'The Great Gatsby' Vocabulary

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald's word choice reflects both the characters' romanticism and the unromantic selfishness of their behavior. In this The Great Gatsby vocabulary list, you'll learn key words through definitions and examples from the novel.

01
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Cardinal

Definition: fundamental, the most important

Example: “Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” 

02
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Ceaselessly

Definition: continuously, endlessly

Example: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

03
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Enchanted

Definition: seemingly magical or unreal

Examples: “Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to him, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted things had diminished by one.” 

04
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Eternal

Definition: lasting forever, without a beginning or end.

Example: “It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.”

05
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Exhilarating

Definition: making one feel very happy, delighted, or thrilled

Example: “The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.” 

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Incarnation

Definition: an idea or concept made concrete and tangible in some form

Example: “At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.” 

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Intimate

Definition: very close and personal, a private connection

Example: “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.” 

08
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Intricate

Definition: very detailed, complicated

Example: “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.”

09
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Jauntiness

Definition: a carefree, casual sort of stylishness

Example: “I noticed that she wore her evening dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes-there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to walk upon a golf course on clean, crisp, mornings.” 

10
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Poignant

Definition: emotionally moving or touching; evoking emotion

Example: “I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others—young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.” 

11
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Reverie

Definition: a vivid, dreamlike state

Example: “For awhile these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.” 

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Romantic

Definition: idealized, conducive to imagination, particularly tinged with romantic love or grand emotion

Example: “It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who had found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.”

13
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Retreat

Definition: to withdraw or move back

Example: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

14
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Simultaneously

Definition: at the same time

Example: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” 

15
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Tender

Definition: showing gentleness, sympathy, and fondness

Example: “I wasn't actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.”

16
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Strident

Definition: forceful and unpleasant

Example: “I wanted to get out and walk eastward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair."

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Thrilling

Definition: producing sudden, strong, and visceral emotion

Example: “A stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words.” 

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Transitory

Definition: impermanent

Example: “For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.” 

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Vitality

Definition: a state of being strong and energetic

Example: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.”

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Wild

Definition: unrestrained and untamed, particularly in pursuit of pleasure; unknowable

Example: “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”