SSAT Middle Level Reading : Finding Context-Dependent Meanings of Words in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Middle Level Reading

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Example Question #1 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Daisy Miller by Henry James (1879)

The young lady inspected her flounces and smoothed her ribbons again; and Winterbourne presently risked an observation upon the beauty of the view. He was ceasing to be embarrassed, for he had begun to perceive that she was not in the least embarrassed herself. There had not been the slightest alteration in her charming complexion; she was evidently neither offended nor flattered. If she looked another way when he spoke to her, and seemed not particularly to hear him, this was simply her habit, her manner. Yet, as he talked a little more and pointed out some of the objects of interest in the view, with which she appeared quite unacquainted, she gradually gave him more of the benefit of her glance; and then he saw that this glance was perfectly direct and unshrinking. It was not, however, what would have been called an immodest glance, for the young girl's eyes were singularly honest and fresh. They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and, indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair countrywoman's various features—her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made several observations. It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate, Winterbourne mentally accused it—very forgivingly—of a want of finish. He thought it very possible that Master Randolph's sister was a coquette; he was sure she had a spirit of her own; but in her bright, sweet, superficial little visage there was no mockery, no irony. Before long it became obvious that she was much disposed toward conversation. She told him that they were going to Rome for the winter—she and her mother and Randolph. She asked him if he was a "real American"; she shouldn't have taken him for one; he seemed more like a German—this was said after a little hesitation—especially when he spoke. Winterbourne, laughing, answered that he had met Germans who spoke like Americans, but that he had not, so far as he remembered, met an American who spoke like a German. Then he asked her if she should not be more comfortable in sitting upon the bench which he had just quitted. She answered that she liked standing up and walking about; but she presently sat down. She told him she was from New York State—"if you know where that is." Winterbourne learned more about her by catching hold of her small, slippery brother and making him stand a few minutes by his side.

In context, the underlined word "eminently" most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

fraudulently

absurdly

notably

annoyingly

not at all

Correct answer:

notably

Explanation:

The author writes, "and though [her facial appearance] was eminently delicate, Winterbourne mentally accused it—very forgivingly—of a want of finish." From this line, we can see that "eminently" modifies "delicate." Based on the way that the woman's apperance has been described in glowing terms previously in the passage, we can infer that "eminently" must emphasize her feature's delicateness, not suggest that her facial features are not delicate. So, it is most likely that "eminently" means very or notably.

Example Question #2 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Myths and Legends of All Nations by Logan Marshall (1914)

Many, many centuries ago there lived two brothers, Prometheus or Forethought, and Epimetheus or Afterthought. They were the sons of those Titans who had fought against Jupiter and been sent in chains to the great prison-house of the lower world, but for some reason had escaped punishment.

Prometheus, however, did not care for idle life among the gods on Mount Olympus. Instead he preferred to spend his time on the earth, helping men to find easier and better ways of living. For the children of earth were not happy as they had been in the golden days when Saturn ruled. Indeed, they were very poor and wretched and cold, without fire, without food, and with no shelter but miserable caves. "With fire they could at least warm their bodies and cook their food," Prometheus thought, "and later they could make tools and build houses for themselves and enjoy some of the comforts of the gods."

So Prometheus went to Jupiter and asked that he might be permitted to carry fire to the earth. But Jupiter shook his head in wrath. "Fire, indeed!" he exclaimed. "If men had fire they would soon be as strong and wise as we who dwell on Olympus. Never will I give my consent." Prometheus made no reply, but he didn't give up his idea of helping men. "Some other way must be found," he thought.

Then, one day, as he was walking among some reeds he broke off one, and seeing that its hollow stalk was filled with a dry, soft pith, exclaimed: “At last! In this I can carry fire and the children of men shall have the great gift in spite of Jupiter."

Immediately, taking a long stalk in his hands, he set out for the dwelling of the sun in the far east. He reached there in the early morning, just as Apollo's chariot was about to begin its journey across the sky. Lighting his reed, he hurried back, carefully guarding the precious spark that was hidden in the hollow stalk.

Then he showed men how to build fires for themselves, and it was not long before they began to do all the wonderful things of which Prometheus had dreamed. They learned to cook and to domesticate animals and to till the fields and to mine precious metals and melt them into tools and weapons. And they came out of their dark and gloomy caves and built for themselves beautiful houses of wood and stone. And instead of being sad and unhappy they began to laugh and sing. "Behold, the Age of Gold has come again," they said. But Jupiter was not so happy. He saw that men were gaining daily greater power, and their very prosperity made him angry. "That young Titan!" he cried out, when he heard what Prometheus had done. "I will punish him."

