prevalent adj. Common; easy to find because it exists in great amounts
Distrust of elected officials was prevalent in our county because many of them were friends with certain candidates.
Parts of speech prevail v, prevalence n
scandal n. A case of wrongdoing that hurts someone’s reputation
In the Watergate scandal, some of the president’s top advisors were revealed to be criminals.
Parts of speech scandalize v, scandalous adj
unmask v. Reveal; expose something that is hidden
The Forge Trucking Company was eventually unmasked as a front for organized crime.
abduction n. Kidnapping
Pirates got many crew members by abduction, snatching unlucky citizens from seaport towns.
Parts of speech abduct v
coerce v. To force; to put pressure on someone to do something
A criminal’s confession is not usable in court if the police coerce him or her into giving it.
Parts of speech coercion n, coercive adj
detain v. To prevent someone, for a relatively short time, from going on their way
The police detained at least 20 men for questioning, but charged none of them with a crime.
Parts of speech detention n, detainee n
deviant adj. In a style that is not normal and is offensive to many
The artist based his reputation on creating deviant works of art that disgusted most of the public.
Usage tips Deviant always implies a bad opinion of someone or something.
Parts of speech deviant n, deviation n, deviate v
distort v. To twist or misrepresent; to make something seem different from what it really is
If you hold a pencil in a glass of water, the water distorts the appearance of the pencil.
Parts of speech distortion n
piracy n. Stealing a ship or taking the ship’s cargo; the unlawful copying of books, CDs, etc.
Modern-day piracy occurs mostly near groups of small, uninhabited islands where pirates can hide.
The software company constantly battled piracy.
Parts of speech pirate n, pirate v
smuggle v. To illegally bring things into a country
The pirate Ben Dewar smuggled guns to British and Indian fighters in North America.
Parts of speech smuggler n, smuggling n
villainy n. Exceptional badness, as demonstrated by many serious evil deeds
Fred was not a natural criminal, but he learned all kinds of villainy while being jailed for a minor crime.
Parts of speech villain n, villainous adj
addictive adj. Making someone want it so much that the person feels ill without it
Some drugs, like heroin or methamphetamines, are addictive to almost everyone who tries them.
Parts of speech addict v, addict n, addiction n
cartel n. A small group controlling a certain area of business
The world’s major oil producers formed a cartel to control the price and supply of petroleum.
interdict v. To keep something from reaching a certain place
With faster patrol boats, the Coast Guard can more easily interdict drugs being smuggled by sea.
Parts of speech interdiction n
juxtapose v. Place next to one another
If you juxtapose these two similar flowers, you can see clear differences between them.
Parts of speech juxtaposition n
misconception n. A mistaken belief
A common misconception about rabbits is that they are a kind of rodent.
potent adj. Powerful
A very potent type of marijuana with surprisingly strong effects became available in Burrytown.
Parts of speech potency n
residual adj. Left behind after most of a thing has gone
In the airplane, agents found residual traces of heroin.
Usage tips Residual is often followed by trace, amount, or some other word referring to “quantity.”
Parts of speech residue n
subtly adv. In a quiet, hard-to-notice way
By subtly changing the soft drink’s formula, we improved its taste and made production cheaper.
Parts of speech subtlety n, subtle adj
ancestral adj. Relating to family members from earlier generations
Sweden is my ancestral homeland, from which my great grandfather emigrated in 1922.
Parts of speech ancestor n, ancestry n
cohesion n. Ability to stay together as a unit
Family cohesion is difficult if young people have to go far away to find work.
Usage tips Cohesion can also be used to describe forces that keep materials or structures together.
Parts of speech cohere v, cohesiveness n
descendant n. A direct relative in a later generation (such as one’s son, daughter, or grandchild)
Billy Sobieski claimed to be a descendant of Jan Sobieski, a former king of Poland.
Usage tips Descendant is often followed by an of phrase.
Parts of speech descend v, descent n
inheritance n. Things passed down to you from your ancestors
My inheritance from my grandmother included her favorite necklace.
Parts of speech inherit v, inheritor n
kin n. Relatives
Even though my uncle didn’t really like me, he was kind to me because we were kin.
Usage tips A common phrase is next of kin, meaning “closest relative.”
