Deconstruct Words to Solve ASVAB Word Knowledge Questions

By Angie Papple Johnston

On the ASVAB Word Knowledge subtest, every question counts, so pulling apart words is a great strategy when you’re not sure what something means. Even knowing what part of a word means can help you make a smarter answer choice.

In the following practice questions, try to pull apart the word in question to see whether you can figure out its meaning.

Practice questions

  1. Detractor most nearly means
  2. critic.
  3. driver.
  4. expert.
  5. adulatory.
  6. Clemency most nearly means
  7. mercy.
  8. force.
  9. imprisonment.
  10. compliment.

Answers and explanations

1. The correct answer choice is A.

Take apart the word detractor:

  • de- is the prefix
  • tract is the root
  • -or is the suffix

If you’ve learned what any part of the word means, whether it’s the prefix, root, or suffix, finding the correct answer is easier.

The prefix de- means “away from,” tract means “pull,” and the suffix -or means “one who does a thing.” After you’ve broken down the word detractor, you can see that it means a person who pulls away from something.

Remember, too, that the suffix -or often makes a word a noun (a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea), so you can immediately rule out Choice (D). That leaves three choices: critic, driver, and expert.

If you guessed that detractor most nearly means critic, Choice (A), you’re right. It’s the only one that makes sense when you know what each part of the word means.

2. The correct answer choice is A.

Knowing prefixes can be useful when determining the definitions of many words. For example, you may have heard the word inclement used to describe stormy, severe weather. If you know that the prefix in– can mean not, you can conclude that clement is likely to be mild and gentle, traits related to mercy.

Clemency actually means forgiveness or leniency in punishing a person. Choice (A) is the correct answer. The other choices are unrelated.