AP English Literature : Word Choice and Effect

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for AP English Literature

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Example Questions

Example Question #61 : Form, Structure, Grammar, And Syntax

Adapted from "The Mouse’s Petition" in Poems by Anna Letitia Barbauld (1773)


Found in the trap where he had been confined all night by Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making experiments with different kinds of air

“To spare the humbled, and to tame in war the proud.” - Virgil

 

OH! hear a pensive captive's prayer,
For liberty that sighs;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner's cries.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at th' approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

If e'er thy breast with freedom glow'd,
And spurn'd a tyrant's chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

Oh! do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth;
Nor triumph that thy wiles betray'd
A prize so little worth.

The scatter'd gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given;
Let nature's commoners enjoy
The common gifts of heaven.

The well-taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never dying flame,
Still shifts thro' matter's varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush
A brother's soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast,
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crown'd;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which men like mice may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.

The use of the underlined word "pensive" in the first line is most likely intended to do what?

Possible Answers:

To draw attention to the speaker as a thinking, perceiving individual consciousness, setting up his later pleas for equal ethical consideration

To draw attention to the speaker's extreme intelligence and rationality, setting up his later justification of his experiments on the mouse

To create irony and humor, as the mouse's assertion of its own intelligence is clearly undermined in the next three lines

To create dramatic irony, as while the mouse clearly believes himself a "prisoner," the audience knows that he is, in fact, a beloved pet

To draw attention to the speaker's free-thinking religious beliefs, which have led to his persecution and imprisonment

Correct answer:

To draw attention to the speaker as a thinking, perceiving individual consciousness, setting up his later pleas for equal ethical consideration

Explanation:

The use of "pensive" in this context is intended to draw attention to the speaker's (a mouse being experimented on) individual subjectivity. By framing himself as a "pensive" individual (a conscious being able to think and perceive), the speaker sets up his later pleas for equal ethical consideration. Because he is "pensive," it is wrong to deny him the opportunity to experience "nature" and the "never dying flame" of intellectual engagement as he sees fit.

While the petition is framed as a "prisoner's prayer," and some unconventional religious beliefs are discussed in some later stanzas, the implication is that the mouse is only being detained for the purpose of being experimented on, not persecuted for his beliefs. The line is intended to be read sincerely, not with irony. The rest of the poem asserts the mouse's ability to perceive the world in an individual fashion, and the mouse is a research subject, not a beloved pet. The speaker is the mouse being experimented on, not the researcher conducting the experiment.

Example Question #1 : Form, Structure, Grammar, And Syntax

Adapted from "The Mouse’s Petition" in Poems by Anna Letitia Barbauld (1773)


Found in the trap where he had been confined all night by Dr. Priestley, for the sake of making experiments with different kinds of air

“To spare the humbled, and to tame in war the proud.” - Virgil

 

OH! hear a pensive captive's prayer,
For liberty that sighs;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner's cries.

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at th' approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

If e'er thy breast with freedom glow'd,
And spurn'd a tyrant's chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

Oh! do not stain with guiltless blood
Thy hospitable hearth;
Nor triumph that thy wiles betray'd
A prize so little worth.

The scatter'd gleanings of a feast
My scanty meals supply;
But if thine unrelenting heart
That slender boon deny,

The cheerful light, the vital air,
Are blessings widely given;
Let nature's commoners enjoy
The common gifts of heaven.

The well-taught philosophic mind
To all compassion gives;
Casts round the world an equal eye,
And feels for all that lives.

If mind, as ancient sages taught,
A never dying flame,
Still shifts thro' matter's varying forms,
In every form the same,

Beware, lest in the worm you crush
A brother's soul you find;
And tremble lest thy luckless hand
Dislodge a kindred mind.

Or, if this transient gleam of day
Be all of life we share,
Let pity plead within thy breast,
That little all to spare.

So may thy hospitable board
With health and peace be crown'd;
And every charm of heartfelt ease
Beneath thy roof be found.

