thrilled that we had enjoyed the meal.

• My friend reproved me for leaving my dirty dish in the sink.

An act of reproving is called a reproof.

• The judge’s decision was less a sentence than a gentle reproof; she put Jerry on probation and told him never to get in trouble again.

REPUDIATE (ri PYOO dee ayt) v  to reject; to renounce; to disown; to have nothing to do with

• Hoping to receive a lighter sentence, the convicted gangster repudiated his former connection with the mob.

REQUISITE (REK wuh zit) adj required; necessary

• Howard bought a hunting rifle and the requisite ammunition.

• As the requisite number of members was not in attendance, the chairperson adjourned the meeting just after it had begun.

Requisite can also be a noun, meaning a requirement or a necessity. A hammer and a saw are among the requisites of the carpenter’s trade.

A prerequisite is something required before you can get started. A high school diploma is usually a prerequisite to entering college.

RESOLUTE (REZ uh loot) adj determined; firm; unwavering

• Uncle Ted was resolute in his decision not to have a good time at our Christmas party; he stood alone in the corner and muttered to himself all night long.

• The other team was strong, but our players were resolute. They kept pushing and shoving until, in the final moments, they won the roller-derby tournament.

Someone who sticks to his New Year’s resolution is resolute. Resolute and resolved are synonyms.

To be irresolute is to be wavering or indecisive.

• Our irresolute leader led us first one way and then the other way in the process of getting us thoroughly and completely lost.

Quick Quiz #73

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. reparation


a. act of revenge


2. repercussion


b. determined


3. replenish


c. worthy of blame


4. replete


d. consequence


5. reprehensible


e. scold


6. reprisal


f. completely filled


7. reproach


g. paying back


8. reprove


h. necessary


9. repudiate


i. criticize mildly


10. requisite


j. fill again


11. resolute


k. reject

RESPITE (RES pit) n  a period of rest or relief

• We worked without respite from five in the morning until five in the afternoon.

• The new mother fell asleep when her baby stopped crying. However, the respite was brief; the baby started up again almost immediately.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

RETICENT (RET uh sint) adj quiet; restrained; reluctant to speak, especially about oneself

• Luther’s natural reticence made him an ideal speaker: his speeches never lasted more than a few minutes.

• Kaynard was reticent on the subject of his accomplishments; he didn’t like to talk about himself.

To be reticent is to be characterized by reticence.

REVERE (ri VEER) v  to respect highly; to honor

• Einstein was a preeminent scientist who was revered by everyone, even his rivals. Einstein enjoyed nearly universal reverence (REV uh rins).

To be irreverent is to be mildly disrespectful.

• Peter made jokes about his younger sister’s painting. She was perturbed at his irreverence and began to cry.

RHETORIC (RET ur ik) n  the art of formal speaking or writing; inflated discourse

A talented public speaker might be said to be skilled in rhetoric.

The word is often used in a pejorative sense to describe speaking or writing that is skillfully executed but insincere or devoid of meaning.

A political candidate’s speech that was long on drama and promises but short on genuine substance might be dismissed as “mere rhetoric.”

To use rhetoric is to be rhetorical (ruh TOR ik uhl). A rhetorical question is one the speaker intends to answer himself or herself—that is, a question asked only for rhetorical effect.

RIGOROUS (RIG ur us) adj strict; harsh; severe

To be rigorous is to act with rigor.

• Our exercise program was rigorous but effective; after just a few months, our eighteen minutes of daily exercise had begun to pay off.

• The professor was popular largely because he wasn’t rigorous; there were no tests in his course and only one paper, which was optional.

ROBUST (roh BUST) adj strong and healthy; vigorous

• The ninety-year-old woman was still robust. Every morning she ran several miles down to the ocean and jumped in.

• The tree we planted last year isn’t looking robust. Most of the leaves have fallen off, and the bark has begun to peel.

ROGUE (rohg) n  a criminally dishonest person; a scoundrel

A rogue is someone who can’t be trusted. This word is often used, however, to characterize a playfully mischievous person.

• Huckleberry Finn is a bit of a rogue; while his actions are technically criminal, he performs them with noble intentions and a humorous spirit.

RUDIMENTARY (roo duh MEN tuh ree) adj basic; crude; unformed or undeveloped

• The boy who had lived with wolves for fifteen years lacked even the most rudimentary social skills.

• The strange creature had small bumps on its torso that appeared to be rudimentary limbs.

RUMINATE (ROO muh nayt) v  to contemplate; to ponder; to mull over

Ruminate comes from a Latin word meaning to chew cud.

Cows, sheep, and other cud-chewing animals are called ruminants. To ruminate is to quietly chew on or ponder your own thoughts.

• The teacher’s comment about the causes of weather set me to ruminating about what a nice day it was and to wishing that I were outside.

An act of ruminating is called a rumination.

• Serge was a private man; he kept his ruminations to himself.

RUSTIC (RUS tik) adj rural; lacking urban comforts or sophistication; primitive

• Life in the log cabin was too rustic for Leah; she missed hot showers, electricity, and ice.

