Analogy Fundamentals
Analogy Fundamentals
There are three fundamentals that are integral to mastering GRE Analogies:
  • Vocabulary
  • Analogy Types
  • Weak Links
The same thing we told you about Antonyms in the previous chapter applies here: The better your vocabulary, the better you’ll do on Analogy questions. As you’ll see, the first and best line of attack for these kinds of questions is to know what both words in the original mean and to use your understanding of the words to determine the connection between them. You will most likely come across some questions containing unfamiliar words (especially if you’ve answered many Verbal questions correctly, landing you in the deep end of the question pool), and we’ll show you ways to improve your odds on those. But the most surefire method simply starts with knowing the words, so improving your vocabulary pays big dividends in this part of the test. You are studying our list of 400 words in the tear-out chart we provided, right? If not, get to it, and begin or continue working with the other vocabulary-enhancement strategies you learned about in the previous chapter.
Analogy Types
Now, the English language is vast, containing a near infinite number of possible connections between words. Luckily for you, the GRE test makers don’t seem to know that. They rely on a fairly manageable number of common connections when constructing Analogy questions. There’s no way to predict every single connection they may come up with, but here are eight major types of analogies to get you started:
  1. Category
  2. Attribute
  3. Action
  4. Function
  5. Composition
  6. Cause and Effect
  7. Degree
  8. Meaning
As we analyze the common connections found in the following analogy types, we’ll suggest ways to generalize those connections into generic “templates” that will make it easier for you to test the choices. You’ll see what we mean in our first type of analogy, which is called Category.
In Category analogies, one word in the original pair names a category into which the other word typically fits. Here are some examples:
a CANAL is a type of WATERWAY
a SOLILOQUY is a type of SPEECH
a NIGHTMARE is a type of DREAM
Notice in that last one that we can be even more specific regarding the connection: A nightmare is a bad type of dream. We’ll talk more about narrowing the connection when necessary later on in this chapter.
Once you’ve determined the connection between the words in the original pair, creating a “template” to generalize the connection will make your life easier when it comes to searching for the match among the choices. We’ll use Xs and Ys to form our templates. The common all-purpose template for Category analogies is:
X is a type of Y
Whenever you can be more specific in your template—for example, as in the case of the nightmare/dream example—do so.
In Attribute analogies, one word describes an integral characteristic of the other word. In easier questions, the characteristic is fairly obvious; in difficult questions, it’s more subtle. Check out the following examples:
a JOKE contains HUMOR
In each case, the noun in the first word of the pair wouldn’t be that thing without the attribute in the second word; for example, we couldn’t call someone a neophyte if he or she wasn’t inexperienced. Here’s the basic Attribute template to use, to be modified depending on the specifics of the word pair in question:
X is characterized by Y
Notice that an analogy can also be based around the idea that one of the words is NOT characterized by the attribute stated in the other word. If we changed INEXPERIENCED in the second example above to EXPERIENCED, the template would become “X is NOT characterized by Y.” The form of the relationship is not altered if we introduce a negative; it still falls into the Attribute category. The same goes for the other analogy types in this section as well.
Action analogies relate something to what that thing or being typically does. Here’s a simple example:
Here’s a harder one:
a PREVARICATOR (liar) creates a FABRICATION (lie, untruth)
In both of the examples above, one noun relates to another noun, connected by an action verb (performs, creates). You might see a noun/verb Action pairing instead:
An Action analogy can also be formed from an adjective/noun pair:
The connection in this one is that a person who is disgruntled is likely to complain.
So depending on the parts of speech of the words in the original, your Action template might look something like these, with the appropriate verb substituted for does depending on the situation:
X does Y
a person or thing that is X does Y
Function analogies are similar to Action analogies, but in this case the function of one word is to perform some action on the other word. For example:
the purpose of a CHAINSAW is to cut down TREES
This represents a noun/noun pairing, so a good template would be:
the purpose of X is to do something to Y
Notice the difference between that example and this one:
the purpose of a HOMILY is to EDIFY
This one pairs a noun, homily (sermon, lecture), with a verb, edify (instruct). A good template for this would be:
the purpose of X is to Y
In Composition analogies, one word describes something made up of the other word. One word may be the predominant building block of the other, such as in the following examples:
a PARAGRAPH is composed of SENTENCES
a MOLECULE is composed of ELEMENTS
a THEOREM is composed of POSTULATES
Another possibility is that the smaller entity is part of the larger, but not the only or predominant part:
a PETAL is part of a FLOWER (although the flower is not composed entirely of petals)
In such cases, if you can further define what part of one word the other word is, even better:
a GARRET is the top story of a DOMICILE
So when you think some form of composition characterizes a particular analogy, look to use some form of the following templates:
X is composed of Y
Y is a part of X
Cause and Effect
A Cause and Effect analogy works just like it sounds: One word in the pair is the cause, and the other is the effect. That means that one word is an action, result, or situation that the other word creates or stops. For example, in noun/noun Cause and Effect analogies, one of the nouns is an object that causes or stops the other noun:
a BANDAGE stops the flow of BLOOD
Template-wise, we can think about it that specifically or, if that’s too narrow to match a choice, could generalize it a bit as well:
X stops the flow of Y
X causes Y to stop doing something
In verb/adjective Cause and Effect analogies, the verb describes an action and the adjective describes the effect of that action:
to ABRIDGE something is to make it CONDENSED
Our template for this one could sound like:
to do X causes something to be Y
Notice that Cause and Effect analogies can work in two directions: One word can cause something to happen or cause it not to happen. Either way, there’s a causal element at work.