So when unseen destruction lurks,
Which men like mice may share,
May some kind angel clear thy path,
And break the hidden snare.

In context, the use of the bolded and underlined word "trembled" serves what purpose?

Possible Answers:

To illustrate the unease and sadness the speaker feels in captivity with a physical manifestation of that mental state

To illustrate the moral and religious confusion the speaker feels in a changing and dangerous world with a physical manifestation of that mental state

To illustrate the excitement the speaker feels at being released from his captivity with a physical manifestation of that mental state

To illustrate the speaker's fear of his captor's wrath

To illustrate the physically uncomfortable circumstances of the speaker's captivity

Correct answer:

To illustrate the unease and sadness the speaker feels in captivity with a physical manifestation of that mental state

Explanation:

In this context, the word "trembled" was chosen to illustrate the unease and sadness that captivity has engendered in the speaker with a physical manifestation of that mental state. The earlier reference to the speaker's sitting "forlorn and sad" in captivity ties directly with the statement that he "tremble[s] at th' approaching morn."

There is no indication given that the speaker is physically afraid of his captor (indeed, his petition is quite candid to this captor). The poem consists of the speaker petitioning for his release, so it stands to reason that this release has not yet been agreed to. The speaker does not seem morally or theologically confused, but is rather presenting a fairly cohesive moral viewpoint. While the speaker's physical circumstances in captivity are said to be uncomfortable, in this case the "trembl[ing] is attributed to mental states, rather than physical coldness or discomfort.

Example Question #1 : Word Choice And Connotation: Drama

Adapted from Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, III.i.1126-1185 (1623)

Enter Judges, Senators and Tribunes, with MARTIUS and QUINTUS, bound, passing on to the place of execution; TITUS going before, pleading

Titus Andronicus: Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay! 
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent 
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept; 
For all my blood in Rome's great quarrel shed; 
For all the frosty nights that I have watch'd;
And for these bitter tears, which now you see 
Filling the aged wrinkles in my cheeks; 
Be pitiful to my condemned sons, 
Whose souls are not corrupted as 'tis thought. 
For two and twenty sons I never wept, 
Because they died in honor's lofty bed. 
[Lieth down; the Judges, &c., pass by him, and Exeunt] 
For these, these, tribunes, in the dust I write 
My heart's deep languor and my soul's sad tears: 
Let my tears stanch the earth's dry appetite; 
My sons' sweet blood will make it shame and blush. 
O earth, I will befriend thee more with rain, 
That shall distill from these two ancient urns, 
Than youthful April shall with all his showers: 
In summer's drought I'll drop upon thee still; 
In winter with warm tears I'll melt the snow 
And keep eternal spring-time on thy face, 
So thou refuse to drink my dear sons' blood. 
[Enter LUCIUS, with his sword drawn] 
O reverend tribunes! O gentle, aged men! 
Unbind my sons, reverse the doom of death; 
And let me say, that never wept before, 
My tears are now prevailing orators.

Lucius: O noble father, you lament in vain: 
The tribunes hear you not; no man is by;
And you recount your sorrows to a stone.

Titus Andronicus: Ah, Lucius, for thy brothers let me plead. 
Grave tribunes, once more I entreat of you,—

Lucius: My gracious lord, no tribune hears you speak.

Titus Andronicus: Why, tis no matter, man; if they did hear,

They would not mark me, or if they did mark, 

They would not pity me, yet plead I must; 

And bootless unto them [—] 

Therefore I tell my sorrows to the stones; 

Who, though they cannot answer my distress, 

Yet in some sort they are better than the tribunes, 

For that they will not intercept my tale: 

When I do weep, they humbly at my feet 

Receive my tears and seem to weep with me; 

And, were they but attired in grave weeds,

Rome could afford no tribune like to these. 

A stone is soft as wax,—tribunes more hard than stones; 

A stone is silent, and offendeth not, 

And tribunes with their tongues doom men to death.
[Rises]
But wherefore stand'st thou with thy weapon drawn?