He called Strength and Force and bade them seize the Titan and carry him to the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains. Then he sent Vulcan to bind him with iron chains, making arms and feet fast to the rocks. Vulcan was sorry for Prometheus, but dared not disobey.

So the friend of man lay, miserably bound, naked to the winds, while the storms beat about him and an eagle tore at his liver with its cruel talons. But Prometheus did not utter a groan in spite of all his sufferings. Year after year he lay in agony, and yet he would not complain, beg for mercy or repent of what he had done. Men were sorry for him, but could do nothing.

Then one day a beautiful white cow passed over the mountain, and stopped to look at Prometheus with sad eyes. “I know you," Prometheus said. "You are Io, once a fair and happy maiden dwelling in Argos, doomed by Jupiter and his jealous queen to wander over the earth in this guise. Go southward and then west until you come to the great river Nile. There you shall again become a maiden, fairer than ever before, and shall marry the king of that country. And from your race shall spring the hero who will break my chains and set me free."

Centuries passed and then a great hero, Hercules, came to the Caucasus Mountains. He climbed the rugged peak, slew the fierce eagle, and with mighty blows broke the chains that bound the friend of man.

The underlined word “prosperity” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

success 

Gathering 

suffering 

knowledge 

charity 

Correct answer:

success 

Explanation:

In context, the author says, “But Jupiter was not so happy. He saw that men were gaining daily greater power, and their very prosperity made him angry.” It is men “gaining daily greater power” that is equated to “prosperity,” so it can be determined that “prosperity” means success. As for the other answer choices, “suffering” means extended pain, and “charity” means the act of giving to others willingly.

Example Question #3 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Myths and Legends of All Nations by Logan Marshall (1914)

Many, many centuries ago there lived two brothers, Prometheus or Forethought, and Epimetheus or Afterthought. They were the sons of those Titans who had fought against Jupiter and been sent in chains to the great prison-house of the lower world, but for some reason had escaped punishment.

Prometheus, however, did not care for idle life among the gods on Mount Olympus. Instead he preferred to spend his time on the earth, helping men to find easier and better ways of living. For the children of earth were not happy as they had been in the golden days when Saturn ruled. Indeed, they were very poor and wretched and cold, without fire, without food, and with no shelter but miserable caves. "With fire they could at least warm their bodies and cook their food," Prometheus thought, "and later they could make tools and build houses for themselves and enjoy some of the comforts of the gods."

So Prometheus went to Jupiter and asked that he might be permitted to carry fire to the earth. But Jupiter shook his head in wrath. "Fire, indeed!" he exclaimed. "If men had fire they would soon be as strong and wise as we who dwell on Olympus. Never will I give my consent." Prometheus made no reply, but he didn't give up his idea of helping men. "Some other way must be found," he thought.

Then, one day, as he was walking among some reeds he broke off one, and seeing that its hollow stalk was filled with a dry, soft pith, exclaimed: “At last! In this I can carry fire and the children of men shall have the great gift in spite of Jupiter."

Immediately, taking a long stalk in his hands, he set out for the dwelling of the sun in the far east. He reached there in the early morning, just as Apollo's chariot was about to begin its journey across the sky. Lighting his reed, he hurried back, carefully guarding the precious spark that was hidden in the hollow stalk.

Then he showed men how to build fires for themselves, and it was not long before they began to do all the wonderful things of which Prometheus had dreamed. They learned to cook and to domesticate animals and to till the fields and to mine precious metals and melt them into tools and weapons. And they came out of their dark and gloomy caves and built for themselves beautiful houses of wood and stone. And instead of being sad and unhappy they began to laugh and sing. "Behold, the Age of Gold has come again," they said. But Jupiter was not so happy. He saw that men were gaining daily greater power, and their very prosperity made him angry. "That young Titan!" he cried out, when he heard what Prometheus had done. "I will punish him."

He called Strength and Force and bade them seize the Titan and carry him to the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains. Then he sent Vulcan to bind him with iron chains, making arms and feet fast to the rocks. Vulcan was sorry for Prometheus, but dared not disobey.

So the friend of man lay, miserably bound, naked to the winds, while the storms beat about him and an eagle tore at his liver with its cruel talons. But Prometheus did not utter a groan in spite of all his sufferings. Year after year he lay in agony, and yet he would not complain, beg for mercy or repent of what he had done. Men were sorry for him, but could do nothing.

