Free GRE Course > GRE Vocabulary > Sentence Equivalence

The revised version of the GRE includes a new type of question: sentence equivalence. For these questions you must choose two out of six choices to complete the sentence. While this is similar to the more traditional sentence completions, there are some additional strategies that you have to keep in mind.

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Tip 1: Look for Synonyms

In most cases, the words you are looking for are a synonym pair. It is possible for two words with slightly different meanings to be appropriate choices, but their meanings will always be similar. By finding paired words among the answer choices you can narrow the possibilities.

Tip 2: Find the category of word that you need.

If you are not sure where to begin, ask yourself if the word you are looking for is positive or negative. Determining a very broad category can help you narrow down you choices. Even if you do not know the meaning of any of the answer choices, if you know you are looking for a negative term then your knowledge of prefixes or roots can help eliminate some answer choices.

Tip 3: Use context clues.

The function of the sentence is to provide context for the blanks, so there should be hints in the sentence as to what you need. What other information do you have about the blank that you are trying to fill in? What function does the word in the blank serve in the sentence? Asking these basic questions will help you figure out exactly what you need to complete the meaning.

Tip 4: Pay attention to conjunctive adverbs.

These are adverbs, such as conversely, however, secondly, furthermore, moreover, nevertheless, etc., that establish relationships between clauses. These words will tell you when one part of the sentence contradicts the other (e.g., however, while, and although), or they can signal that the first part of the sentence is being expanded upon or continued (e.g., furthermore, for example, and in addition). These kinds of clues will help you determine the meaning you need.

Tip 5: Look at grammatical structure.

Sentences are a bit like equations in that there are strongly defined relationships between words. If you have a conjunction like and, then the information on both sides of the conjunction needs to be similar. Thus, if there is an adjective on one side of the and and a blank on the other, you need an adjective for the blank.

Now, let’s look at some actual questions to see how these tips work.

Example 1

Although Herbert Hoover is often disparaged in American history, his considerable efforts with the Food Bureau in World War I made him a ___________ figure overseas.

We know a lot before we even examine the answer choices.

The “Although” at the beginning of the first clause lets us know that the second half of the sentence will contradict the first. (Tip 4Pay attention to the conjunctive adverbs.)

So we have a contradiction. Looking at the first half of the sentence, “disparaged” is the key context word. (Tip 3Use context clues.) Hoover is the subject of both halves of sentence, so what is said about him is important.

Looking at the grammatical structure makes it clear that the blank must also describe Hoover (Tip 5: Look at the grammatical structure.), and must be an adjective contrasting with “disparaged.”

Now that we know what we need, let’s look at the first half of the sentence again. “Disparaged” is the key adjective, and even if you are not entirely sure what it means, the fact that it begins with the prefix “dis” means it is likely to be negative. Therefore, we are looking for a positive adjective for the blank. (Tip 2Find the category of word that you need.)

We can now approach the answer choices looking for synonyms that are positive adjectives. (Tip 1Look for synonyms.)

Let’s evaluate the choices:

deride (to put down) — negative

revered (respected) — positive

venerated (respected) — positive

reviled (disgusting) — negative

enigmatic (puzzling) — neither positive or negative

queried (questioned) — neither positive or negative

In this case, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that “revered” and “venerated” are the only two words that work. Had you ended up with more positive choices, the next step would then be to sort through the meanings and see which of the choices fit best. In this case, we don’t need to. Note that even though “enigma” and “queried” are neither positive nor negative (they are really just descriptive), using broad categories is still useful in sorting out the options.

Example 2

During the French and Indian War, the British army was particularly vulnerable to Native American attacks when debouching since the Native American war ethos contained no ___________ that banned assaulting troops on the move.

The word “since” let’s us know that the relationship between the two halves of the sentence is cause and effect. (Tip 4Pay attention to the conjunctive adverbs.) The second half of the sentence is the cause of the first.

Once we have established that relationship, let’s look at the sentence for clues. (Tip 3Use context clues.) Even if you did not know that “debouching” refers to an army moving from an enclosed space out into the open, the rest of the sentence shows us that the vulnerability for the British has to do with the Native Americans’ assaulting troops on the move.

The blank is referring to the component of the Native Americans’ “war ethos” that governs this practice, so we need a word such as “rule” or “policy.” (Tip 2Find the category of word that you need.)

Now that we know roughly what we are looking for, let’s move to the answer choices to fund synonyms similar to “policy.” (Tip 1Look for synonyms.)

disrepute (loss of reputation) — this does not have to do with a policy.

proscription (prohibition) — this could be a rule or a ban, so it fits the general category.

sanction (ban or rule) — this has two meanings, one of which is a synonym for proscription, suggesting that these are likely the answers.

affiliation (association) — has nothing to do with rules or any of the other words so far, so it is probably not the answer.

rumormongering (spreading rumors) — has nothing to do with rules or any of the other words so far, so it is probably not the answer.

cavalcade (procession of riders) — this might be what the Native Americans are attacking, but that is not what we are looking for.

Checking the context makes it clear that if there was no ban (as both “sanction” and “proscription” mean) on attacking troops on the move, the British army would indeed be vulnerable when on the move.

Example 3

Their crystalline structure is one of the distinguishing features of igneous rock, which ___________ from magma propelled through the earth’s crust, forming the interior of most extensive mountain ranges.

Here there are no words that are conjunctive adverbs, and it is entirely descriptive, so categories like positive and negative are not going to be as useful as they were on other questions. Instead, we are going to have to depend entirely on context. (Tip 3Use context clues.)

We are looking for a verb that would apply to the magma being propelled through the crust. If we simplify what we need the word in the blank to do, we can rephrase the sentence:
Rock ___________ from magma. The “which” before the blank stands for the word rock. This gives us a much simpler sentence to work with and eliminates the unnecessary information. (Tip 5: Look at the grammatical structure.)

Before we test out the answer choices, let’s see if any of them can be eliminated. We know we need a verb that will help us understand the relationship between the rock and the magma. (Tip 2Find the category of word that you need.)

deliquesces (to melt away) — possibility

averts (to avoid) — rocks can’t avoid things, so this would not make sense

derives (to come from) — possibility

asserts (to insist) — again, not something a rock is likely to do

emanates (to come from) — possibility

fissures (to crack) — possibility

Two answers can be eliminated immediately. While there are still four remaining possibilities, only two have roughly the same meaning. ( Tip 1Look for synonyms.) Therefore, “derives” and “emanates” are the likely the correct answers. If we double check by running all four possibilities through our abbreviated version of the sentence, we find that “deliquesces” and “fissures” don’t make sense.

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