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Meaning inferable from roots and prefixes: exercise review


Dr. Byrnes' TOEFL Reading Self-study Course: Sample Lecture


Question 1 (easy)

Some of these weapons will invariably hit the wrong targets, and competitive pressures might result in deployment of more systems that are not ready for the battlefield.

The word “invariably ” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. easily

  2. accurately

  3. always

  4. soon


“Invariably'' is analyzed into “in-variable-ly.” “In” means ‘not,’ and “variable'' means ‘changing’ or ‘fluctuating.’ So “invariably” means ‘not changing, consistently,’ and ‘always.’ 


TOEFL reading vocab prefix+root+suffix

Question 2 (medium)

This is the time period in which most scientists formerly believed the area to be inhospitable for humans. 

The word “inhospitable” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. not familiar

  2. not suitable

  3. not dangerous

  4. not reachable


‘Inhospitable’ means not hospitable. ‘Hospitable’ means ‘friendly and welcoming to strangers or guests’ or ‘an environment being pleasant and favorable for living in.’ So ‘inhospitable’ means not ‘friendly, not pleasant to live in.’ These are synonyms of inhospitable: 

uninviting, unwelcoming, bleak, forbidding. 

B is the closest in meaning.


Question 3 (medium)

While these molecules might stay intact beneath the surface (as they evidently do on asteroids and comets), they probably cannot react with each other unless some kind of liquid or gas is available to move them about.

The word “intact” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. buried

  2. whole

  3. confined

  4. active


‘Intact’ can be analyzed as in-tact. “In” means not and “tact” means to touch. So “intact” means ‘not touched, not damaged.’ These are synonyms of ‘intact’:

whole, entire, complete, unbroken, undamaged, unharmed, unscathed, untouched


Question 4 (medium)

This unprecedented development of a finite groundwater resource with an almost negligible natural recharge rate—that is, virtually no natural water source to replenish the water supply—has caused water tables in the region to fall drastically. 

The word “unprecedented” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. difficult to control

  2. without any restriction

  3. unlike anything in the past

  4. rapidly expanding


“Unprecedented” means ‘not-precedented.’ ‘Precedented’ means ‘supported by having a precedent.’ And ‘precedent’ means ‘an earlier event or action that is regarded as an example for the later cases.’ Based on these, we can infer that “unprecedented” means ‘being in a situation where there is no precedent. So, “unprecedented” means never done or known before, unlike anything in the past. These are synonyms of “unprecedented”:

unparalleled, unequaled, unmatched, unrivaled, unusual, novel

The opposite of “unprecedented” is normal or common.



Question 5 (medium)

 It is a monumental scientific achievement, and its development illustrates the essential interplay between observation, prediction, and testing required for scientific progress.

The word “interplay” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. sequence

  2. interpretation

  3. requirement

  4. interaction


‘Interplay’ is made of ‘inter’ (between) and ‘play’ (acting). So 'interplay’ means the way in which two or more things have an effect on each other. 

Answer: D

Question 6 (medium)

The large hind legs were used for propulsion in water.

The word "propulsion" in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. Staying afloat

  2. Changing direction

  3. Decreasing weight

  4. Moving forward


The prefix ‘pro’ in ‘propulsion’ means ‘forward, in front of.’ So, ‘propulsion’ means the action of driving or pushing forward.


Question 7 (easy)

In the animal world the task of moving about is fulfilled in many ways. For some animals locomotion is accomplished by changes in body shape.

The word locomotion in the passage is closest in meaning to 

  1. evolution 

  2. movement 

  3. survival 

  4. escape 


‘Locomotion’ is made of ‘loco’ (=place) and ‘motion’ (=moving). So ‘locomotion’ means “the ability to move from place to place.” 

Answer: B

Question 8 (easy)

This rapid origin and diversification of animals is often referred to as “the Cambrian explosion.”

The word “diversification” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. emergence of many varieties

  2. steady decline in number

  3. gradual increase in body size

  4. sudden disappearance


‘Diversification’ comes from ‘diverse’ which means ‘varied.’ ‘Diversify’ means to make varied, and ‘diversification’ means the state or process of making varied. 



Question 9 (easy)

The onrushing water arising from these flash floods likely also formed the odd teardrop-shaped “islands” (resembling the miniature versions seen in the wet sand of our beaches at low tide) that have been found on the plains close to the ends of the outflow channels. 

The word “miniature” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. temporary

  2. small

  3. multiple

  4. familiar


‘Miniature’ means small. These are synonyms of ‘miniature.’

small-scale, scaled-down, mini, tiny, little, small, minute


Question 10 (medium)

When this occurs, the first step has been taken toward theater as an autonomous activity

The word “autonomous” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. artistic

  2. important

  3. independent

  4. established


“Autonomous” can be analyzed into these parts:

auto (self) + nomy (rule, law) + -ous (full of) = full of self-ruling

So “autonomous” means not being subject to the rule or control of another, independent.’ 

Answer: B

Question 11 (medium)

Later Byzantine columns were monolithic and usually made of marble.

The word “monolithic” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. huge

  2. formed of straight line

  3. formed of monotonous pattern

  4. formed of single stone 


‘Monolithic’ is analyzed into these parts:

mono (one) + lith (stone) + ic (of the) 

So, ‘monolithic’ means ‘of a single stone.”

Answer: D

Question 12 (hard)

The undisputed pre-Columbian presence in Oceana of the sweet potato, which is a New World domesticate, has sometimes been used to support Heyerdahl’s “American Indians in the Pacific” theories.

The word “undisputed” in the passage is closest in meaning to

  1. mysterious

  2. unexpected

  3. acknowledged

  4. significant

“Undisputed” means ‘not disputed.’ ‘Dispute’ means ‘to question whether a statement is true.’ So ‘undisputed’ means ‘not questioned, undoubted, uncontested, unchallenged.’ The derived meaning of ‘undisputed” from this is, ‘decided, accepted, acknowledged.