How Robust Is Your High School Vocabulary?

By: Torrance Grey
Estimated Completion Time
3 min
How Robust Is Your High School Vocabulary?
Image: Andrew_Howe/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

Ever notice how people — well educated or not — tend or rely on their favorite words, over and over? Furthermore, because we're social creatures (or "herd creatures," to use the less flattering term), we tend to adopt a few favorite words as a group, and then just run them into the ground. Consider "major" in the '80s, "proactive" in the '90s, and "super" today. But "super" is only to be used as an adverb: "That was super fun!" If you use it as an adjective, you sound square: "Thanks, that'd be super!" 

Even people who communicate for a living fall into this trap  — we're looking at you, cable-news folks! For years, we'd had the word "visuals" to mean "how something looks to the public."  But around 2016, suddenly, the buzzword for this became "optics." You couldn't turn on CNN or Fox or MSNBC without hearing about the "optics" of a particular decision a politician made. Optics, optics, optics! Likewise, "buckets" went platinum around the same time. Nobody was caught dead anymore saying "categories" (which was, to be honest, exactly what it meant). No, everything was "buckets": "We have to put these arguments into different buckets." 

It's time to fight back! No more going through life in linguistic lockstep! Test your vocabulary now with our quiz, and if your word choices aren't all that varied, we hope you'll learn a few colorful terms you can carry into your everyday life. 

Which of these would you "renege" on?
A beach
A countertop
A jet plane
A promise
If you go back on a promise or a treaty, you've "reneged" on it. Did you notice the similarity to "renegade"? That's not coincidental. "Renegare" means "to deny" in Latin, giving us both words.

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An "intuitive" person is good at what?
Knitting or sewing
Guessing or understanding things
"Intuition" is something like a guess or a hunch; "intuitive" is the noun form. It has such a sage, canny sound that Silicon Valley borrowed the verb "intuit" for a line of accounting software.
Conceiving children
Going without rest

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Something "predestinate" is ... ?
Early
Late
Meant to be
You might be more familiar with this one in its noun form, "predestination." Or not — we suppose that one's not terribly common, either. But the root word "destiny" is certainly recognizable, and "predestinate" is something that's fated to happen.
A good hunter

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If a medical problem is "neurological," what part of the body is malfunctioning?
The skeleton
The eyes
The nerves
"Neurology" is the medical field dealing with the brain and the nerves. Nerve cells are called "neurons," and the chemistry of the brain is referred to as "neurochemistry."
The teeth

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You've been nominated to your company's "ethics" committee! What will you be overseeing?
Catering
Guidelines of right and wrong
In philosophy, "ethics" is the branch dealing with intrinsic right and wrong, to the extent that those things can be determined. More practically, "ethics" means the rules you live by, sometimes as an individual and sometimes as a group.
Hiring
Parking regulations

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Something that is "auxiliary" is which of these?
First in alphabetical order
Lean or stripped-down
Orange in color
Optional
You're probably familiar with the abbreviation "Aux" over those little input holes on electronics. They're for auxiliary cables or devices, the ones that you use less often. Another common use of this term was "Ladies' Auxiliary" for a women's group that supported an organization that was, by default, made up of men. With increasing integration, this term has fallen out of favor.

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Which of these has a "habitat"?
An animal
In biology, "habitat" refers to an animal's preferred surroundings, when conditions are suited for it. This word has been adopted by architecture buffs and designers, who sometimes refer to creating an ideal "habitat" for human beings.
A crime
A novel
A truck

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An "ambidextrous" person uses what equally well?
Automatic transmissions and stick shifts
Both hands
The root of this word is the Latin "dextra," meaning "right hand." Because more than 75 percent of the human population is right-handed, the Romans associated the right hand with skill and adeptness. But if you use both ("ambos") hand equally well, it's as if you have a "right hand" on both sides.
Courtesy and rudeness
DVD players and Roku sticks

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If something is "compulsory," what is it?
Energizing
Liquid
Mandatory
The root of "compulsory" is "compel," which might be a more familiar word. In the synonym "mandatory," you'll notice the syllable "mand-", which is related to "mandate" and "command." Either word you choose, it's an order!
Stiff

