SAT II Literature : Grammar and Syntax: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

Dear Sir, 

You are pleased to call again, and with some earnestness, for my thoughts on the late proceedings in France. I will not give you reason to imagine, that I think my sentiments of such value as to wish myself to be solicited about them. They are of too little consequence to be very anxiously either communicated or withheld. It was from attention to you, and to you only, that I hesitated at the time, when you first desired to receive them. In the first letter I had the honour to write you, and which at length I send, I wrote neither for nor from any description of men; nor shall I in this. My errors, if any, are my own. My reputation alone is to answer for them. 

You see, Sir, by the long letter I have transmitted to you, that, though I do most heartily wish that France may be animated by a spirit of rational liberty, and that I think you bound, in all honest policy, to provide a permanent body, in which that spirit may reside, and an effectual organ, by which it may act, it is my misfortune to entertain great doubts concerning several material points in your late transactions.  

(1790)

The second paragraph ("You see, Sir, by the long letter...") is comprised of one sentence. What is the main verb of this sentence?  

Possible Answers:

"entertain"

"have transmitted"

"reside"

"see"

"wish"

Correct answer:

"see"

Explanation:

The main verb of any given sentence is the verb of the sentence's main clause. "See" in "You see..." at the beginning of this sentence is the main verb because it, unlike all other verbs in this sentence, is part of the main clause. All other verbs in this sentence appear in subordinate clauses.

Passage adapted from Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).  

Example Question #2 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

From the dim woods on either bank, Night’s ghostly army, the grey shadows, creep out with noiseless tread to chase away the lingering rear-guard of the light, and pass, with noiseless, unseen feet, above the waving river-grass, and through the sighing rushes; and Night, upon her sombre throne, folds her black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness.

Then we run our little boat into some quiet nook, and the tent is pitched, and the frugal supper cooked and eaten. Then the big pipes are filled and lighted, and the pleasant chat goes round in musical undertone; while, in the pauses of our talk, the river, playing round the boat, prattles strange old tales and secrets, sings low the old child’s song that it has sung so many thousand years...

Harris said: “How about when it rained?”

You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris—no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris never “weeps, he knows not why.” If Harris’s eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop.

Which of the following terms describes sentence 1?

Possible Answers:

Telegraphic

Circumlocutory

Paratactic

Hypotactic

Ambidextrous

Correct answer:

Hypotactic

Explanation:

Hypotaxis or hypotactic sentences are ones in which clauses are subordinate to other clauses (e.g. “I am late because I overslept”). Parataxis or paratactic sentences are ones in which short, simple clauses are placed beside each other without subordination (e.g. “I am late; I overslept”). Telegraphic sentence refers to any concise sentence (usually five or fewer words in length) that omits unnecessary words and parts of speech. Circumlocution is the act of talking around a point rather than directly about it, and ambidextrous describes being both left- and right-handed.

Passage adapted from Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889).

Example Question #3 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

(1776)

What is the subject of the verb "requires" in the first paragraph?  

Possible Answers:

"respect"

"opinions"  

"the causes"

"they"

"mankind"

Correct answer:

"respect"

Explanation:

The end of the first paragraph reads:  "...a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."  

The subject of the verb "requires" is the noun "respect." The subject of a verb is whatever performs the action of that verb. For instance, in the sentence, "The dog runs," the dog is the thing doing the running and is therefore the subject of the verb "to run." At the end of the first paragraph, it is the "respect" that is doing the "requiring."

Passage adapted from The Declaration of Independence of the Continental Congress of the United States of America in 1776.

Example Question #4 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

(1776)

In the second paragraph, in "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism," to whom does the pronoun "them" refer?  

Possible Answers:

Members of government

Mankind in general

Early Americans

Lower-class citizens

The King of Great Britain

Correct answer:

Mankind in general

Explanation:

Like most of the passage, this sentence is making a general observation about mankind at large. Therefore, "them" is referring simply to "mankind." For very clear evidence, observe the sentence that comes immediately before:  "...all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." Here, "mankind" is mentioned explicitly as the topic of discussion, and that topic continues into the next sentence.

Passage adapted from The Declaration of Independence of the Continental Congress of the United States of America in 1776.

Example Question #5 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

(1) The Baron's lady weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, and was therefore a person of great consideration, and she did the honours of the house with a dignity that commanded still greater respect. (2) Her daughter Cunegonde was seventeen years of age, fresh-coloured, comely, plump, and desirable. (3) The Baron’s son seemed to be in every respect worthy of his father. (4) The Preceptor Pangloss was the oracle of the family, and little Candide heard his lessons with all the good faith of his age and character. (5)

Pangloss was professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology. (6) He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron's castle was the most magnificent of castles, and his lady the best of all possible Baronesses.

