Considering the consensus of the world's leading meteorologists that there will be a vastly greater number of natural calamities (such as hurricanes and floods) during the first several decades of the twenty-first century, some experts recommended that more developing countries should do what Bangladesh has done--build into their development plans strategies to _______ the impact of such disasters on development.

a. ameliorate b. attenuate c. comprehend

Hi experts! The answer to the blank is given ameliorate in book https://www.amazon.com/Barrons-GRE-Verbal-Workbook-2nd/dp/143800379X

I have heard many times phrases like to minimize impact, to soften impact etc. So, thought the answer should be to attenuate the impact.

Can you please explain why doesn't the word attenuate work here?

  • I agree with you (and not the book). Attenuate makes sense in that context. Ameliorate might sort of work, but it doesn't work well, and definitely not as well as attenuate.
    – Juhasz
    May 18, 2020 at 15:42
  • @Juhasz: I think you are mistaken. Both attenuate and ameliorate are at least "credible" on semantic grounds, as you say. But if you check the last two links in my answer I think you'll have to agree that even though neither of them are in the "Top 10", ameliorate is in fact significantly more common than attenuate before (undesirable) impacts. May 18, 2020 at 16:19
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica, were I writing or editing this piece, I also wouldn't have chosen any of those three options. For a GRE question, where definitional precision is important, attenuate seemed to me like the better choice. In my experience studying for this test, these kind of frustrating questions were fairly common. Fortunately, they either didn't appear on the actual test, or else there were enough reasonable questions that my score wasn't seriously effected.
    – Juhasz
    May 18, 2020 at 16:58
  • @Juhasz: Well, as [this NGram]() shows, ameliorate the impact is in fact twice as common as attenuate the impact - but obviously both those terms would practically "flatline" by comparison with more idiomatic alternatives such as reduce, minimise, mitigate, limit, lessen, alleviate, soften as flagged up in my answer. But if you think it's meaningful to say that attenuate is "the better choice" in the face of such evidence to the contrary and the fact that it's an irrelevancy anyway, I'm not gonna keep arguing the toss. May 18, 2020 at 18:20
  • ...sorry - I meant this NGram May 18, 2020 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


See this NGram showing which words are most likely to occur in OP's context...

I wouldn't use attenuate here myself, and it doesn't appear in that "Top Ten" list.

BUT - nor do ameliorate or comprehend. And they're a curious pair of alternatives, given that so far as I'm concerned attenuate and ameliorate are just two "equally sub-optimal" choices, whereas comprehend simply makes no sense whatsoever.

Anyone who chooses comprehend is unquestionably wrong, but I see no good reason for preferring ameliorate over attenuate or vice-versa (those are links to many written instances of both terms). In short, the "test" is poorly-devised, so don't spend too much time analysing it.

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