Rustic can be used as a noun. A rustic is an unsophisticated person from the country.

• We enjoyed the rustic scenery as we traveled through the countryside.

To rusticate is to spend time in the country.

Quick Quiz #74

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. respite


a. basic


2. reticent


b. contemplate


3. revere


c. vigorous


4. rhetoric


d. formal writing or speaking


5. rigorous


e. restrained


6. robust


f. rural


7. rogue


g. period of rest


8. rudimentary


h. strict


9. ruminate


i. honor


10. rustic


j. scoundrel


SACCHARINE (SAK uh rin) adj sweet; excessively or disgustingly sweet

Saccharin is a calorie-free sweetener; saccharine means sweet. Except for the spelling, this is one of the easiest-to-remember words out there.

Saccharine can be applied to things that are literally sweet, such as sugar, saccharin, fruit, and so on. It can also be applied to things that are sweet in a figurative sense, such as children, personalities, and sentiments—especially things that are too sweet, or sweet in a sickening way.

• We wanted to find a nice card for Uncle Mo, but the cards in the display at the drugstore all had such saccharine messages that we would have been too embarrassed to send any of them.

• The love story was so saccharine that I vowed never to see another sappy, predictable movie again.

SACRILEGE (SAK ruh lij) n  a violation of something sacred; blasphemy

• The minister committed the sacrilege of delivering his sermon while wearing his golf shoes; he didn’t want to be late for his tee-off time, which was just a few minutes after the scheduled end of the service.

• The members of the fundamentalist sect believed that dancing, going to movies, and watching television were sacrileges.

To commit a sacrilege is to be sacrilegious.

Be careful with the spelling of these words.

SACROSANCT (SAK roh sangkt) adj sacred; held to be inviolable

A church or temple is sacrosanct. So, for Christians, is belief in the divinity of Jesus. Sacrosanct is also used loosely, and often ironically, outside of religion.

• Mr. Peters’s lunchtime trip to his neighborhood bar was sacrosanct; he would no sooner skip it than he would skip his mother’s funeral.

SAGACIOUS (suh GAY shus) adj discerning; shrewd; keen in judgment; wise

• Edgar’s decision to move the chickens into the barn turned out to be sagacious; about an hour later, the hailstorm hit.

• The announcer’s sagacious commentary made the baseball game seem vastly more profound than we had expected it to be.

To be sagacious is to have sagacity (suh GAS uh tee). A similar word is sage, which means wise or possessing wisdom derived from experience or learning.

• When we were contemplating starting our own popcorn business, we received some sage advice from a man who had lost all his money selling candied apples.

• The professor’s critique, which comprised a few sage comments, sent me back to my room feeling pretty stupid.

Sage can also be a noun. A wise person, especially a wise old person, is often called a sage.

SALIENT (SAYL yunt) adj sticking out; conspicuous; leaping

A salient characteristic is one that leaps right out at you.

• Ursula had a number of salient features including, primarily, her nose, which stuck out so far that she was constantly in danger of slamming it in doors and windows.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

SALUTARY (SAL yuh ter ee) adj healthful; remedial; curative

• Lowered blood pressure is among the salutary effects of exercise.

• The long sea voyage was salutary; when Elizabeth landed, she looked ten years younger than she had when she set sail.

SANCTIMONIOUS (sangk tuh MOH nee us) adj pretending to be devout; affecting religious feeling

• The sanctimonious old bore pretended to be deeply offended when Lucius whispered a mild swear word after dropping the hammer on his bare foot.

• Simon is an egoist who speaks about almost nothing but caring for one’s fellow man. His altruism is sanctimonious.

SANGUINE (SANG gwin) adj cheerful; optimistic; hopeful

• Miguel was sanguine about his chances of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, even though, as an eighth grader, he hadn’t yet done anything to deserve it.

• The ebullient checkers champion remained sanguine in defeat; he was so sure of himself that he viewed even catastrophe as merely a temporary setback.

Don’t confuse sanguine (a nice word) with sanguinary (not a nice word). Sanguinary means bloodthirsty.

SARDONIC (sahr DAHN ik) adj mocking; scornful

• Isabella’s weak attempts at humor were met by nothing but a few scattered pockets of sardonic laughter.

• Even George’s friends found him excessively sardonic: he couldn’t discuss anything without mocking it, and there was almost nothing about which he could bring himself to say two nice words in a row.

Quick Quiz #75

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. saccharine


a. blasphemy


2. sacrilege


b. wise


3. sacrosanct


c. sweet


4. sagacious


d. pretending to be devout


5. sage


e. healthful


6. salient


f. mocking


7. salutary


g. cheerful


8. sanctimonious


h. sacred


9. sanguine


i. sticking out


10. sardonic


j. discerning

SCINTILLATE (SIN tuh layt) v  to sparkle, either literally or figuratively

• Stars and diamonds scintillate—so do witty comments, charming personalities, and anything else that can be said to sparkle.