Parts of speech kinship n
legitimate adj. True and respectable; in the context of family, born of a mother and father who were married to each other
You can skip the meeting if you have a legitimate reason.
Harcourt had two legitimate children with his wife Hannah and one illegitimate son with a woman whom he met while traveling.
Usage tips The opposite of legitimate is illegitimate.
Parts of speech legitimize v, legitimacy n
proximity n. Nearness
The house was comfortable, except for its proximity to a busy road.
Usage tips Proximity can be followed by an of phrase or a to phrase.
Parts of speech proximate adj
sentiment n. Feelings; opinion based on feelings
I share your sentiments about air travel, but I disagree that cars are safer.
Usage tips Sentiments (the plural) is more common than sentiment.
Parts of speech sentimentality n, sentimental adj
affection n. An emotional closeness or warmth
I show affection for my girlfriend by spending time with her, not by spending money on her.
Usage tips Affection is often followed by a for phrase.
Parts of speech affectionate adj
associate v. To regularly spend time together
Carol doesn’t associate with people who smoke.
Usage tips Associate is often followed by a with phrase.
Parts of speech association n, associate n
bond n. A close connection
Some researchers say that there is an especially strong emotional bond between twins.
Usage tips A between phrase—indicating the things that are connected—often follows bond.
Parts of speech bond v
clique n. A small group of friends who are unfriendly to people outside the group
High-schoolers form cliques to gain security and acceptance.
Usage tips Clique indicates a negative feeling toward a group.
Parts of speech cliquish adj
confide v. To tell very personal things
Teenagers are more willing to confide in a friend than in a parent.
Usage tips Confide is almost always followed by an in phrase.
Parts of speech confidence n, confidant n, confidential adj
exclusive adj. Keeping out all but a few people
The most exclusive universities accept only a small percentage of people who want to attend.
Usage tips Exclusive can indicate a positive opinion, but in the context of friendship, it can mean “attached only to one person.”
Parts of speech exclude v, exclusion n, exclusively adv
fluctuate v. To change often, from one condition to another
Earth’s climate fluctuates between warm periods and cold periods.
Usage tips Fluctuate is usually followed by a between phrase (or by a from . . . to structure).
Parts of speech fluctuation n
solidarity n. Standing together despite pressure to move apart
Many student groups declared solidarity with the Latino Student
Association in their effort to get a Spanish-speaking principal.
Usage tips Solidarity is usually used in political contexts.
willing adj. Agreeable and ready to do something
Because of their long friendship, Professor Gardner was willing to say a few words at Jones’s birthday celebration.
Usage tips Willing is almost always followed by a to verb structure.
Parts of speech will v, will n, willingness n
despondent adj. Extremely sad and without hope for the future
After his girlfriend left him, Johnson was despondent and wouldn’t talk to anyone.
devotion n. A willingness to keep supporting someone you admire
Grant showed great devotion to his wife, supporting her during her long illness.
Usage tips Devotion is often followed by a to phrase.
Parts of speech devote v, devotee n
dilemma n. A difficult choice between two things
I was caught in a dilemma between traveling by airplane and taking a train, which is slower but more comfortable.
engender v. To bring into being; to cause to exist
The government’s warnings about terrorism engendered fear throughout the nation.
Usage tips Engender is often followed by a noun for an emotion.
passion n. An extremely strong emotion, like love or anger
Debbie complained that there was no passion in her marriage.
Parts of speech passionate adj, passionately adv
proliferation n. An increase in the number of something and in the number of places it can be found
The proliferation of fast-food restaurants has made it harder for
Americans to eat healthy lunches.
Usage tips Proliferation is very often followed by an of phrase.
Parts of speech proliferate v
reciprocity n. Doing as much for another as he or she has done for you
Dan was giving a lot of attention to Kelly, but he felt no reciprocity in their relationship.
Parts of speech reciprocate v, reciprocal adj
vanish v. To disappear suddenly
When the sun came out, last night’s light snowfall vanished.
antipathy n. A strong, long-lasting negative feeling
My antipathy toward telemarketers is so strong that I am often rude to them.
Usage tips Antipathy is often followed by a toward phrase.
arrogantly adv. In a way that shows a high opinion of oneself and a low opinion of others
Jenny told us about her party only one day in advance, arrogantly thinking we had nothing else to do.
