GRE Sentence Equivalence - Synonyms, Filling the Gap

Just as with text completion questions, on a sentence equivalence question you should attempt to mentally fill in the missing word or words before you look at the answer choices. This is not because you want to guess the right answers (remember there are two answers!), but because you want to actively think about the questions. Most often you'll have at least a vague idea of the main point of the sentence and so you'll find that your solution to the missing word may be a synonym for one—and hopefully two—of the answer choices. Again, because you have to select two answer choices for these question types, understanding the context of the sentence is extremely important. Remember that words can have different definitions in different contexts. Let’s look at an example. Consider the following sentence equivalence question:

Even though he was embarrassed, Billy decided to forgive the _______ comments that Ken had made about his weight.

  • fatuous
  • disparaging
  • nurturing
  • fetching
  • vivid
  • belittling

If you were trying to mentally fill in the blank, you would notice that the sentence refers to a negative act by Ken. Perhaps you would assume that the comments made by Ken were hurtful or inappropriate. If so, you might think of synonyms for the words hurtful or inappropriate and begin eliminating some of the answer choices. We know that fatuous means playful, so we can automatically eliminate that one. Disparaging is the same as discouraging, and within the context of this sentence, it seems as though it could work. We know nurturing is out, as it means the opposite of hurtful. Fetching means beautiful, and that doesn’t make sense, and vivid means lively, which doesn’t seem to fit correctly. Belittling could work, as it implies an act of discouragement. Thus, by process of elimination, you are left with disparaging and belittling, which both have similar definitions: they both imply an act of discouragement and deprecation. Last, but not least, read the sentences with your answer choices to make sure they sound grammatically, stylistically, and logically correct.