• Stefan was a quiet drudge at home, but at a party he could be absolutely scintillating, tossing off witty remarks and charming everyone in the room.

• Jenny’s grades last term weren’t scintillating, to put it mildly; she had four Ds and an F.

The act of scintillating is called scintillation.

SCRUPULOUS (SKROO pyuh lus) adj strict; careful; hesitant for ethical reasons

• Leela was scrupulous in keeping her accounts; she knew where every penny came from and where every penny went.

• We tried to be scrupulous about not dripping paint, but by the time the day was over there was nearly as much paint on the floor as there was on the walls.

• Philip was too scrupulous to make a good used-car dealer; every time he started to lie, he was overcome by ethical doubts.

A scruple is a qualm or moral doubt. To have no scruples—to be unscrupulous—is to have no conscience.

SCRUTINIZE (SKROOT uh nyze) v  to examine very carefully

• I scrutinized the card catalog at the library but couldn’t find a single book on the topic I had chosen for my term paper.

• The rocket scientists scrutinized thousands of pages of computer printouts, looking for a clue to why the rocket had exploded.

• My mother scrutinized my clothes and my appearance before I left for the evening, but even after several minutes of careful analysis, she was unable to find anything to complain about.

To scrutinize something is to subject it to scrutiny.

• The clever forgery fooled the museum curator but did not withstand the scrutiny of the experts; after studying for several weeks, the experts pronounced the painting to be a fake.

Something that cannot be examined is inscrutable (in SKROOT uh bul). Inscrutable means mysterious, impossible to understand.

• We had no idea what Bill was thinking because his smile was inscrutable. Poker players try to be inscrutable to their opponents.

SECULAR (SEK yuh lur) adj having nothing to do with religion or spiritual concerns

• The group home had several nuns on its staff, but it was an entirely secular operation, run by the city, not the church.

• The priest’s secular interests include German food and playing the trombone.

SEDITION (si DISH un) n  treason; the incitement of public disorder or rebellion

• The political group was charged with sedition because it had advocated burning the capital to the ground.

SEGREGATE (SEG ruh gayt) v  to separate

• Rico kept his prize-winning poodle, Fluffy, segregated from his other two dogs, which were mixed breeds.

The noun form is segregation, which can also refer to periods in history when people of different races were kept apart by social norms or law. In other nations, segregation has been called by other names. See apartheid.

Integrate, congregate, segregate, and aggregate—all words about joining and separating—share a common root.

SENSORY (SEN suh ree) adj having to do with the senses or sensation

• Babies enjoy bright colors, moving objects, pleasant sounds, and other forms of sensory stimulation.

Your ears, eyes, and tongue are all sensory organs. It is through them that your senses operate.

Extrasensory perception is the supposed ability of some people to perceive things without using the standard senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, or taste.

Two similar-sounding and often confusing words are sensual and sensuous. To be sensual is to be devoted to gratifying one’s senses through physical pleasure, especially sexual pleasure; to be sensuous is to delight the senses. A sensual person is one who eagerly indulges his or her physical desires. A sensuous person is one who stimulates the senses of others.

SENTIENT (SEN shunt) adj able to perceive by the senses; conscious

Human beings are sentient. Rocks are not.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

• While trees are not, strictly speaking, sentient beings, many credible people claim to have communicated with them.

SEQUESTER (si KWES tur) v  to set or keep apart

• Because much of the rest of the city had become a battle zone, the visiting entertainers were sequestered in the international hotel.

• The struggling writer sequestered herself in her study for several months, trying to produce the next Great American Novel.

• Juries are sometimes sequestered during trials to prevent them from talking to people or reading newspapers.

Quick Quiz #76

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. scintillate


a. sparkle


2. scrupulous


b. having nothing to do with religion


3. scrutinize


c. treason


4. secular


d. having to do with the senses


5. sedition


e. set apart


6. segregate


f. strict


7. sensory


g. delighting the senses


8. sensual


h. examine very carefully


9. sensuous


i. devoted to pleasure


10. sentient


j. conscious


11. sequester


k. separate

SERENDIPITY (ser un DIP uh tee) n  accidental good fortune; discovering good things without looking for them

• It was serendipity rather than genius that led the archaeologist to his breathtaking discovery of the ancient civilization. While walking his dog in the desert, he tripped over the top of a buried tomb.

Something that occurs through serendipity is serendipitous.

• Our arrival at the airport serendipitously coincided with that of the queen, and she offered us a ride to our hotel in her carriage.

SERVILE (SUR vyle) adj submissive and subservient; like a servant

• Cat lovers sometimes say that dogs are too servile because they follow their owners everywhere and slobber all over them at every opportunity.

• The horrible boss demanded servility from his employees; when he said, “Jump!” he expected them to ask, “How high?”

A similar word is slavish (SLAY vish), which means even more subservient than servile. Slavish devotion to a cause is devotion in spite of everything. An artist’s slavish imitator would be an imitator who imitated everything about the artist.