Parts of speech arrogance n, arrogant adj
berate v. To say insulting and disrespectful things
The teacher lost his job because he cruelly berated students who made mistakes.
Usage tips You can only berate someone directly—only when he or she can hear you.
contemptuous n. Having no respect
Most scientists are contemptuous of reports that aliens from outer space have landed on the Earth.
Usage tips A very common structure is be contemptuous of.
Parts of speech contempt n, contemptible adj, contemptuously adv
despise v. Hate very much
Tom grew to despise his greedy and unfriendly boss.
humiliation n. An event that causes someone to feel that she or he has lost the respect of others
Losing the chess tournament was a great humiliation for Marie, and she never played chess again.
Parts of speech humiliate v
obnoxious adj. Bothersome; doing small things that others don’t like
My obnoxious neighbor keeps talking to me while I’m trying to read in my backyard.
Parts of speech obnoxiously adv
stigmatize v. To mark with a visible feature that makes other people think, perhaps incorrectly, that someone or something is wrong
Cadbury’s beard and tattoos stigmatized him as a bad match for
Wall Street, so he couldn’t find work as a financial analyst.
Parts of speech stigma n
vitriolic adj. Showing an extreme, hateful anger
The mayor’s vitriolic attacks against the city council only made him sound unreasonable.
Usage tips The origin of vitriolic is “vitriol,” a strong chemical that could cause painful burns.
cause n. A political or social goal that one believes is right and works to achieve
Our river cleanup effort would be more effective if someone famous spoke out for the cause.
conflict v. To fit so poorly together that the differences cause a problem
A teenager’s need for security can conflict with his desire for independence from his family.
Parts of speech conflict n
delinquency n. Serious misbehavior; not doing what one should do
Because of his laziness and delinquency, Lefty was an unreliable friend.
Usage tips A common combination is juvenile delinquency, meaning “criminal behavior by a teenager.”
Parts of speech delinquent n, delinquent adj
fringe n. Edge; in social contexts, parts of society that look or act very different from most people
Punk music got its start at the fringe of London’s rock music culture.
Usage tips Fringe implies an edge that is uneven and not very solid.
Parts of speech fringy adj
hedonistic adj. Excessively interested in seeking pleasure
Suddenly wealthy, Allen fell into a hedonistic life of parties, expensive dinners, and heavy drinking.
Usage tips Hedonistic usually implies that the pleasures are wrong.
Parts of speech hedonist n, hedonism n, hedonistically adv
hypocritically adv. In a way that accuses other people of weaknesses that the speaker also possesses
Henry spent $2,500 on a new suit and then hypocritically accused me of spending too much on clothes.
Parts of speech hypocrite n, hypocrisy n, hypocritical adj
manipulation n. Quietly moving or influencing people or things in
order to get what you want
Bob’s manipulation of the boss’s feelings led to his promotion.
Parts of speech manipulate v, manipulator n, manipulative adj
status quo n. The systems and conditions that exist now
Let’s just maintain the status quo until we can think of a better way.
abstract adj. Not concrete and realistic; not obviously related to everyday experience
Abstract painting became popular partly because early photography was very realistic.
Parts of speech abstraction n
context n. A larger environment that something fits into
In the context of Soviet Russia, public art had to be about the triumph of communism and its leaders.
Usage tips The preposition in often comes before context, and an of phrase often comes after it.
Parts of speech contextualize v, contextual adj
depict v. To show in pictures
Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel depicts nine scenes from the Bible.
Parts of speech depiction n
esthetically adv. In a way that relates to beauty or appearance
The outside of the office building is esthetically pleasing, but the inside is dark and unpleasant.
Usage tips Esthetically is often spelled with an “a” at the beginning:
Parts of speech esthetic n, esthete n, esthetic adj
intrinsic adj. Being part of the basic nature of something
Frequent elections are intrinsic to a democratic system.
Parts of speech intrinsically adv
spectrum n. A range of different things, usually colors
Bart’s colorful designs include every color of the spectrum, from deep blue to vibrant red.