Lucius: To rescue my two brothers from their death: 
For which attempt the judges have pronounced 
My everlasting doom of banishment.

Titus Andronicus: O happy man! they have befriended thee.
Why, foolish Lucius, dost thou not perceive 
That Rome is but a wilderness of tigers? 
Tigers must prey, and Rome affords no prey 
But me and mine: how happy art thou, then, 
From these devourers to be banished!

In context, the choice of the word "befriended" near the end of the excerpt has what effect?

Possible Answers:

It signals a shift in Titus' tone from angry and bereft to joyous and relieved. 

It signals in shift in tone, as Titus goes from being mournful to angry when he realizes that Lucius is allying himself with the tribunes.

It creates irony by humorously jokingly implying that Lucius has allied himself with the tribunes when in fact he has been banished by them.

It creates irony by implying that by excluding him from their society the tribunes are, paradoxically, doing the most helpful thing they could for Lucius.

It creates irony by implying that by excluding Lucius from their society, the tribunes are saving him from near-certain death in battle, like Titus' other sons.

Correct answer:

It creates irony by implying that by excluding him from their society the tribunes are, paradoxically, doing the most helpful thing they could for Lucius.

Explanation:

In this context, the choice of "befriended" creates irony by implying that banishing Lucius from city is actually the friendliest thing the tribunes could do for him. Titus' characterization in the next lines of Rome as a "wilderness of tigers" whose only prey is his family carries forward this assertion.

The tribunes' act of banishing Lucius is not intended as a friendly act, and is, in fact, evidence that Lucius has taken up arms against them, not allied with them. Titus' tone remains angry and bereft, even as he ironically celebrates Lucius' banishment. There is no mention of an impending battle to defend Rome, like the ones Titus' previous twenty-two sons died in.

Example Question #12 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from The Merchant of Venice, IV.i.2199-2280, by William Shakespeare (1600)

 

PORTIA: It is so. Are there balance here to weigh

    The flesh?

  SHYLOCK: I have them ready.

  PORTIA: Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,

    To stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death.

  SHYLOCK: Is it so nominated in the bond?

  PORTIA: It is not so express'd, but what of that?

    'Twere good you do so much for charity.

  SHYLOCK: I cannot find it; 'tis not in the bond.

  PORTIA. You, merchant, have you anything to say?

  ANTONIO: But little: I am arm'd and well prepar'd.

    Give me your hand, Bassanio; fare you well.

    Grieve not that I am fall'n to this for you,

    For herein Fortune shows herself more kind

    Than is her custom. It is still her use

    To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,

    To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow

    An age of poverty; from which ling'ring penance

    Of such misery doth she cut me off.

    Commend me to your honorable wife;

    Tell her the process of Antonio's end;

    Say how I lov'd you; speak me fair in death;

    And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge

    Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

    Repent but you that you shall lose your friend,

    And he repents not that he pays your debt;

    For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,

    I'll pay it instantly with all my heart.

  BASSANIO: Antonio, I am married to a wife

    Which is as dear to me as life itself;

    But life itself, my wife, and all the world,

    Are not with me esteem'd above thy life;

    I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all

    Here to this devil, to deliver you.

  PORTIA: Your wife would give you little thanks for that,

    If she were by to hear you make the offer.

  GRATIANO: I have a wife who I protest I love;

    I would she were in heaven, so she could

    Entreat some power to change this currish Jew.

  NERISSA: 'Tis well you offer it behind her back;

    The wish would make else an unquiet house.

  SHYLOCK:  [Aside]  These be the Christian husbands! I have a

    daughter—

    Would any of the stock of Barrabas

    Had been her husband, rather than a Christian!—

    We trifle time; I pray thee pursue sentence.

  PORTIA: A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine.

    The court awards it and the law doth give it.

  SHYLOCK: Most rightful judge!

  PORTIA: And you must cut this flesh from off his breast.

    The law allows it and the court awards it.

  SHYLOCK: Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare.

  PORTIA: Tarry a little; there is something else.

    This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood:

    The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh.'

    Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;

    But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed

    One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods

    Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate

    Unto the state of Venice.

  GRATIANO: O upright judge! Mark, Jew. O learned judge!

  SHYLOCK: Is that the law?

  PORTIA: Thyself shalt see the act;

    For, as thou urgest justice, be assur'd

    Thou shalt have justice, more than thou desir'st.

  GRATIANO: O learned judge! Mark, Jew. A learned judge!

  SHYLOCK: I take this offer then: pay the bond thrice,

    And let the Christian go.

  BASSANIO: Here is the money.

  PORTIA: Soft!

    The Jew shall have all justice. Soft! No haste.

    He shall have nothing but the penalty.

  GRATIANO: O Jew! an upright judge, a learned judge!

  PORTIA: Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh.

    Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more

    But just a pound of flesh; if thou tak'st more

    Or less than a just pound—be it but so much

    As makes it light or heavy in the substance,

    Or the division of the twentieth part

    Of one poor scruple; nay, if the scale do turn

    But in the estimation of a hair—

    Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate.

What is the purpose of the underlined expression?

Possible Answers:

To show Antonio's contempt for Shylock and his love for Bassanio

To express the physiological outcome of the cutting of the flesh

Both to play on words as well as to show Antonio's affection for Bassanio

To make light on the situation

To express his affection for Portia as well as Bassanio

Correct answer:

Both to play on words as well as to show Antonio's affection for Bassanio

Explanation:

Antonio first says that he does not repent of the fact that he pays the debt. This means that he does so readily. He then continues in the underlined selection to say that he will pay "with all his heart" if the knife cuts too deep. This is partly a play on words (for it implies that the knife will strike the heart), but it also means to say that Antonio will do so with great love and full willingness.

Example Question #92 : Interpreting Words

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

In the fullness of time the interesting occasion arrived. At eight in the evening the schoolhouse was brilliantly lighted, and adorned with wreaths and festoons of foliage and flowers. The master sat throned in his great chair upon a raised platform, with his blackboard behind him. He was looking tolerably mellow. Three rows of benches on each side and six rows in front of him were occupied by the dignitaries of the town and by the parents of the pupils. To his left, back of the rows of citizens, was a spacious temporary platform upon which were seated the scholars who were to take part in the exercises of the evening; rows of small boys, washed and dressed to an intolerable state of discomfort; rows of gawky big boys; snowbanks of girls and young ladies clad in lawn and muslin and conspicuously conscious of their bare arms, their grandmothers' ancient trinkets, their bits of pink and blue ribbon and the flowers in their hair. All the rest of the house was filled with non-participating scholars.

The exercises began. A very little boy stood up and sheepishly recited, "You'd scarce expect one of my age to speak in public on the stage," etc.—accompanying himself with the painfully exact and spasmodic gestures that a machine might have used—supposing the machine to be a trifle out of order. But he got through safely, though cruelly scared, and got a fine round of applause when he made his manufactured bow and retired.

A little shamefaced girl lisped, "Mary had a little lamb," etc., performed a compassion-inspiring curtsy, got her meed of applause, and sat down flushed and happy.

Tom Sawyer stepped forward with conceited confidence and soared into the unquenchable and indestructible "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, with fine fury and frantic gesticulation, and broke down in the middle of it. A ghastly stage-fright seized him, his legs quaked under him and he was like to choke. True, he had the manifest sympathy of the house, but he had the house's silence, too, which was even worse than its sympathy. The master frowned, and this completed the disaster. Tom struggled a while and then retired, utterly defeated. There was a weak attempt at applause, but it died early.

"The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck" followed; also "The Assyrian Came Down," and other declamatory gems. Then there were reading exercises, and a spelling fight. The meager Latin class recited with honor. The prime feature of the evening was in order, now—original "compositions" by the young ladies. Each in her turn stepped forward to the edge of the platform, cleared her throat, held up her manuscript (tied with dainty ribbon), and proceeded to read, with labored attention to "expression" and punctuation. The themes were the same that had been illuminated upon similar occasions by their mothers before them, their grandmothers, and doubtless all their ancestors in the female line clear back to the Crusades. "Friendship" was one; "Memories of Other Days"; "Religion in History"; "Dream Land"; "The Advantages of Culture"; "Forms of Political Government Compared and Contrasted"; "Melancholy"; "Filial Love"; "Heart Longings," etc., etc.