SINGULAR (SING gyuh lur) adj unique; superior; exceptional; strange

• Darren had the singular ability to stand on one big toe for several hours at a time.

• The man on the train had a singular deformity: both of his ears were on the same side of his head.

A singularity is a unique occurrence. Singularity is also the quality of being unique.

SINISTER (SIN ih stur) adj evil, wicked; foreshadowing evil, trouble, or wickedness

• The house on the hill is pretty by day, but at night it casts sinister shadows and emits frightening moans.

SLANDER (SLAN dur) v  to speak badly about someone publicly; to defame; to spread malicious rumor

• Jonathan slandered Mr. Perriwinkle by telling everyone in school that the principal was a thief; Mr. Perriwinkle resented this slander. Because he was the principal, he expelled the slanderous student.

SLOTH (slawth) n  laziness; sluggishness

You may have seen a picture of an animal called a sloth. It hangs upside down from tree limbs and is never in a hurry to do anything. To fall into sloth is to act like a sloth.

• Yusuke’s weekends were devoted to sloth. He never arose before noon and seldom left the house before Monday morning.

To be lazy and sluggish is to be slothful.

• Ophelia’s slothful husband virtually lived on the couch in the living room, and the television remote-control device was in danger of becoming grafted to his hand.

SOBRIETY (suh BRYE uh tee) n  the state of being sober; seriousness

A sober person is a person who isn’t drunk. A sober person can also be a person who is serious, solemn, or not ostentatious. Sobriety means both “undrunkness” and seriousness or solemnity.

• Sobriety was such an unfamiliar condition that the reforming alcoholic didn’t recognize it at first.

Sobriety of dress is one characteristic of the hardworking Amish.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

SOLICITOUS (suh LIS uh tus) adj eager and attentive, often to the point of hovering; anxiously caring or attentive

• Every time we turned around, we seemed to step on the foot of the solicitous salesman, who appeared to feel that if he left us alone for more than a few seconds, we would decide to leave the store.

• When the sick movie star sneezed, half-a-dozen solicitous nurses came rushing into her hospital room.

The noun is solicitude.

SOLVENT (SAHL vunt) adj not broke or bankrupt; able to pay one’s bills

• Jerry didn’t hope to become a millionaire; all he wanted to do was remain solvent.

To be broke is to be insolvent. An insolvent company is one that can’t cover its debts.

The state of being solvent is called solvency; the state of being insolvent is called insolvency.

SOPORIFIC (sahp uh RIF ik) adj sleep inducing; boring; sleepy

• The doctor calmed his hysterical patient by injecting him with some sort of soporific medication.

• Sam’s soporific address was acknowledged not by applause but by a chorus of snores.

• The soporific creature from the bottom of the sea lay in a gigantic blob on the beach for several days and then roused itself enough to consume the panic-stricken city.

Quick Quiz #77

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. serendipity


a. accidental good fortune


2. servile


b. sleep inducing


3. singular


c. eager and attentive


4. sinister


d. not bankrupt


5. slavish


e. submissive


6. sloth


f. broke


7. sobriety


g. laziness


8. solicitous


h. state of being sober


9. solvent


i. extremely subservient


10. insolvent


j. unique


11. soporific


k. wicked

SORDID (SOR did) adj vile; filthy; squalid

• The college roommates led a sordid existence, surrounded by dirty laundry, rotting garbage, and filthy dishes.

• The conspirators plotted their sordid schemes at a series of secret meetings in an abandoned warehouse.

• The leprosy blight had turned a once-pretty neighborhood into a sordid outpost of despair and crime.

SPAWN (spawn) v  to bring forth; to produce a large number

• A best-selling book or blockbuster movie will spawn dozens of imitators.

SPECIOUS (SPEE shus) adj deceptively plausible or attractive

• The charlatan’s specious theories about curing baldness with used tea bags charmed the studio audience but did not convince the experts, who believed that fresh tea bags were more effective.

• The river’s beauty turned out to be specious; what had looked like churning rapids from a distance was, on closer inspection, some sort of foamy industrial waste.

To be specious is to be characterized by speciousness.

SPORADIC (spuh RAD ik) adj stopping and starting; scattered; occurring in bursts every once in a while

• Kyle’s attention to his schoolwork was sporadic at best; he tended to lose his concentration after a few minutes of effort.

SPURIOUS (SPYOOR ee us) adj false; fake

An apocryphal story is one whose truth is uncertain. A spurious story, however, is out-and-out false, no doubt about it.

• The political candidate attributed his loss to numerous spurious rumors that had hounded him throughout his campaign.

SQUALOR (SKWAHL ur) n  filth; wretched, degraded, or repulsive living conditions

• If people live in squalor for too long, the ruling elite can count on an insurgency.

SQUANDER (SKWAHN dur) v  to waste

• Jerry failed to husband his inheritance; instead, he squandered it on trips to Las Vegas.

STAGNATION (stag NAY shun) n  motionlessness; inactivity

• The company grew quickly for several years; then it fell into stagnation.