Usage tips The phrase the spectrum frequently means “the colors that the human eye can see.”
connotation n. A meaning implied, not stated directly
When my boss says, “Thank you,” the connotation is that she’s done talking and I should leave.
Parts of speech connote v
decipher v. To figure out the meaning, even though it is written in a code or an unknown language
The Rosetta Stone helped archaeologists decipher ancient Egyptian writing.
Usage tips A cipher is a code or puzzle; decipher means “solve a puzzle written in code.”
denote v. To mean something clearly and directly
An “X”next to a name on this list denotes a person who has been chosen for the soccer team.
Parts of speech denotation n
illiterate adj. Unable to read
In many villages nearly everyone was illiterate and unschooled, and the few who could read held great power.
Parts of speech illiterate n, illiteracy n
ingenious adj. Very clever and imaginative
Ann thought up an ingenious way to keep other people from accidentally taking her pens.
Parts of speech ingenuity n, ingeniously adv
inscription n. Something written into a piece of rock or metal
The inscription on my ring says “August 1,” because that was the day of our wedding.
Parts of speech inscribe v
cast n. The group of actors in a play, movie, television show, etc.
Some viewers mistakenly start thinking that a TV show’s cast members are really the characters they play.
Usage tips In U.S. English, cast is singular. In some other varieties of
English it is plural.
Parts of speech cast v
charismatic adj. Extremely attractive and charming
Because of the sparkle in his eye and his confident style, John F. Kennedy was a charismatic leader.
Parts of speech charisma n, charismatically adv
gala adj. Expensive, elaborately arranged, and full of celebration
A college graduation party should be a gala affair, not a backyard barbecue.
Usage tips Gala is somewhat old-fashioned, far more common in print than in speech.
Parts of speech gala n
hilarious adj. Very funny
In my opinion, the most hilarious character on television was Basil Fawlty.
Parts of speech hilarity n
improvisation n. Inventing a solution to an unexpected problem
Boy Scouts take pride in their improvisation when faced with trouble during a camping trip.
Parts of speech improvise v, improvisational adj
incompetent adj. Unskilled; lacking the ability to perform a task
Because we hired an incompetent builder to replace our roof, we now have leaks everywhere.
Usage tips Usually, incompetent implies that someone tries to do something but fails.
Parts of speech incompetence n, incompetently adv
skit n. A short, informal play
Marnie and Chris spent a long time practicing their skit for the school show.
zeal n. Enthusiasm; a deep determination to do well
Unfortunately, Tom’s zeal to become a rock star distracted him from his studies.
Usage tips Zeal is often followed by to plus a verb or by a for phrase.
Parts of speech zealot n, zealous adj
bulk n. Largeness and a heavy appearance
The bulk of Kevin’s athletic body was too great for one small chair, so he sat on a bench.
Parts of speech bulky adj
capricious adj. Moving unpredictably from one thing to another
Your college studies will go on too long if you make capricious jumps from one major to another.
Usage tips Capricious comes from a Latin word meaning “goat “and implies a motion like the jumping of a goat.
Parts of speech capriciousness n, capriciously adv
cumbersome adj. Difficult to wear or carry because of weight or shape
To make it to the top of the mountain before dark, the hikers dumped their cumbersome tent.
exotic adj. Interesting or unusual because of coming from a faraway place
I walked into the restaurant and smelled the exotic aromas of Malaysian spices.
Parts of speech exoticism n, exotically adv
inhibit v. To discourage or to slow down
This lotion will inhibit the itching caused by mosquito bites.
Parts of speech inhibition n
striking adj. Very noticeable; easily attracting attention
Gordon had a striking new attitude after he learned self-discipline at the army academy.
Usage tips Striking comes from a verb that means “to hit.”
Parts of speech strike v, strikingly adv
trend n. A movement in one direction or a widespread change in fashion
The trend among some young men is to wear their caps with the bill off to one side.
Parts of speech trend v, trendy adj
vanity n. An excessive concern for one’s appearance
Mark’s vanity led him to spend far too much money on haircuts and new clothes.
Parts of speech vain adj
vulnerable adj. Exposed to possible harm
Babies and very old people are especially vulnerable to the new disease.
Usage tips Vulnerable is often followed by a to phrase.
Parts of speech vulnerability n, vulnerably adv