(1759)

Which sentence in the passage can be described as sesquipedalian?

Possible Answers:

Sentence 3

Sentence 6

Sentence 5

Sentence 2

Sentence 4

Correct answer:

Sentence 5

Explanation:

The definition of “sesquipedalian” is excessively polysyllabic or very long-winded. With the description of Pangloss’s studies as “metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology,” the author is poking fun at overly pompous or esoteric professors. None of the other sentences in the passage contain overly long words.

Passage adapted from Voltaire’s Candide (1759)

Example Question #6 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

As I ponder'd in silence,

  Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,

  A Phantom arose before me with distrustful aspect,

  Terrible in beauty, age, and power,

  The genius of poets of old lands,    (5)

  As to me directing like flame its eyes,

  With finger pointing to many immortal songs,

  And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said,

  Know'st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards?

  And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles,    (10)

  The making of perfect soldiers.

How can this passage’s poetic meter best be described?

Possible Answers:

It is primarily iambic

It is primarily dactylic

It has none

It is split between iambs and spondees

It is split between iambs and trochees

Correct answer:

It has none

Explanation:

This is free verse, unmetered poetry with no rhyme scheme or pattern of syllables.

Passage adapted from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass (1855). 

Example Question #7 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

. . . Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain. The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change. Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing and can know nothing.

For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey and niggard. It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart. And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more. The thing that you personally have long ago forgotten, or can easily forget, is happening to me now, and will happen to me again to-morrow. Remember this, and you will be able to understand a little of why I am writing, and in this manner writing. . . .

(1897)

What is the antecedent of the pronoun "which" in the bolded and underlined sentence?  

Possible Answers:

"pattern"

"circumstance"

"life"

"paralysing"

"immobility" 

Correct answer:

"life"

Explanation:

The antecedent of a pronoun is the noun to which the pronoun refers. For example, in the sentence, "I ate an apple, which was delicious," "which" refers to "apple" and "apple" is therefore the antecedent of "which."

In the case of the "which" in this passage, "which" is referring to "life." This is especially clear because it is the "life" the speaker is describing when he says it is "regulated after an unchangeable pattern." "Life" is therefore the antecedent to "which."

Passage adapted from Oscar Wilde's De Profundis (1897). 

Example Question #2 : Syntax And Structure Of Excerpts

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelly (1818)

Shutting the door, [the monster] approached me and said in a smothered voice, "You have destroyed the work which you began; what is it that you intend? Do you dare to break your promise? I have endured toil and misery; I left Switzerland with you; I crept along the shores of the Rhine, among its willow islands and over the summits of its hills. I have dwelt many months in the heaths of England and among the deserts of Scotland. I have endured incalculable fatigue, and cold, and hunger; do you dare destroy my hopes?"

"Begone! I do break my promise; never will I create another like yourself, equal in deformity and wickedness."

"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!"

"The hour of my irresolution is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness, but they confirm me in a determination of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a daemon whose delight is in death and wretchedness? Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage."

The monster saw my determination in my face and gnashed his teeth in the impotence of anger. "Shall each man," cried he, "find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! You may hate, but beware! Your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness forever. Are you to be happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions, but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die, but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful. I will watch with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict."

"Devil, cease; and do not poison the air with these sounds of malice. I have declared my resolution to you, and I am no coward to bend beneath words. Leave me; I am inexorable."

"It is well. I go; but remember, I shall be with you on your wedding night."

I started forward and exclaimed, "Villain! Before you sign my death-warrant, be sure that you are yourself safe."

I would have seized him, but he eluded me and quit the house with precipitation. In a few moments I saw him in his boat, which shot across the waters with an arrowy swiftness and was soon lost amidst the waves.

All was again silent, but his words rang in my ears. I burned with rage to pursue the murderer of my peace and precipitate him into the ocean. I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me. Why had I not followed him and closed with him in mortal strife? But I had suffered him to depart, and he had directed his course towards the mainland. I shuddered to think who might be the next victim sacrificed to his insatiate revenge. And then I thought again of his words—"I WILL BE WITH YOU ON YOUR WEDDING NIGHT." That, then, was the period fixed for the fulfillment of my destiny. In that hour I should die and at once satisfy and extinguish his malice. The prospect did not move me to fear; yet when I thought of my beloved Elizabeth, of her tears and endless sorrow, when she should find her lover so barbarously snatched from her, tears, the first I had shed for many months, streamed from my eyes, and I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

What is the effect of the writing style in the underlined selection?