• Many years of carelessly dumping garbage next to the river led to the gradual stagnation of the water because the trash covered the bottom and made an impromptu dam.

To fall into stagnation is to stagnate. To be in a state of stagnation is to be stagnant.

STATIC (STAT ik) adj stationary; not changing or moving

• Sales of the new book soared for a few weeks then became static.

• The movie was supposed to be a thriller, but we found it tediously static; nothing seemed to happen from one scene to the next.

STAUNCH (stawnch) adj firmly committed; firmly in favor of; steadfast

A staunch Republican is someone who always votes for Republican candidates.

A staunch supporter of tax reform would be someone who firmly believes in tax reform.

To be staunch in your support of something is to be unshakable.

STEADFAST (STED fast) adj loyal; faithful

• Steadfast love is love that never wavers. To be steadfast in a relationship is to be faithfully committed.

To be steadfast is to be like a rock: unchanging, unwavering, and unmoving.

STIGMATIZE (STIG muh tyze) v  to brand with disgrace; to set a mark of disgrace upon

• Steve once went into the girls’ bathroom by accident, and this mistake stigmatized him for the rest of his high school career.

A stigma (STIG muh) is a mark of disgrace.

STIPULATE (STIP yuh layt) v  to require something as part of an agreement

• You are well-advised to stipulate the maximum amount you will pay in any car-repair contract.

Guarantees often stipulate certain conditions that must be met if the guarantee is to be valid.

STOIC (STOH ik) adj indifferent (at least outwardly) to pleasure or pain, to joy or grief, to fortune or misfortune

• Nina was stoic about the death of her canary; she went about her business as though nothing sad had happened.

• We tried to be stoic about our defeat, but as soon as we got into the locker room, we all began to cry and bang our foreheads on our lockers.

STRATUM (STRAT um) n  a layer; a level

The middle class is one stratum of society.

The plural of stratum is strata. A hierarchy is composed of strata.

To stratify is to make into layers.

This word can also be pronounced “STRAY tum.”

STRICTURE (STRIK chur) n  a restriction; a limitation; a negative criticism

• Despite the strictures of apartment living, we enjoyed the eight years we spent in New York City.

• The unfavorable lease placed many strictures on how the building could be used.

• The poorly prepared violinist went home trembling after her concert to await the inevitable strictures of the reviewers.

Quick Quiz #78

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. sordid


a. disgrace


2. spawn


b. stopping and starting


3. specious


c. restriction


4. sporadic


d. inactivity


5. spurious


e. require


6. squander


f. indifferent to pain, pleasure


7. stagnation


g. bring forth


8. static


h. vile


9. staunch


i. firmly committed


10. steadfast


j. layer


11. stigmatize


k. stationary


12. stipulate


l. deceptively plausible


13. stoic


m. false


14. stratum


n. waste


15. stricture


STRIFE (stryfe) n  bitter conflict; discord; a struggle or clash

• Marital strife often leads to divorce.

STRINGENT (STRIN junt) adj strict; restrictive

• The restaurant’s stringent dress code required male diners to wear a suit coat and tie or they had to leave.

• The IRS accountant was quite stringent in her interpretation of the tax code; she disallowed virtually all of Leslie’s deductions.

STYMIE (STYE mee) v  to thwart; to get in the way of; to hinder

Stymie is a golfing term. A golfer is stymied when another player’s ball lies on the direct path between his or her own ball and the cup.

Off the golf course, one might be stymied by one’s boss.

• In my effort to make a name for myself in the company, I was stymied by my boss, who always managed to take credit for all the good things I did and to blame me for his mistakes.

SUBJUGATE (SUB juh gayt) v  to subdue and dominate; to enslave

• I bought the fancy riding lawn mower because I thought it would make my life easier, but it quickly subjugated me. All summer long, it seems, I did nothing but change its oil, sharpen its blades, and drive it back and forth between my house and the repair shop.

• The tyrant subjugated all the peasants living in the kingdom; once free, they were now forced to do her bidding.

SUBLIME (suh BLYME) adj awesome; extremely exalted; lofty; majestic

• After winning $70 million in the lottery and quitting our jobs as sewer workers, our happiness was sublime.

• Theodore was a sublime thinker; after pondering even a difficult problem for just a few minutes, he would invariably arrive at a concise and elegant solution.

• The soup at the restaurant was sublime. I’ve never tasted anything so good.

The noun form of sublime is sublimity (suh BLIM i tee). Don’t confuse sublime with subliminal (suh BLIM uh nuhl), which means subconscious, or sublimate (SUB li mayt), which means to suppress one’s subconscious mind.

SUBORDINATE (suh BOR duh nit) adj lower in importance, position, or rank; secondary

• My desire to sit on the couch and watch television all night long was subordinate to my desire to stand in the kitchen eating junk food all night long, so I did the latter instead of the former.

A vice president is subordinate to a president.

Subordinate (suh BOR duh nayt) can also be a verb. To subordinate something in relation to something else is to make it secondary or less important.