A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of "fine language"; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out; and a peculiarity that conspicuously marked and marred them was the inveterate and intolerable sermon that wagged its crippled tail at the end of each and every one of them. No matter what the subject might be, a brainracking effort was made to squirm it into some aspect or other that the moral and religious mind could contemplate with edification. The glaring insincerity of these sermons was not sufficient to compass the banishment of the fashion from the schools, and it is not sufficient today; it never will be sufficient while the world stands, perhaps. There is no school in all our land where the young ladies do not feel obliged to close their compositions with a sermon; and you will find that the sermon of the most frivolous and the least religious girl in the school is always the longest and the most relentlessly pious. But enough of this. Homely truth is unpalatable. 

The author's characterization of the sitting girls and young ladies as "snowbanks" likely refers to __________.

Possible Answers:

their stillness and silence 

their large numbers

their frosty demeanor 

their clean and tidy appearance 

the color of their clothing

Correct answer:

the color of their clothing

Explanation:

The correct answer is "the color of their clothing." After characterizing the girls and young women as "snowbanks," the author goes on to describe the fabric of their clothing as "lawn and muslin," fabrics that are traditionally white in color. Thus the author is likely referencing the white color of their dresses.

Example Question #11 : Word Choice And Effect

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

In the fullness of time the interesting occasion arrived. At eight in the evening the schoolhouse was brilliantly lighted, and adorned with wreaths and festoons of foliage and flowers. The master sat throned in his great chair upon a raised platform, with his blackboard behind him. He was looking tolerably mellow. Three rows of benches on each side and six rows in front of him were occupied by the dignitaries of the town and by the parents of the pupils. To his left, back of the rows of citizens, was a spacious temporary platform upon which were seated the scholars who were to take part in the exercises of the evening; rows of small boys, washed and dressed to an intolerable state of discomfort; rows of gawky big boys; snowbanks of girls and young ladies clad in lawn and muslin and conspicuously conscious of their bare arms, their grandmothers' ancient trinkets, their bits of pink and blue ribbon and the flowers in their hair. All the rest of the house was filled with non-participating scholars.

The exercises began. A very little boy stood up and sheepishly recited, "You'd scarce expect one of my age to speak in public on the stage," etc.—accompanying himself with the painfully exact and spasmodic gestures that a machine might have used—supposing the machine to be a trifle out of order. But he got through safely, though cruelly scared, and got a fine round of applause when he made his manufactured bow and retired.

A little shamefaced girl lisped, "Mary had a little lamb," etc., performed a compassion-inspiring curtsy, got her meed of applause, and sat down flushed and happy.

Tom Sawyer stepped forward with conceited confidence and soared into the unquenchable and indestructible "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, with fine fury and frantic gesticulation, and broke down in the middle of it. A ghastly stage-fright seized him, his legs quaked under him and he was like to choke. True, he had the manifest sympathy of the house, but he had the house's silence, too, which was even worse than its sympathy. The master frowned, and this completed the disaster. Tom struggled a while and then retired, utterly defeated. There was a weak attempt at applause, but it died early.

"The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck" followed; also "The Assyrian Came Down," and other declamatory gems. Then there were reading exercises, and a spelling fight. The meager Latin class recited with honor. The prime feature of the evening was in order, now—original "compositions" by the young ladies. Each in her turn stepped forward to the edge of the platform, cleared her throat, held up her manuscript (tied with dainty ribbon), and proceeded to read, with labored attention to "expression" and punctuation. The themes were the same that had been illuminated upon similar occasions by their mothers before them, their grandmothers, and doubtless all their ancestors in the female line clear back to the Crusades. "Friendship" was one; "Memories of Other Days"; "Religion in History"; "Dream Land"; "The Advantages of Culture"; "Forms of Political Government Compared and Contrasted"; "Melancholy"; "Filial Love"; "Heart Longings," etc., etc.

