Lesson - Critical Reading Skill: Vocabulary in Context

GRE Critical Reading:Vocabulary in Context

     The meanings of unknown words can often be determined by their context.  Context is the term used to describe other related words in the sentence or paragraphBy understanding what is going on in the sentence or paragraph, the reader can determine what a word must mean.


My grandmother is normally loquacious, but yesterday she was unusually silent.

> If you picture the bold word as a blank to fill in, what word would you add there?

My grandmother is normally _________, but yesterday she was unusually silent.

> In the sentence the word but tells you that loquacious means the opposite of silent.





Read the passages below.  Answer the questions that follow regarding meaning in context.

Passage 1

    "Be your own best friend by being fit!" So the ads in newspapers and magazines say. Americans today are bombarded with media images of well-groomed, svelte, young people peering out of ads, looking as if they can conquer the world.  They see willowy models in size-6 leotards and males with 28-inch waists jumping around with seemingly boundless energy after a day's work. Few Americans can live up to those images; in fact, most are overweight and out of shape from a combination of sedentary jobs and self-induced psychological dependence on food.

     The so-called "Information Age" makes people's jobs sedentary as they become readers and writers of reports and participants at many meetings.  Even though many businesses encourage fitness programs during lunch-hours or after work, the majority of American workers do not take advantage of them.  Instead, they work at desks, assembly lines, or computer terminals that require little physical activity.  They drive to work in air-conditioned luxury cars, take elevators to work in their glass-skinned buildings, and sit all day or complain if they have to walk a few yards to another office.  One recent study showed that the average American male office worker was at least sixteen pounds overweight and that he exercised less than ten minutes per day! And women workers have the additional problem of gaining weight easily.  Clearly, people are sitting and eating themselves into poor health.

1.  As used in paragraph 1of the passage, the word bombarded most nearly means --

A)  condemned. 

B)  entertained. 

C)  attacked. 

D)  shown.

E) surrounded.


2.  Which word in the passage is a synonym for svelte?

A)  young 
B)  willowy 
C)  jumping 
D)  overweight

E)  edgy


3.  As used in paragraphs 1and 2 of the passage, the word sedentary most nearly means --

A)  sluggish
B)  requiring much sitting 
C)  of executive quality 
D)  cloudy

E)  restful




Passage 2

     After questioning hundreds of people about their daydreams, Jerome L. Singer has concluded that virtually everyone daydreams, and he has identified three different types of daydreamers.  The first type typically has anxious daydreams, often centered on fears of failure.  These daydreams are unorganized, fleeting, and vague.  The second type of daydreamer is given to self-criticism and self-doubt and is most likely to have hostile fantasies.  The third type, whom Singer calls the"happy daydreamer," has positive fantasies, with clear visual images.  Not surprisingly, people in the third group enjoy daydreaming the most.

1.  Which of the following best defines "fleeting" as it is used in the third sentence of the passage?

A)  altering the position of 
B)  gliding away, fading 
C)  passing quickly 
D)  rushing nimbly

E)  sailing windward



Passage 3

     Winning is so highly valued in American sports that the result of a contest seems to have become more important than the playing of it.  A century ago it might have been said, "It matters not who won or lost, but how you played the game"; today,a much more appropriate maxim would appear to be, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

1.  In the context of this passage, “maxim” most nearly means --

A)  truth.
B)  zenith.
C)  fallacy.
D)  saying.

E)  goal.



Answer Key

Passage 1

1.  The correct choice is C.

The word "attacked"can be substituted in the sentence, and the sentence makes sense.  The other choices do not follow the logic of other parts of the passage.

Americans today are bombarded with media images of well-groomed, svelte, young people peering out of ads, looking as if they can conquer the world.

2.  The correct choice is B.

The word svelte means thin. In context we see the word willowy describing the thin body-type.  Clearly options C, D, or E would not make sense in the context.  Option A would both imply a redundancy in the sentence, and that the parallel structure of the sentence was malformed.  Choice E describes a way of expressing oneself, and that is not dependent on weight.

3.  The correct choice is B.

The word "sedentary"describes the kinds of jobs many people have; they involve little physical activity. Choices A and D do not describe jobs.  Most Americans do not have jobs "of executive quality."  Choice E does include the idea of "resting," but most positions in offices are not supposed to be "restful," like a nap or a day at a spa.

Passage 2

1.  The correct choice is C.

Choices B and C are close in meaning, but Choice B describes a slower change than the quickness of Choice C.  Choice A would falsely claim a change in sequence or viewpoint.  Similarly, Choice D uses the word "nimbly" which is usually associated with adroit physical movement.  By mentioning sailing, Choice E then plays off of the other meaning of "fleet," a team of ships.

Passage 3

1.      The correct choice is D.

Choice A cannot be correct because this saying is not necessarily true.  Choice B hints at the word’s similarity to "maximum," since a zenith is the highest point.  However, that word does not make sense in context. Choice C assumes that this quote is a fallacy, but the author does not discuss the saying's logic. Choice E does not make sense because the author is showing that a quote which captured the spirit of sports in the past has been replaced by a new saying, Choice D.