To be insubordinate (in suh BOR duh nit) is not to acknowledge the authority of a superior. An army private who says, “Bug off!” when ordered to do something by a general is guilty of being insubordinate or of committing an act of insubordination.

SUBSTANTIVE (SUB stan tiv) adj having substance; real; essential; solid; substantial

• The differences between the two theories were not substantive; in fact, the two theories said the same thing with different words.

• The gossip columnist’s wild accusations were not based on anything substantive—her source was a convicted perjurer, and she had made up all the quotations.

SUBTLE (SUT ul) adj not obvious; able to make fine distinctions; ingenious; crafty

• The alien beings had created a shrewd replica of Mr. Jenson, but his wife did notice a few subtle differences, including the fact that the new Mr. Jenson had no pulse.

• Jim’s subtle mind enables him to see past problems that confuse the rest of us.

• The burglar was subtle; she had come up with a plan that would enable her to steal all the money in the world without arousing the suspicions of the authorities.

Something subtle is a subtlety (SUT ul tee).

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

SUBVERSIVE (sub VUR siv) adj corrupting; overthrowing; undermining; insurgent

• The political group destroyed the Pentagon’s computer files, hijacked Air Force One, and engaged in various other subversive activities.

• Madeline’s efforts to teach her first-grade students to read were thwarted by that most subversive of inventions, the television set.

SUCCINCT (suk SINGKT) adj brief and to the point; concise

• Aaron’s succinct explanation of why the moon doesn’t fall out of the sky and crash into the earth quickly satisfied even the most skeptical of the seventh graders.

• We were given so little room in which to write on the examination that we had no choice but to keep our essays succinct.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

Quick Quiz #79

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. strife


a. not obvious


2. stringent


b. awesome


3. stymie


c. brief and to the point


4. subjugate


d. thwart


5. sublime


e. subdue


6. subordinate


f. corrupting


7. insubordinate


g. not respectful of authority


8. substantive


h. strict


9. subtle


i. lower in importance


10. subversive


j. having substance


11. succinct


k. bitter conflict

SUCCUMB (suh KUM) v  to yield or submit; to die

• I had said I wasn’t going to eat anything at the party, but when Ann held the tray of imported chocolates under my nose, I quickly succumbed and ate all of them.

• The Martians in The War of the Worlds survived every military weapon known to man but succumbed to the common cold.

• When Willard reached the age of 110, his family began to think that he would live forever, but he succumbed not long afterward.

SUPERCILIOUS (soo pur SIL ee us) adj haughty; patronizing

• The supercilious Rolls-Royce salesman treated us like peasants until we opened our suitcase full of one-hundred-dollar bills.

• The newly famous author was so supercilious that she pretended not to recognize members of her own family, whom she now believed to be beneath her.

SUPERFICIAL (soo pur FISH ul) adj on the surface only; shallow; not thorough

• Tom had indeed been shot, but the wound was superficial— the bullet had merely creased the tip of his nose.

• The mechanic, who was in a hurry, gave my car what appeared to be a superficial tune-up. In fact, if he checked the oil, he did it without opening the hood.

A person who is superficial can be accused of superficiality.

• The superficiality of the editor’s comments made us think that she hadn’t really read the manuscript.

SUPERFLUOUS (soo PUR floo us) adj extra; unnecessary; redundant

• Andrew’s attempt to repair the light bulb was superfluous because the light bulb had already been repaired.

• Roughly 999 of the book’s 1,000 pages were superfluous.

The noun is superfluity (soo pur FLOO uh tee).

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

SURFEIT (SUR fit) n  excess; an excessive amount; excess or over-indulgence in eating or drinking

Thanksgiving meals are usually a surfeit for everyone involved.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

SURREPTITIOUS (sur up TISH us) adj sneaky; secret

• The dinner guest surreptitiously slipped a few silver spoons into his jacket as he was leaving the dining room.

• The babysitter made herself a surreptitious meal of lobster as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Robinson had driven away.

SURROGATE (SUR uh git) adj substitute

A surrogate mother is a woman who bears a child for someone else.

This word is often a noun. A surrogate is a substitute.

• A kind parent offered to go to prison as a surrogate for his son, who had been convicted of extortion.

SYCOPHANT (SIK uh funt) n  one who sucks up to others

• The French class seemed to be full of sycophants; the students were always bringing apples to the teacher and telling her how nice she looked.

A sycophant is sycophantic (sik uh FAN tik).

• The exasperated boss finally fired her sycophantic secretary because she couldn’t stand being around someone who never had anything nasty to say.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

SYNTHESIS (SIN thuh sis) n  the combining of parts to form a whole

• It seemed as though the meeting might end in acrimony and confusion until Raymond offered his brilliant synthesis of the two diverging points of view.

• A hot fudge sundae is the perfect synthesis of hot fudge and vanilla ice cream.