A prevalent feature in these compositions was a nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful and opulent gush of "fine language"; another was a tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words and phrases until they were worn entirely out; and a peculiarity that conspicuously marked and marred them was the inveterate and intolerable sermon that wagged its crippled tail at the end of each and every one of them. No matter what the subject might be, a brainracking effort was made to squirm it into some aspect or other that the moral and religious mind could contemplate with edification. The glaring insincerity of these sermons was not sufficient to compass the banishment of the fashion from the schools, and it is not sufficient today; it never will be sufficient while the world stands, perhaps. There is no school in all our land where the young ladies do not feel obliged to close their compositions with a sermon; and you will find that the sermon of the most frivolous and the least religious girl in the school is always the longest and the most relentlessly pious. But enough of this. Homely truth is unpalatable. 

As used in the last paragraph of the passage, the underlined word "inveterate" most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

insincere

high-spirited or energetic

unappealing or repugnant

long established and unlikely to change

solemn and harshly moralistic speech

Correct answer:

long established and unlikely to change

Explanation:

The correct answer is "long established and unlikely to change." The author describes the sermons at the end of the students' compositions as "inveterate" to convey that adding a sermon to the end of a composition is a habitual practice of students at the school and one which is likely to continue into the future.

Example Question #13 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

I was so far in my reflections when, as I have said, a side-light began to shine upon the subject from the laboratory table. I began to perceive more deeply than it has ever yet been stated, the trembling immateriality, the mist-like transience of this seemingly so solid body in which we walk attired. Certain agents I found to have the power to shake and to pluck back that fleshly vestment, even as a wind might toss the curtains of a pavilion. For two good reasons, I will not enter deeply into this scientific branch of my confession. First, because I have been made to learn that the doom and burthen of our life is bound for ever on man's shoulders, and when the attempt is made to cast it off, it but returns upon us with more unfamiliar and more awful pressure. Second, because, as my narrative will make, alas! too evident, my discoveries were incomplete. Enough, then, that I not only recognised my natural body for the mere aura and effulgence of certain of the powers that made up my spirit, but managed to compound a drug by which these powers should be dethroned from their supremacy, and a second form and countenance substituted, none the less natural to me because they were the expression, and bore the stamp, of lower elements in my soul.

I hesitated long before I put this theory to the test of practice. I knew well that I risked death; for any drug that so potently controlled and shook the very fortress of identity, might by the least scruple of an overdose or at the least inopportunity in the moment of exhibition, utterly blot out that immaterial tabernacle which I looked to it to change. But the temptation of a discovery so singular and profound, at last overcame the suggestions of alarm. I had long since prepared my tincture; I purchased at once, from a firm of wholesale chemists, a large quantity of a particular salt which I knew, from my experiments, to be the last ingredient required; and late one accursed night, I compounded the elements, watched them boil and smoke together in the glass, and when the ebullition had subsided, with a strong glow of courage, drank off the potion.

The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death. Then these agonies began swiftly to subside, and I came to myself as if out of a great sickness. There was something strange in my sensations, something indescribably new and, from its very novelty, incredibly sweet. I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running like a mill-race in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. I stretched out my hands, exulting in the freshness of these sensations; and in the act, I was suddenly aware that I had lost in stature.

When the author writes of “the very fortress of identity,” he is referring to __________.

Possible Answers:

his immaterial mind

his immortal soul

his physical body

his scientific theory

his personality

Correct answer:

his physical body

Explanation:

The correct answer is “his physical body.” The author expresses his concern that any drug which has such a powerful effect on his physical form, or “fortress of identity,” might destroy his spirit or personality, which he describes as the “immaterial tabernacle.”

Example Question #11 : Word Choice And Effect

Adapted from Moby Dick; or, the Whale by Herman Melville (1851)

Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces—though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.

Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it—would they let me—since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.

By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.

In the context of the excerpt, the word “portentous” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

colossal or immense  

frightening 

ominous or foreboding  

easily angered 

dangerous

Correct answer:

ominous or foreboding  

Explanation:

The correct answer is “ominous or foreboding.” "Portentous" has several meanings, but in this context it most nearly means ominous, foreboding or premonitory. The author wishes to convey that the great whale is ill-omened.

Example Question #101 : Interpreting Words And Excerpts

Adapted from The Merchant of Venice, IV.i.2199-2280, by William Shakespeare (1600)

 

PORTIA: It is so. Are there balance here to weigh

    The flesh?

  SHYLOCK: I have them ready.

  PORTIA: Have by some surgeon, Shylock, on your charge,

    To stop his wounds, lest he do bleed to death.

  SHYLOCK: Is it so nominated in the bond?

  PORTIA: It is not so express'd, but what of that?

    'Twere good you do so much for charity.

  SHYLOCK: I cannot find it; 'tis not in the bond.

  PORTIA. You, merchant, have you anything to say?

  ANTONIO: But little: I am arm'd and well prepar'd.

    Give me your hand, Bassanio; fare you well.

    Grieve not that I am fall'n to this for you,

    For herein Fortune shows herself more kind

    Than is her custom. It is still her use

    To let the wretched man outlive his wealth,

    To view with hollow eye and wrinkled brow

    An age of poverty; from which ling'ring penance

    Of such misery doth she cut me off.

    Commend me to your honorable wife;

    Tell her the process of Antonio's end;

    Say how I lov'd you; speak me fair in death;

    And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge

    Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

    Repent but you that you shall lose your friend,

    And he repents not that he pays your debt;

    For if the Jew do cut but deep enough,

    I'll pay it instantly with all my heart.

  BASSANIO: Antonio, I am married to a wife

    Which is as dear to me as life itself;

    But life itself, my wife, and all the world,

    Are not with me esteem'd above thy life;

    I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all

    Here to this devil, to deliver you.

  PORTIA: Your wife would give you little thanks for that,

    If she were by to hear you make the offer.

  GRATIANO: I have a wife who I protest I love;

    I would she were in heaven, so she could

    Entreat some power to change this currish Jew.

  NERISSA: 'Tis well you offer it behind her back;

    The wish would make else an unquiet house.

  SHYLOCK:  [Aside]  These be the Christian husbands! I have a

    daughter—

    Would any of the stock of Barrabas

    Had been her husband, rather than a Christian!—

    We trifle time; I pray thee pursue sentence.

  PORTIA: A pound of that same merchant's flesh is thine.

    The court awards it and the law doth give it.

  SHYLOCK: Most rightful judge!

  PORTIA: And you must cut this flesh from off his breast.

    The law allows it and the court awards it.

  SHYLOCK: Most learned judge! A sentence! Come, prepare.

  PORTIA: Tarry a little; there is something else.

    This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood:

    The words expressly are 'a pound of flesh.'

    Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;

    But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed

    One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods

    Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate

    Unto the state of Venice.

  GRATIANO: O upright judge! Mark, Jew. O learned judge!

  SHYLOCK: Is that the law?

  PORTIA: Thyself shalt see the act;

    For, as thou urgest justice, be assur'd

    Thou shalt have justice, more than thou desir'st.

  GRATIANO: O learned judge! Mark, Jew. A learned judge!

  SHYLOCK: I take this offer then: pay the bond thrice,

    And let the Christian go.

  BASSANIO: Here is the money.

  PORTIA: Soft!

    The Jew shall have all justice. Soft! No haste.

    He shall have nothing but the penalty.

  GRATIANO: O Jew! an upright judge, a learned judge!

  PORTIA: Therefore, prepare thee to cut off the flesh.

    Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more

    But just a pound of flesh; if thou tak'st more

    Or less than a just pound—be it but so much

    As makes it light or heavy in the substance,

    Or the division of the twentieth part

    Of one poor scruple; nay, if the scale do turn

    But in the estimation of a hair—

    Thou diest, and all thy goods are confiscate.