Then one day a beautiful white cow passed over the mountain, and stopped to look at Prometheus with sad eyes. “I know you," Prometheus said. "You are Io, once a fair and happy maiden dwelling in Argos, doomed by Jupiter and his jealous queen to wander over the earth in this guise. Go southward and then west until you come to the great river Nile. There you shall again become a maiden, fairer than ever before, and shall marry the king of that country. And from your race shall spring the hero who will break my chains and set me free."

Centuries passed and then a great hero, Hercules, came to the Caucasus Mountains. He climbed the rugged peak, slew the fierce eagle, and with mighty blows broke the chains that bound the friend of man.

The underlined phrase “bade them” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

commanded them to

acquiesced that they might

deplored them for

requested that they

implied that they

Correct answer:

commanded them to

Explanation:

In context, the author is talking about how Jupiter reacted to the news of Prometheus’ betrayal when he uses the word "bade": “He called Strength and Force and bade them seize the Titan and carry him to the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains.” As Strength and Force were summoned to Jupiter and told to carry Prometheus somewhere, it stands to reasons that “bade” means commanded. As for the other answer choices, “implied” means suggested, “acquiesced” means gave in, and “deplored” means hated.

Example Question #6 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)

Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a man, but because a new and powerful interest bore them down and drove them out of his mind for the time—just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excitement of new enterprises. This new interest was a valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired, and he was suffering to practice it undisturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of the music—the reader probably remembers how to do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who has discovered a new planet—no doubt, as far as strong, deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage was with the boy, not the astronomer.

The summer evenings were long. It was not dark, yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger was before him—a boy a shade larger than himself. A newcomer of any age or either sex was an impressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of St. Petersburg. This boy was well-dressed, too—well-dressed on a weekday. This was simply astounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty, and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on—and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If one moved, the other moved—but only sidewise, in a circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.

Based on the way in which it is used in the passage, what does the underlined word "natty" mean?

Possible Answers:

Dapper

Waterproof

Heavy

Cheap

Rugged

Correct answer:

Dapper

Explanation:

The passage uses the word "natty" to describe the new boy's clothing, along with other adjectives like "well-dressed," "dainty," "new," and "citified." We are also told that the new boy "even wore a necktie, a bright bit of ribbon," and his clothing is called "his finery." Based on this description, we can guess that "natty" means something like "fancy," and that is correct: "natty" means dapper or well-dressed.

Example Question #5 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Literature Passages

Adapted from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove or upon the cliffs with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlor next the fire and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to, only look up sudden and fierce and blow through his nose like a fog-horn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day when he came back from his stroll he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road. At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question, but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman did put up at the Admiral Benbow (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol) he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlor; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter, for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my "weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg" and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough when the first of the month came round and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me and stare me down, but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my four-penny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for "the seafaring man with one leg.”

How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had never had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.

Based on context, the underlined word “diabolical” in the second paragraph means __________.

Possible Answers:

confused

ashamed

afraid

friendly

evil

Correct answer:

evil

Explanation:

Let’s look at the context in which the word “diabolical” appears: “How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions.” The narrator goes on to describe his nightmares in more detail. We can tell that the man with one leg, in the narrator’s dreams, is not a nice person at all, so we can eliminate “friendly” as an answer choice. Nothing suggests that the man with one leg is “ashamed” or “confused” in the narrator’s dreams, so those answers can go as well. This leaves us with “evil” and “afraid.” It’s important to think about this carefully—while the narrator is certainly afraid in his nightmares, the man with the wooden leg in his dreams is not afraid. This leaves us with the correct answer, “evil.” It is quite reasonable to assume that someone would describe something that haunts their dreams as “evil,” and “diabolical” specifically means devilishly evil.

Example Question #6 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

Based on the way in which the word is used in the passage, the word “worsted” refers to a type of __________.

Possible Answers:

tea

bead

yarn

thick and heavy rope

clock

Correct answer:

yarn

Explanation:

In order to figure out what “worsted” is, you need to consider the way in which the word is used in the passage. “Worsted” is first mentioned in the third paragraph:

 “. . . the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.”

What does this tell us about “worsted”? Well, it is something that can be wound up into a ball, since the passage says “he ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up.” This allows us to eliminate any answer choice that can’t be wound up: “bead” and “tea.”

What else does the passage tell us about worsted? A kitten can unwind it and cause it to have “knots and tangles.” Later in the passage, also, Alice “scramble[s] back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and [begins] winding up the ball again.” This means that “clock” can’t be the correct answer, because while you can wind a clock, you can’t wind it into a ball, and a kitten can’t make it have “knots and tangles” by romping around in it. “Thick and heavy rope” can’t be the answer either, as kittens are relatively small animals and not that strong; if thick and heavy rope were wound up, it’s unlikely that a kitten playing around near or in it would be able to unwind it. Also, Alice would have a hard time scooping the large, heavy rope and the kitten into her lap later in the passage. Based on the context clues, we can (correctly) conclude that “worsted” is a type of yarn. (“Worsted” actually refers to a specific weight, or thickness, of yarn. 