In a Degree analogy, one word is a stronger version of the other. An effective word to express this relationship is very, as in the following examples:
to be METICULOUS is to be very CAREFUL
to be ARID is to be very DRY
to be EMACIATED is to be very SLIM
The most basic template to use for degree analogies is therefore:
X is very Y
There are other ways to express variances in degree other than using the word very. Anything that indicates a similarity in meanings differing only in intensity will do. The words you use to connect the dots and create a template will depend on the words in question. Here are a few other examples of degree relationships:
a POKE is weaker than a PUNCH
(X is a weaker form of Y)
a MURMUR is lower than a SHOUT
(X is a lower form of Y)
EUPHORIA is an extreme form of HAPPINESS
(X is an extreme form of Y)
Linking the meaning of one word with that of another may be the most straightforward connection you can create—maybe they mean exactly the same thing, or maybe they’re opposites. Of course, just because the idea behind synonyms and antonyms is easy to understand doesn’t mean the test makers won’t toughen things up by throwing in some killer vocab. In any case, you may come across a pair of words that have the same definition and are also similar in both degree and connotation. For example:
something PERMEABLE is always PENETRABLE
Or in template form:
X is always Y
Using “is always” as opposed to just “is” when creating your template will help ensure that you’re representing the synonym connection correctly.
Two variations on the synonym theme occur when two words generally mean the same thing but differ in degree or connotation. We just dealt with degree in the previous category, so let’s take a look at connotation, which has to do with the general aura surrounding a word or concept. Consider the following pair:
You may be thinking these are pure synonyms since they do basically mean the same thing. However, interrogate has a bit of a negative connotation; it conjures up images of a suspect being grilled in a back room of a police station or a witness being harangued by a lawyer at a trial. To interrogate is to question but with a slight hint of implied pressure. You might question your chemistry professor about why a solution turned bright orange, but you probably wouldn’t interrogate her on the matter. If the test makers were looking for a genuine synonym for question, they would go with something along the lines of inquire. If this QUESTION : INTERROGATE pair showed up on the GRE, the matching pair would also contain a similar element of connotation in its relationship.
Moving to the other side of meaning, the original may contain words that are opposites. As you know, Antonym questions appear as a distinct question type in the Verbal section, but don’t be surprised if an Antonym pair makes a cameo among the Analogy questions too. Here’s an example:
something LUCID is never CONFUSING
And here’s a simple template for it:
X is never Y
“Is not” is not the strongest template you can use here. Use “is never” to express the full opposition between the words.
So there you have it—eight of the most common connections that you’ll see among word pairs in Analogy questions. These are by no means the only possible relationships tested, but they’ll get you on your way. As you practice, take note of any other kinds of relationships you come across, and treat them the same way as we did above: Connect the dots between the words in the original, and then use that connection to form a general template that you’ll use to test the choices.
Now let’s move on to our next fundamental, which will help you to narrow down the answer choices.
Weak Links
Since the whole point of Analogy questions is to find the choice that best mimics the connection between the words in the original pair, it stands to reason that there must be a strong and definable link between those words. That means that a definite connection must also link the words in the correct choice. Some choices, however, fail to meet this standard. Learn to be very discerning when connecting the dots; some relationships that seem reasonable at first glance don’t hold up to closer inspection. For example, consider the relationship of the following words to the word basement:
They all seem to relate, but only the first and third would legitimately appear in a dictionary definition of basement: Underground is where it is, and room is what it is. A basement might be dank, but nothing says it must be. Similarly, the word yellow wouldn’t show up in the dictionary definition of the word shirt, although certainly many shirts in the world are yellow. The bottom line is that some choices in Analogies contain words that are weakly linked, or not linked at all, and these choices cannot be correct.
Let’s get some practice chopping choices with weak links. Suppose you were presented with this analogy:
?????? : ?????? ::
(A) diatribe : speech
(B) assistant : prophecy
(C) hunger : dinner
(D) curmudgeon : discount
(E) sage : wisdom
An original pair composed entirely of question marks might make this question seem impossible, but don’t despair—you can still cut a few Weak Link answer choices. Is there a clear relationship between assistant and prophecy? Nope, so cut B. Curmudgeon and discount? Well, a curmudgeon might be unlikely to give someone a discount, but that’s not the kind of definite relationship the GRE requires, so eliminate D. You may have even deemed hunger and dinner copasetic, since you certainly can eat dinner to alleviate hunger. Again, however, this is not the kind of relationship the GRE requires—the link must be stronger and more precise. So even with no idea of the original words, we’d be able to chop B, C, and D as weak links. Contrast the imprecision of those relationships with the strength of the connections in A and E: A diatribe is a form of speech, and a sage is characterized by wisdom—fine examples of our Category and Attribute connections, respectively. At the very least you could narrow the choices down to these two, and take your chances with an educated guess.
Okay, now that we have our fundamentals in place, let’s talk about a framework for employing them. Which is to say, it’s time to spell out our Analogy step method.
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