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Which of these is the best definition of "bereavement"?
A state of confusion
A loss resulting from death
To be "bereaved" is to have recently suffered the loss of someone close to you. It's almost always used in this capacity: so far, we haven't adapted it to mean the grief stemming from a divorce, nor the loss of a house due to foreclosure.
A lack of food
Being between jobs

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Which of these is likely to be "florid"?
A cat
A cup of coffee
A dream
A speech
Unsurprisingly, this word is related to "flower." Novice public speakers are sometimes guilty of being florid in an attempt to move the audience, meaning they use excessively fancy speech. Alternate meanings of "florid" are "ruddy, reddish" or "full-blown" (as with a disease).

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Is "extrinsic" even a word?
Yes, it's the opposite of "intrinsic."
This is a case of a pair of related words becoming really unbalanced in terms of use (see also "ruth" and "ruthless"). "Intrinsic" means "by nature, in essence" and is frequently heard. "Extrinsic" refers to a quality that is added on or not inherent. For example, a horse is intrinsically an animal or an herbivore; extrinsically, it's a form of transportation.
No, it's not.

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If a person cares about "aesthetics," what is he or she interested in?
Beauty
This is why a beautician is also called an "aesthetician." In general, an "aesthete" is someone who cares about appearance and artistic merit, which, carried too far, can be a negative. For example,consider that person who just had to have a vintage Mini Cooper instead of a Subaru, and therefore is always late because of mechanical trouble.
Money
Morality
Pets

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If you "affiliate" with someone, what do you do with them?
Argue
Associate with
You might be familiar with the noun "affiliate" for a local TV station that carries national-network programming: "The local NBC affiliate." This word looks the same as a noun and a verb; the adjective form is "affiliated."
Play a sport
Share clothing

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If you're "ambulatory," what can be said of you?
You're attractive.
You're greedy.
You're fun to be around.
You're up and walking.
This term often comes up in medical settings, so there's a nice symmetry with the related word "ambulance." The ambulance takes you to the hospital, where the goal is to get you ambulatory again as soon as possible.

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"Metaphysics" is the study of which of these?
Aviation principles
Biological life beyond earth
The nature of reality
This highfalutin' field got its name in a very simple way: In a compilation, an editor put Aristotle's writings on the subject right after his writings on physics, therefore, "meta physics." The actual subject of metaphysics isn't easily explained, or understood, like the related field of "quantum physics."
Motion and rest

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If you've said, "I'm reticent to get involved," have you used this word correctly?
Yes
No
Oh man, I don't want to start a fight!
The Word Police will tell you that "reticent" means "shy, reserved" and "reluctant" means unwilling. This is true, but because of the similarity in form, it was probably inevitable that the first word would come to stand in for the second. Merriam-Webster defends this use, pointing out that "reticent" has been used in this way since the mid-19th century.

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What does an "entomologist" study?
The brain
Insects
Sorry if you were fooled by "the roots of words." That's "etymology," and we're doing a lot of that in this quiz! But "entomology" is the study of insects. Don't include spiders or ticks, though: That's "arachnology."
Fossils
The roots of words

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True or false: The words "incarnate," "carnation" and "carne asada" are all related.
This is true.
The root is the Latin word "caro," meaning "flesh." So in Spanish, "carne" is meat (and "asada" means grilled or broiled). An "incarnation" is an appearance in the flesh, like a god becoming an avatar. And carnations are believed to get their name from their red or pink, flesh-like, colors.
No, it's a coincidence.

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Other than being a book of the Bible, a "genesis" refers to what?
A beginning
We suppose a virgin birth is a kind of beginning, but that definition is a little too narrow for our purposes. A "genesis" is a beginning. It was adapted to "Genisys" for one of the "Terminator" movies, which retold the beginning of the series (and completely made a hash of it, according to some fans).
A departure
A war
A virgin birth

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"Cerulean" is a shade of which color?
Blue
In the original Latin, "ceruleanus" was a chameleon color that could be described as blue, green or gray, or having elements of all three. (Think of the ocean under different light conditions). In English, the definition has settled on "blue."
Red
Yellow
Orange