Example Question #6 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it COULDN'T have had any hand in the mischief.

The way Dinah washed her children's faces was this: first she held the poor thing down by its ear with one paw, and then with the other paw she rubbed its face all over, the wrong way, beginning at the nose: and just now, as I said, she was hard at work on the white kitten, which was lying quite still and trying to purr—no doubt feeling that it was all meant for its good.

But the black kitten had been finished with earlier in the afternoon, and so, while Alice was sitting curled up in a corner of the great arm-chair, half talking to herself and half asleep, the kitten had been having a grand game of romps with the ball of worsted Alice had been trying to wind up, and had been rolling it up and down till it had all come undone again; and there it was, spread over the hearth-rug, all knots and tangles, with the kitten running after its own tail in the middle.

'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage—and then she scrambled back into the arm-chair, taking the kitten and the worsted with her, and began winding up the ball again. But she didn't get on very fast, as she was talking all the time, sometimes to the kitten, and sometimes to herself. Kitty sat very demurely on her knee, pretending to watch the progress of the winding, and now and then putting out one paw and gently touching the ball, as if it would be glad to help, if it might.

Which of the following words or phrases could replace the underlined uses of the word “ought” without changing the meaning of Alice’s statement?

Possible Answers:

Should have

Will

Could have

Would have

Won’t

Correct answer:

Should have

Explanation:

“Ought” is an old term that one doesn’t often hear in modern conversations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t solve this question by looking at the way in which the word is used in the passage. It appears at the beginning of the fourth paragraph:

“'Oh, you wicked little thing!' cried Alice, catching up the kitten, and giving it a little kiss to make it understand that it was in disgrace. 'Really, Dinah ought to have taught you better manners! You
OUGHT, Dinah, you know you ought!' she added, looking reproachfully at the old cat, and speaking in as cross a voice as she could manage.”

In this part of the passage, Alice is lightly chastising the black kitten and saying that Dinah, presumably its mother, “ought” to have taught it better manners. We can ignore “will” because nothing about the future is suggested; rather, the idea that Dinah might have done something in the past. “Won’t” can similarly be discarded because it is a negative term and present-tense, and we need to find something that has to do with potential past actions. 

This leaves us with “should have,” “could have,” and “would have.” Which makes most sense? Alice is saying that Dinah should have taught its kitten better manners; “could have” and “would have” don’t make as much sense in the sentence as “should have” does.

Example Question #11 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. "Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

Based on the way the word is used in the passage, what is the most likely meaning of the underlined word "egress" in the ninth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

sickness

protection

entrance

energy

exit

Correct answer:

exit

Explanation:

The word “egress” is used in the following context in the passage: the narrator says, “when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree.” After this point, the passage continues in this way:

“‘I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already.’"

“'Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. "Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress.’”

The context of this discussion is the fact that when coconuts fall on good soil, they sprout into trees. We can tell from Fritz’s dialogue that the “germ” is attempting to “get through” the shell. This can help us narrow down our answer choices to “exit” and “entrance,” as each suggests movement through the coconut shell for the “germ” contained inside it. Because the “germ” sprouts into a coconut tree, it must be trying to get out of the shell, meaning that “exit” is the best answer. “Egress” means exit or pathway by which which one can exit a building.

Example Question #12 : Language In Literature Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

Which of the following words could replace the underlined word “great” in the eighth paragraph without changing its meaning?

Possible Answers:

high-quality

very

better

important

famous

Correct answer:

very

Explanation:

The eighth paragraph consists of the following sentence:

"'I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already.'"

In this sentence, “great” is functioning as an intensifier of “thick,” so the only answer choice that makes sense is “very.” While all of the answer choices are synonyms of “great,” only “very” works in this particular context, which you can see by substituting in each of the potential answer choices for the underlined “great.” Only “very” makes sense in the sentence.

Example Question #13 : Language In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

In context, the underlined word "contemptuous" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

confused

admiring

respectful

patient

scornful

Correct answer:

scornful

Explanation:

To be "contemptuous" of something is to be scornful of it. We can tell what the meaning of "contemptuous" is by considering the context in which it appears: the elderly rabbit attempts to stop the mole, but the mole ignores him and bowls him over. So, the mole is "contemptuous," or scornful, of the elderly rabbit's request, because he does pay it any attention or bother to stop at all.

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