Quick Quiz #80

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. succumb


a. haughty


2. supercilious


b. yield


3. superficial


c. flatterer


4. superfluous


d. substitute


5. surfeit


e. unnecessary


6. surreptitious


f. on the surface only


7. surrogate


g. sneaky


8. sycophant


h. excess


9. synthesis


i. combining of parts


TACIT (TAS it) adj implied; not spoken

• Mrs. Rodgers never formally asked us to murder her husband, but we truly believed that we were acting with her tacit consent.

Tacit is related to taciturn.

TACITURN (TAS i turn) adj untalkative by nature

• The chairman was so taciturn that we often discovered that we had absolutely no idea what he was thinking.

• The taciturn physicist was sometimes thought to be brilliant simply because no one had ever heard him say anything that wasn’t intelligent. Everyone misconstrued his taciturnity; he was actually quite dumb.

Taciturn is related to tacit.

TANGENTIAL (tan JEN shul) adj only superficially related to the matter at hand; not especially relevant; peripheral

• The vice president’s speech bore only a tangential relationship to the topic that had been announced.

• Stuart’s connection with our organization is tangential. He once made a phone call from the lobby of our building, but he never worked here.

When a writer or speaker “goes off on a tangent,” he or she is making a digression or straying from the original topic.

Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.

TANGIBLE (TAN juh bul) adj touchable; palpable

• A mountain of cigarette butts was the only tangible evidence that Luke had been in our house.

• There was no tangible reason I could point to, but I did have a sneaking suspicion that Ernest was a rodeo fan.

The opposite of tangible is intangible.

TANTAMOUNT (TAN tuh mownt) adj equivalent to

• Waving a banner for the visiting team at that football game would be tantamount to committing suicide; the home-team fans would tear you apart in a minute.

• Yvonne’s method of soliciting donations from her employees was tantamount to extortion; she clearly implied that she would fire them if they didn’t pitch in.

TAUTOLOGICAL (tawt uh LAH juh kul) adj redundant; circular

“When everyone has a camera, cameras will be universal” is a tautological statement, because “everyone having a camera” and “cameras being universal” mean the same thing.

• The testing company’s definition of intelligence—“that which is measured by intelligence tests”—is tautological.

A tautology (taw TAHL uh jee) is a needless repetition of words, or saying the same thing using different words. Here’s an example:

• The trouble with bachelors is that they aren’t married.

TEMERITY (tuh MER uh tee) n  boldness; recklessness; audacity

• Our waiter at the restaurant had the temerity to tell me he thought my table manners were atrocious.

• The mountain climber had more temerity than skill or sense. She tried to climb a mountain that was much too difficult and ended up in a heap at the bottom.

TEMPERATE (TEM pur it) adj mild; moderate; restrained

• Our climate is temperate during the spring and fall but nearly unbearable during the summer and winter.

• The teacher’s temperate personality lent a feeling of calm and control to the kindergarten class.

The opposite of temperate is intemperate, which means not moderate.

• Becky’s intemperate use of oregano ruined the chili.

To temper something is to make it milder.

• Anna laughed and shrieked so loudly at every joke that even the comedian wished she would temper her appreciation.

Temperance is moderation, especially with regard to alcoholic drinks.

TENABLE (TEN uh bul) adj defensible, as in one’s position in an argument; capable of being argued successfully; valid

• Members of the Flat Earth Society continue to argue that the earth is flat, although even children dismiss their arguments as untenable.

Untenable means unable to be defended.

TENACIOUS (tuh NAY shus) adj persistent; stubborn; not letting go

• The foreign student’s tenacious effort to learn English won him the admiration of all the teachers at our school.

• Louise’s grasp of geometry was not tenacious. She could handle the simpler problems most of the time, but she fell apart on quizzes and tests.

• The ivy growing on the side of our house was so tenacious that we had to tear the house down to get rid of it.

To be tenacious is to have tenacity (tuh NAS us tee).

Quick Quiz #81

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. tacit


a. persistent


2. taciturn


b. naturally untalkative


3. tangential


c. boldness


4. tangible


d. equivalent to


5. tantamount


e. not deeply relevant


6. tautological


f. redundant


7. temerity


g. mild


8. temperate


h. defensible


9. tenable


i. implied


10. tenacious


j. touchable

TENET (TEN it) n  a shared principle or belief

• The tenets of his religion prohibited him from dancing and going to movies.

• One of the most important tenets of our form of government is that people can be trusted to govern themselves.

TENTATIVE (TEN tuh tiv) adj experimental; temporary; uncertain

• George made a tentative effort to paint his house by himself; he slapped some paint on the front door and his clothes, tipped over the bucket, and called a professional.

• Our plans for the party are tentative at this point, but we are considering hiring a troupe of accordionists to play polkas while our guests are eating dessert.

• Hugo believed himself to be a great wit, but his big joke was rewarded by nothing more than a very tentative chuckle from his audience.

TENUOUS (TEN yoo us) adj flimsy; extremely thin

• The organization’s financial situation has always been tenuous; the balance of the checking account is usually close to zero.

To attenuate is to make thin. Extenuating circumstances are those that lessen the magnitude of something, especially a crime.