Which of the following best describes the effect of Gratiano's use of the word "cur" in his underlined description of Shylock, the Jewish person in question?

Possible Answers:

It is a comment of restrained respect.

It expresses his frustration.

It expresses extreme anger.

It is a legal term.

It is demeaning and insulting.

Correct answer:

It is demeaning and insulting.

Explanation:

A "cur" is a kind of dog that is very aggressive, but when the word is used of a human being, it is extremely insulting, expressing that the person is utterly contemptible. This is an extremely insulting and demeaning thing to be said, and it is intended to be so by the character. Sadly, Shakespeare's characters here show the biases of his own era, which was, in general, extremely anti-Semitic.

Example Question #1 : Words And Phrases In Context

Adapted from Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (1790)

In the famous statute called the Declaration of Right, the two houses utter not a syllable of “a right to frame a government for themselves.” You will see that their whole care was to secure the religion, laws, and liberties that had been long possessed and had been lately endangered. They state “in the first place” to do “as their ancestors in like cases have usually done for vindicating their ancient rights and liberties, to declare;”—and then they pray the king and queen, “that it may be declared and enacted, that all and singular the rights and liberties asserted and declared are the true ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom.”

You will observe that from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim and assert our liberties as an entailed inheritance derived to us from our forefathers and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any reference whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this means, our constitution preserves a unity in so great a diversity of its parts. We have an inheritable crown; an inheritable peerage; and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, franchises, and liberties from a long line of ancestors.

This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection, or rather the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection and above it. A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors. Besides, the people of England well know, that the idea of inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation, and a sure principle of transmission; without at all excluding a principle of improvement. It leaves acquisition free; but it secures what it acquires. Whatever advantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these maxims are locked fast as in a sort of family settlement, grasped as in a kind of mortmain forever. By a constitutional policy working after the pattern of nature, we receive, we hold, we transmit our government and our privileges in the same manner in which we enjoy and transmit our property and our lives. The institutions of policy, the goods of fortune, the gifts of providence, are handed down to us and from us in the same course and order. Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein the whole, at one time, is never old, or middle-aged, or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve, we are never wholly new; in what we retain, we are never wholly obsolete. By adhering in this manner and on those principles to our forefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance, we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood; binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections; keeping inseparable, and cherishing with the warmth of all their combined and mutually reflected charities, our state, our hearths, our sepulchers, and our altars.

Through the same plan of a conformity to nature in our artificial institutions and by calling in the aid of her unerring and powerful instincts to fortify the fallible and feeble contrivances of our reason, we have derived several other, and those no small benefits, from considering our liberties in the light of an inheritance. Always acting as if in the presence of canonized forefathers, the spirit of freedom, leading in itself to misrule and excess, is tempered with an awful gravity. This idea of a liberal descent inspires us with a sense of habitual, native dignity. By this means our liberty becomes a noble freedom. It carries an imposing and majestic aspect. It has a pedigree and illustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns armorial. It has its gallery of portraits; its monumental inscriptions; its records, evidences, and titles. All your sophisters cannot produce anything better adapted to preserve a rational freedom than the course that we have pursued, who have chosen our nature rather than our speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions, for the great conservatories and magazines of our rights and privileges.

In context, the bolded and underlined word "derived" in the second paragraph is best understood to mean which of the following?

Possible Answers:

Forfeited

Passed on

Understood from

Taken out of

Collected

Correct answer:

Passed on

Explanation:

In this context, the word "derived" most closely means passed on. In context: "an entailed inheritance passed on to us from our forefathers." The use of "to" in the sentence makes "passed on" the best choice grammatically as well as contextually.

"Understood from," "taken out of," and "collected" can, in some contexts, be used synonymously with "derived," but none makes as much sense grammatically or in relation to the content of the passage as "passed on" does in this context.

"Forfeited" is an antonym of "derived."

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