Possible Answers:

To capture the haste of the actions occurring in the paragraph

To show the horror being experienced by Dr. Frankenstein

To show the craftiness of the monster

To emphasize the power of the monster

To show the shady character of the monster

Correct answer:

To capture the haste of the actions occurring in the paragraph

Explanation:

Many actions occur in a short selection in this paragraph. The monster eludes Dr. Frankenstein and leaves the house quickly; Dr. Frankenstein sees him in the boat, the boat goes across the waters quickly, and finally it goes so far as not to be visible. All of these actions, reported in a mere two sentences, give the sense of speed and urgency occurring in this series of actions.

Example Question #8 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

The fundamental source of all your errors, sophisms, and false reasonings, is a total ignorance of the natural rights of mankind. Were you once to become acquainted with these, you could never entertain a thought, that all men are not, by nature, entitled to a parity of privileges. You would be convinced that natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that, and cannot be wrested from any people without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice, but it is conformable to the constitution of man, as well as necessary to the well-being of society.

....

Thus Sir, I have taken a pretty general survey of the American Charters; and proved to the satisfaction of every unbiassed person, that they are intirely, discordant with that sovereignty of parliament, for which you are an advocate. The disingenuity of your extracts (to give it no harsher name) merits the severest censure; and will no doubt serve to discredit all your former, as well as future labours, in your favourite cause of despotism.

It is true, that New-York has no Charter. But, if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead the common principles of colonization: for, it would be unreasonable, to seclude one colony, from the enjoyment of the most important privileges of the rest. There is no need, however, of this plea: The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

 

(1775)

In the third paragraph where it says, "...if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead..." what does "it" refer to?

Possible Answers:

The speaker

"the sacred rights of mankind"

New York

The nonexistent Charter

Mankind as a whole

Correct answer:

New York

Explanation:

What "it" refers to in this sentence becomes clear if the larger context is viewed. The third paragraph of the passage starts thus: "It is true, that New-York has no Charter. But, if it could support it’s claim to liberty in no other way, it might, with justice, plead the common principles..." From the sentence that precedes these uses of "it," one can tell that New York is what is being referred to. Because New York "has no Charter," it is in need of a way to "support [its] claim to liberty," etc. The uses of "it" here could be replaced with "New York" and make sense; that is a sure way to tell what "it" refers to.

Passage adapted from Alexander Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted (1775).

Example Question #9 : Grammar And Syntax: Prose

Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter, by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments, or renewal of those offers, which were last night so disgusting to you. I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation and the perusal of this letter must occasion should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must, therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.

.....

This, madam, is a faithful narrative of every event in which we have been concerned together; and if you do not absolutely reject it as false, you will, I hope, acquit me henceforth of cruelty towards Mr. Wickham. I know not in what manner, under what form of falsehood, he has imposed on you; but his success is not, perhaps, to be wondered at. Ignorant as you previously were of every thing concerning either, detection could not be in your power, and suspicion certainly not in your inclination. You may possibly wonder why all this was not told you last night. But I was not then master enough of myself to know what could or ought to be revealed. For the truth of every thing here related, I can appeal more particularly to the testimony of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who from our near relationship and constant intimacy, and still more as one of the executors of my father's will, has been unavoidably acquainted with every particular of these transactions. If your abhorrence of me should make my assertions valueless, you cannot be prevented by the same cause from confiding in my cousin; and that there may be the possibility of consulting him, I shall endeavour to find some opportunity of putting this letter in your hands in the course of the morning. I will only add, God bless you.

 

(1813)

In the first paragraph, both "formation" and "perusal" are the subject of what verb(s) or verb compound?

Possible Answers:

"should have been spared"

"must occasion"

"had"

"spared"

"written and read"

Correct answer:

"must occasion"

Explanation:

The subject of a verb is the noun that performs the action of that verb. For instance, in the sentence, "The dog chewed the bone," the "dog" is the subject of the verb "chewed" because the dog is the thing (a noun) doing the chewing.

In the case of the nouns "formation" and "perusal," the action they are performing is found in the verb "occasion" or "must occasion." To occasion means to cause, or to make necessary. The speaker is saying that the formation (composition) and perusal (reading) of the letter will make necessary the "effort" mentioned earlier in the sentence.

Passage adapted from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813).

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