• Cherrie admitted that she stole the Cracker Jacks, but claimed that there were extenuating circumstances: she had no money to buy food for her dog.

TERSE (turs) adj using no unnecessary words; succinct

• The new recording secretary’s minutes were so terse that they were occasionally cryptic.

• Terseness is not one of Rex’s virtues; he would talk until the crack of dawn if someone didn’t stop him.

THEOLOGY (thee AHL uh jee) n  the study of God or religion

• Ralph was a paradox: he was an atheist, yet he passionately studied theology.

TIRADE (TYE rayd) n  a prolonged, bitter speech

• Preston launched into a tirade against imitation cheese on the school lunch menu.

TORPOR (TOR pur) n  sluggishness; inactivity; apathy

• After consuming the guinea pig, the boa constrictor fell into a state of contented torpor that lasted several days.

• The math teacher tried to reduce the torpor of his students by banging on his desk, but the students scarcely blinked.

To be in a state of torpor is to be torpid.

TOUCHSTONE (TUCH stohn) n  a standard; a test of authenticity or quality

• The size of a student’s vocabulary is a useful touchstone for judging the quality of his or her education.

• A candidate’s pronouncements about the economy provided a touchstone by which his or her fitness for office could be judged.

In its original usage, a touchstone was a dark stone against which gold and other precious metals were rubbed in order to test their purity. Now the word is used more loosely to describe a broad range of standards and tests.

TOUT (towt) v  to praise highly; to brag publicly about

• Advertisements touted the chocolate-flavored toothpaste as getting rid of your sweet tooth while saving your teeth.

TRANSCEND (tran SEND) v  to go beyond or above; to surpass

• The man who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine believed that he had transcended the laws of physics.

• The basketball player was so skillful that she seemed to have transcended the sport altogether; she was so much better than her teammates that she seemed to be playing an entirely different game.

To be transcendent is to be surpassing or preeminent. Something transcendent is transcendental (tran sen DEN tul).

TRANSGRESS (trans GRES) v  to violate (a law); to sin

• The other side had transgressed so many provisions of the treaty that we had no choice but to go to war.

• We tried as hard as we could not to transgress their elaborate rules, but they had so many prohibitions that we couldn’t keep track of all of them.

An act of transgressing is a transgression.

• The bully’s innumerable transgressions included breaking all the windows in the new gymnasium and pushing several first graders off the jungle gym.

TRANSIENT (TRAN shunt) adj not staying for a long time; temporary

• The transient breeze provided some relief from the summer heat, but we were soon perspiring again.

• The child’s smile was transient; it disappeared as soon as the candy bar was gone.

• A hotel’s inhabitants are transient; the population changes every night as they come and go.

Transient can also be a noun. A transient person is sometimes called a transient. Hoboes, mendicants, and other homeless people are often called transients.

A very similar word is transitory, which means not lasting long. A transient breeze might provide transitory relief from the heat.

This word can also be pronounced “TRAN zee unt.”

TREPIDATION (trep uh DAY shun) n  fear; apprehension; nervous trembling

• The nursery school students were filled with trepidation when they saw the other children in their class dressed in their Halloween costumes.

• The trepidation of the swimming team was readily apparent: their knees were knocking as they lined up along the edge of the pool.

To be fearless is to be intrepid.

• The intrepid captain sailed her ship around the world with only a handkerchief for a sail.

TURPITUDE (TUR puh tood) n  shameful wickedness; depravity

• Paul was sacked by his boss because of a flagrant act of turpitude: he was caught stealing office supplies.

Quick Quiz #82

Match each word in the first column with its definition in the second column. Check your answers here.


1. tenet


a. without unnecessary words


2. tentative


b. go beyond


3. tenuous


c. brag publicly about


4. terse


d. fearless


5. torpor


e. experimental


6. theology


f. not lasting long


7. tirade


g. bitter speech


8. touchstone


h. shared principle


9. tout


i. wickedness


10. transcend


j. sluggishness


11. transgress


k. flimsy


12. transient


l. fear


13. transitory


m. study of religion


14. trepidation


n. standard


15. intrepid


o. violate


16. turpitude



The Arts


You don’t need to be a master of music, literature, film, or another artistic discipline to keep up in a conversation or course about the arts. Here are some major key art terms to keep in your back pocket.

ALLITERATION A poetic device involving the use of two or more words with the same initial consonant sounds. Big Bird is an alliterative name.

BAUHAUS A German school of art and architecture founded in 1919. Bauhaus style is characterized by harsh geometric form and great austerity of detail.

BIOPIC A biographical film. Gandhi and Malcolm X are well-known biopics. Some, such as The Hours (about Virginia Woolf) and Capote (about Truman Capote and Harper Lee), interweave real and fictitious plots or use a single incident to shed light on a person’s entire life.

BLANK VERSE Unrhymed verse, especially in iambic pentameter.

CHAMBER MUSIC Music written for and performed by small ensembles of players. The string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello) is the m