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If something is "ferrous," it's composed of, or contains, which metal?
Copper
Iron
"Ferrous" means "related to or containing iron." Some colorful writers refer to blood as having a "ferrous" taste, but we suspect they are back-engineering from knowing that blood contains iron, more than a familiarity with the taste of iron!
Gold
Tin

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Simply put, "prestidigitation" is what?
Animal husbandry
Gardening
Magic
This word is a simple mashup of the early French "presti" for "quick" and Latin "digitus" for "finger." So it refers mainly to magic that relies on sleight of hand — not, for example, mentalist acts. Sidebar: If your tax preparer's work resembles sleight of hand, it might be time to look for someone new.
Tax preparation

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If you "commend" an action, what have you said about it?
It was cowardly.
It was good.
The noun form is "commendation," which means a statement of approval. It's close to "praise," but the two can't generically replace each other, as a "commendation" is often more formal or official.
It was greedy.
It was timely.

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Something "titanic" is ...
Beautiful
Huge
This word is forever linked to the doomed ship. However, it takes its name from the "titans," a race of giants in Greek mythology, and generally refers to something that is very large.
Related to God
Tiny

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What part of speech is "starboard"?
An adjective
This term is borrowed from the nautical world. "Port" is left and "starboard" is right. You won't need these very often unless you go into the Navy, but they can be fun to use in an ironic sense. Next time you're on a road trip, point out an interesting geographic feature "off to starboard" to your companions.
A conjunction
A noun
A verb

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What's the best synonym for "discord"?
Affection
Grief
Result
Strife
Yes, before it was a social media platform, "discord" meant "disagreement" and "conflict." The antonym is "accord," an old-fashioned word for "agreement" you can find in the Bible: "Now all the believers were in one accord." (Acts 2:1)

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Which of these is a word for "very casual"?
Dilatory
Rugged
Nonchalant
So is there an antonym, spelled "chalant"? Not so. This word comes from the Latin "non" and "chalare" (the latter meaning, "to be warm.") While that leaves the door open for a word like "chalant" to mean "concerned or invested," the English language just didn't go in that direction.
Tardy

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Something that is "indispensable" can't be ...
Done without
If you're "indispensable," you're the go-to guy or gal at work or elsewhere. Good for you! However, heed writer Elbert Hubbard's warning: "The graveyards are full of indispensable men."
Filled to the brim
Described accurately
Pursued or followed

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If a product is "embargoed," what has happened to it?
Its price has been raised.
Its price has been lowered.
It can no longer be imported to a country.
This is a timely word when threats of tariffs and trade wars are in the news every day! However, our favorite use of this word is a headline from The Onion: "Area man puts embargo on Pier 1 crap."
It has been deemed unsafe.

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Which of these is the best synonym for "questionable"?
Dubious
If something is "questionable," you're right to doubt whether it is true, accurate, or a good idea. This term used to mean "leaving (someone or something) open to lawsuits," but that one has fallen out of use. (Thanks to Merriam-Webster's site for this clarification; the M-W site is highly recommended for all sorts of inquiries about language!)
Interview-style
Exclamatory
Curious

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If you change your mind regularly, friends might call you what?
Disinclined
Fickle
Somebody "fickle" can't be counted on; they don't stand firm in the face of changing circumstances. A sidenote about "disinclined": You can't be "disinclined" in general. This word requires an infinitive verb — you're "disinclined to" do something.
Pugnacious
Dwindling

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If a person "relinquishes" something to you, what have they done with it?
Displayed it
Given it up
To "relinquish" something is to surrender it. This is another word with a false prefix: Despite the first syllable being "re-", there is no verb "linquish," and to "relinquish" does not mean giving it up a second time.
Recounted it, as in a story
All of these

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Which of these is the best definition of "dissuade"?
Whisper
Laugh softly
Commiserate
Talk out of
"Dissuade" does have a kind of whispery, soft sound ... but it doesn't have anything to do with volume. It's the opposite of "persuade," and can be done quietly or in a very loud voice.

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Which of these is often confused with a metaphor?
An adverb
A gerund
A fragment
A simile
People like the word "metaphor," and often use it when they mean "simile." The key is, a simile used a helper word such as "like" or "as": "The wine flowed like water." A metaphor simply says that one thing is another: "Wine is water around here."

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