Antonym Step Method
Antonym Step Method
Antonym questions can take the least time of all the Verbal question types, if you know the meaning of the word in the question stem. The method for this best-case scenario is simple and to the point. We’ll talk later about how to go about it when you’re stumped by the stem word, but when you know it, follow these steps:
Step 1: Simplify the Word.
Step 2: Predict an Opposite.
Step 3: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices.
Here are the basics of each step.
Step 1: Simplify the Word. Even if you know the meaning of the word in question, that doesn’t mean it’s in its most user-friendly form. Since you’ll be trying to make your own prediction in Step 2, it makes sense to work with the easiest form of the word you can think of. If the original word is already easy for you, then there’s no need to simplify it. No doubt you can work with a word like greedy as is, and trying to simplify it may be more trouble than it’s worth. However, it probably pays to turn a word like relinquish into give up before trying to think of potential opposites.
Step 2: Predict an Opposite. When you’re comfortable with the word in question or a simplified synonym for it, try to come up with an opposite of your own before looking at the answer choices. If you go to the choices immediately, they may distract you from your understanding of the word or cause you to lose your train of thought. You’re less likely to go off track if you have a notion in mind before you hit the choices. Remember that positively charged words will have negatively charged antonyms, and vice versa. Your prediction need not be elegant, nor should you expect to find your exact prediction among the choices. The important thing is to come up with a notion that will represent the essence of the right choice so you’ll recognize it when you see it.
Step 3: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices. When you have a prediction in mind, scan the choices for it. Optimally, you’ll breeze by the imposters until you come across one that matches your idea. Even then, you should quickly check the other choices to make sure there’s not a stronger opposite. And sometimes you’ll still have to work a bit harder for the point. Even if you know the meaning of the stem word and have a viable prediction at your fingertips, you still may need to employ some of the fundamentals discussed earlier, or other strategies discussed below, to eliminate wrong choices before settling on a choice.
Guided Practice
We’ll demonstrate the basic step method with the following example.
(A) derogatory
(B) random
(C) indispensable
(D) intellectual
(E) obstinate
Step 1: Simplify the Word. It may not be the toughest word you’ll see on the test, so let’s assume you know what superfluous means. Still, it could use a bit of translation for our purposes, so let’s simplify: Something superfluous is something that’s “more than required,” “not essential,” or “unnecessary.” Any of these notions would do, so let’s carry them with us into Step 2.
Step 2: Predict an Opposite. The opposite of something that’s “more than required,” “not essential,” or “unnecessary” is something that’s “required,” “essential,” or “necessary.” Any of these words would make for a fine prediction.
Step 3: Match Your Prediction to the Answer Choices. With our predictions in mind, indispensable should jump out, since something indispensable is something one can’t do without; that is, something required, essential, or necessary. C means the same as our prediction and is therefore correct.
But let’s say you had some initial trouble with the word indispensable. Referring back to our section on word prefixes, suffixes, and roots, you can still make a proper guess at it. Note that the word is formed from the word dispense. You probably do know that dispense means “to get rid of.” The prefix in means “not” or “without,” so something indispensable is something that cannot be gotten rid of, which brings us back to necessary. It also brings us to our next section, which contains strategies to help you when you’re not so sure of the tested word.
Tame the Tough Stuff
Mercurial? Phlegmatic? Parsimonious? Come on, virtually no one knows every word the test makers dig up for GRE Antonym questions, especially those lurking in the deep end of the question pool. And some, like the ones starting this paragraph, are simply beyond the pale if you didn’t happen to memorize them. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t use a bit of strategy to tilt the odds in your favor. We’ve already discussed in the fundamentals section how word components, parts of speech, and word charges can provide clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words. We also provided examples of the kinds of traps the test makers like to set for the unwary. Here are a few more tips that may help you power through even when you’re stumped at first by the word in question.
  • Relate the Word to Words You Know
  • Create a Context
Relate the Word to Words You Know
Let’s jump right in with an example. Say you came across this word in an Antonym question: metamorphose. That’s a scary bit of language, isn’t it? But notice how you can alter it just a tad to come up with the similar-sounding word metamorphosis, which you likely remember from high school biology as the process by which a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. The operative word is change, and in fact, to metamorphose means “to change the nature of” or “to transform.” The opposite will therefore be something along the lines of remain unaltered, maintain, or preserve.
Try another example: alleviate. You may know its meaning, but if you don’t, you might notice that the root lev shows up in altered forms in words like relieve and relief, suggesting that alleviate might mean something like make better. It also wouldn’t hurt if you were familiar with the pain reliever “Aleve.” Is it likely that a company would name a pain reliever after something bad or harmful? No. The point is that words have associations with other words, and you can use word associations to help you get in the ballpark of the definitions of words you don’t know.
Create a Context
While an unfamiliar word may bring other words to mind, even better is if it triggers a phrase or sentence based on a common usage of that word. For example, you may not know the word surrogate if you encounter it in isolation, but you may have heard the phrase “surrogate mother” applied to a woman who carries someone else’s child. You can infer from this context that surrogate means someone who helps someone else, but it would be better to be as specific as possible: A surrogate is someone who acts in place of someone else—a substitute. An antonym for this might be original or principal. These may not be precise opposites, but remember, your job is to choose the word most nearly opposite in meaning to the word in question.
Let’s try creating contexts for veto and annulment. If you aren’t able to precisely define veto, you may still recognize its most common use, as in “The president vetoed the bill.” If you know what a presidential veto is, then you can deduce that to veto means “to reject.” It can also be used as a noun, being the rejection itself, as in “The president’s veto was scorned by the opposing party.” In this case, context can help you get a jump on the word, but you’d still benefit from checking the choices to see which part of speech the test makers are after.
As for the second example, what comes to mind when you hear the word annul? Marriages, of course—at least ones being called off. By itself the word annulment may elude you, but if you think of an annulled marriage, definitions like “cancellation” or “termination” should spring to mind.
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