GRE Prep: Tricky word pairs (Part 1)

GRE Prep: Tricky word pairs (Part 1)

As part of our series on tricky word pairs, this post will introduce 4 word pairs/groups that can be confusing and misleading. We will first go through each pair thoroughly to clarify their specific definitions and usage. At the end of the post, we will have a revision practice for you to test your knowledge.

1. Unconscionable VS Unconscious

  • Unconscionable: morally unacceptable [from the now obsolete conscionable “having a conscience”]
    She was convicted to lifelong imprisonment after going on an unconscionable murder spree in the primary school.
  • Unconscious: not conscious; not aware [negative of conscious, from the Latin conscius “knowing, aware”]
    Being unconscious after losing a lot of blood, the teacher did not respond to the doctor’s queries.

 2.  Censure VS Censor

  • Censure: strong disapproval [from Latin censura “judgment, opinion”]
    The president faced international censure for his decision to send more troops to Iraq.

The teacher was censured for his act of violence on disobedient students.

  • Censor: an official that examines publications and communications, and suppresses any parts considered unacceptable; the act of such suppressing [from 1530s, “Roman magistrate of 5c. B.C.E. who took censuses and oversaw public manners and morals”, directly from Latin censor]
    As all publications are checked by the government’s censor, there was no trace of the soldiers’ misconduct in the newspapers.

The controversial film was so heavily censored by the media authorities that the audience could not make any sense of it at the public screening.

3. Factious VS Fractious VS Fatuous

  • Factious: likely to disagree or dissent [from Middle French factieux and directly from Latin factiosus “partisan, seditious, inclined to form parties”]
    The factious attitudes of both parties caused the negotiations to fail innumerable times.
  • Fractious: irritable and easily upset [from fraction in an obsolete sense of “a brawling, discord”]
    The fractious boy cried all evening despite the continued efforts of both parents to soothe him.
  • Fatuous: stupid and silly [from Latin fatuus “foolish, insipid, silly”]
    His fatuous questions suggest that he had not listened to the talk carefully and knew little about the topic.

4. Immoral VS Amoral

  • Immoral: morally wrong [from assimilated form of in-“not” + moral]
    Everyone agreed that throwing stones at the homeless man constituted a deeply immoral act.
  • Amoral: without moral principles [coined by Robert Louis Stephenson as a differentiation from immoral: “There is a vast deal in life and letters both which is not immoral, but simply a-moral; which either does not regard the human will at all, or deals with it in obvious and healthy relations”]
    Driven by deeply-rooted instincts rather than a clear conception of right and wrong, the main character of the book aptly represents the amoral attitude of the current generation.

Now test your knowledge of these 9 words with these four sentences:


Fatuous  Amoral   Unconscionable    Factious    Immoral     Fractious    Censor    Censure     Unconscious

  1. The student was _______________ by the teacher for making such a/an _______________ remark when the situation clearly demanded a more serious and measured comment.
  2. Some critics may give the new book the benefit of doubt and call it tasteless, but most would label is flatly demeaning and even _______________; it would come as no surprise if it ended up being _____________ in some countries.
  3. It is _______________ that the ill-tempered man could have battered his child _____________ just because the ____________ girl could not stop arguing with him.
  4. Far from being _______________, the ______________ groups frequently clash due to their strong convictions on the sensitive topic.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out the rest of the series on tricky word pairs.

Answers to the above:

  1. censured, fatuous
  2. immoral, censored
  3. unconscionable, unconscious, fractious
  4. amoral, factious