AP English Language : Syntax and Sentence Structure

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Language

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Example Questions

Example Question #231 : Social Sciences / History

Adapted from Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1776)

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence that in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. WHEREFORE, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever FORM thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others. 

In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the Earth, unconnected with the rest; they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but ONE man might labor out the common period of life without accomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed; hunger in the mean time would urge him from his work, and every different want call him a different way.

When he states that “Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise,” the author means __________.

Possible Answers:

palaces and fancy clothing are expensive luxuries

government is necessary because people are imperfect

governments change as quickly as fashionable styles of clothing

government should treat everyone in the same way

people judge each other about their opinions on governmental issues just like they judge each others’ clothing

Correct answer:

government is necessary because people are imperfect


This is a tricky question that requires you to grasp the subtle meaning in the author’s comparison. He is comparing government to “dress” (fashion) and saying that both are “the badge of lost innocence.” By “badge” he means outward sign or indicator, and in order to lose something, you have to have been in possession of it initially. So, the author is saying that government and dress demonstrate that innocence has been lost.  Going on, the author states, “the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise.” Considering the surrounding context of this phrase may also be helpful in determining its meaning; after the indicated quotation, the author states, “For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver . . .” In combination with the idea of “lost innocence,” this indicates that in making his comparison, the author means to indicate that government is necessary because people are imperfect.

Example Question #1 : Syntax And Sentence Structure

Passage adapted from The Passing of the Armies: The Last Campaign of the Armies by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1915) 

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?

Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

What is the effect of the author's use of passive voice in the underlined phrase, "Instructions had been given"?

Possible Answers:

It suggests that the instructions could not be understood

It downplays the significance of the instructions

It downplays the significance of the specific person who gave the instructions

It makes the reader aware of the significance of the instructions

None of these

Correct answer:

It downplays the significance of the specific person who gave the instructions


This question asks you to interpret the author's purpose in using passive voice. Passive voice is a structure in which an object is acted on, rather than a subject performing an action. In this case, the author presents "instructions" as the object that is acted upon, rather than naming a specific person who gave the instructions. The effect is to obscure the identity of this person, suggesting that the author prefers instead to draw attention to the instructions and to their results.

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