AP English Language : Word Choice and Effect

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Language

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Example Questions

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Example Question #41 : Words And Phrases In Context

Passage adapted from “The Place of Science in a Liberal Education” (1913) by Bertrand Russell

Our whole life is built about a certain number—not a very small number—of primary instincts and impulses. Only what is in some way connected with these instincts and impulses appears to us desirable or important; there is no faculty, whether "reason" or "virtue" or whatever it may be called, that can take our active life and our hopes and fears outside the region controlled by these first movers of all desire. Each of them is like a queen-bee, aided by a hive of workers gathering honey; but when the queen is gone the workers languish and die, and the cells remain empty of their expected sweetness.

So with each primary impulse in civilised man: it is surrounded and protected by a busy swarm of attendant derivative desires, which store up in its service whatever honey the surrounding world affords. But if the queen-impulse dies, the death-dealing influence, though retarded a little by habit, spreads slowly through all the subsidiary impulses, and a whole tract of life becomes inexplicably colourless. What was formerly full of zest, and so obviously worth doing that it raised no questions, has now grown dreary and purposeless: with a sense of disillusion we inquire the meaning of life, and decide, perhaps, that all is vanity. The search for an outside meaning that can compel an inner response must always be disappointed: all "meaning" must be at bottom related to our primary desires, and when they are extinct no miracle can restore to the world the value which they reflected upon it.

The purpose of education, therefore, cannot be to create any primary impulse which is lacking in the uneducated; the purpose can only be to enlarge the scope of those that human nature provides, by increasing the number and variety of attendant thoughts, and by showing where the most permanent satisfaction is to be found. Under the impulse of a Calvinistic horror of the "natural man," this obvious truth has been too often misconceived in the training of the young; "nature" has been falsely regarded as excluding all that is best in what is natural, and the endeavour to teach virtue has led to the production of stunted and contorted hypocrites instead of full-grown human beings. From such mistakes in education a better psychology or a kinder heart is beginning to preserve the present generation; we need, therefore, waste no more words on the theory that the purpose of education is to thwart or eradicate nature.

What is the effect of the use of the underlined words “colourless” and “dreary” in the passage?

Possible Answers:

To help increase awareness regarding the situation being discussed

To inspire the reader to help such people in his or her daily life

To get the reader's pity for those who are depressed

To express emotional feeling of having no desires

To express the emotions of a state of depression

Correct answer:

To express emotional feeling of having no desires


These words describe in pictorial terms what it is liked to lose one's desires for something. Life becomes dreary and colorless, as though the very complexion of a picture became gray after being vibrant. The author is not using the words as part of an extended discussion of depression, however. (Though, this could be a very depressing situation!) Likewise, it is not really a matter of raising awareness. He is just trying to express the general emotional state of such a loss of desire.

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