GMAT Verbal : Understanding Style, Argument, and Organization in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GMAT Verbal

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Style, Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke (1790) (Project Gutenberg Edition)

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom! little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!

The tone of this passage can best be described as __________.

Possible Answers:

angry

zealous

loving

laconic

somber

Correct answer:

zealous

Explanation:

Somber and laconic can be eliminated right away—there are too many exclamation points for the work to be melancholy and laid back in the way those words suggest. Angry and loving are both more correct, but they are subordinate to the much larger passion and enthusiasm which "zealous" denotes. 

Example Question #1 : Character And Subject Relationships

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

Which of the following adjectives best matches the author’s opinion of “intellectual interest,” underlined in the passage's third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Amazing

Preposterous

Regal

Important

Cultural

Correct answer:

Regal

Explanation:

Directly after this, Emerson says that we should "enthrone" and "obey" such intellectual interest. Such language evokes the idea of a king or queen, so it is appropriate to say that such imagery is "regal," which means pertaining to the matters of a monarch.

Example Question #1 : Interpreting Literary Devices

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

How is the underlined expression “poetic echo” used as an image in the passage?

Possible Answers:

It captures the sound of canon fire while applying it to the emotions aroused by it and other such actions of wartime.

It gives an evocative example of the loud sounds made by canon fire.

It reminds the reader of the importance of poetry in contrast to militarism.

It sets the stage for the argument the author will make against militarism.

It entices the reader and listener to go on to further considerations of the matter.

Correct answer:

It captures the sound of canon fire while applying it to the emotions aroused by it and other such actions of wartime.

Explanation:

The expression "poetic echo" clearly is meant to evoke the sound of canons echoing. It is said to be "poetic" because such canon fire seems to be something very positive to many people during Emerson's day. It is implied that it has a certain charm or beauty—that is, a certain kind of poetry.

Example Question #31 : Gmat Verbal

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

What can be inferred from the passage about the author's opinion of the hobo lifestyle?

Possible Answers:

The author views hobos as dangers to society.

The author believes hobos should never be allowed on trains.

The author thinks that hobos have no place in a modern society.

The author wishes that hobos would quit traveling on trains.

The author views it as a romantic lifestyle.

Correct answer:

The author views it as a romantic lifestyle.

Explanation:

The author describes the hobo lifestyle as something fun and interesting, proudly noting a hobo can ride any train that he or she would like. The final statement also shows great sympathy for hobos, where newspapers did not. All in all, the author's perspective is positive towards hobos, without necessarily desiring to follow the same lifestyle, which is a romantic perspective.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Style, Tone, Audience, And Point Of View In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

If the author included the perspective of the train crew, what effect would that have on the overall perspective of the passage?

Possible Answers:

It would create confusion over the actual circumstances of a hobo's death.

It would make train crews much less sympathetic to the reader.

It would portray the train crew as malicious and vindictive.

It would make the local newspapers look more untrustworthy.

It would portray the hobos in a less favorable light.

Correct answer:

It would portray the hobos in a less favorable light.

Explanation:

The author is fully on the side of the hobos, both because he was one and because he knows their stories better. The perspective of the train crew is in opposition to the author's statements about the unfortunate hobo who got caught underneath. Presumably a train crew would describe the hobo's actions in a much less favorable manner than the author does.

Example Question #1 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

The author's tone in this passage is best described as __________.

Possible Answers:

Sardonic

Detatched

Bemused

Didactic

Fanciful

Correct answer:

Sardonic

Explanation:

The author uses sarcasm and has a condescending attitute towards his supposed skeptical interlocutor, even suggesting that they cause themselves harm. His tone is sarcastic, scornful, and sardonic.

Example Question #31 : Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Which of the following is likely true about “Romantic speculation”?

Possible Answers:

It was emotional and had mostly to do with themes taken from love ballads.

None of the other answers

It represented a reaction against the scientific details of evolutionary thought.

It was surprisingly correct about scientific details.

It really was not scientific in nature.

Correct answer:

It really was not scientific in nature.

Explanation:

This answer is quite clear if you pay attention to two sentences: (1) "It even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution"; (2) "But then the word 'evolution' was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense." The idea is that this "Romantic" philosophy was more of a revelry than a real undertaking of science.

Example Question #1 : Author, Tone, And Intent

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

According to the passage, if the claims of science and literature are not to be taken seriously, what would be the best description of the actions that should be taken?

Possible Answers:

The students should begin to work at practical things while undertaking their studies.

The money left to the university by the founders should be given to the poor.

The books of the university should be burned and the ashes used for gardening soil.

The university should be closed and its resources used for more practical matters.

The blunders of the past should be enthroned as great accomplishments.

Correct answer:

The university should be closed and its resources used for more practical matters.

Explanation:

The key sentence is, "resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population." Do not infer more from this sentence than what is supported by it. It does not say anything about giving out the money to the poor (though the things done after closing the university would be useful, it seems). Likewise, it might be the case that the students would work in the new industries created, but that is not what the advice is about either. Instead, the general plan outlined is this: close the school (resign its charter), use its lands and/or property for barracks and warehouses, and use the money to fund convenient enterprises.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Sequence, Organization, And Structure In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

The author ends the passage by noting the newspaper says the man feel asleep in order to __________.

Possible Answers:

mock the hobo who gets "caught" under a train

show sympathy with the train crew that finds a man under the train

show how little people care about tramps

indicate the dangers of sleeping on train tracks

convince the reader that trains are an incredibly dangerous form of transportation

Correct answer:

show how little people care about tramps

Explanation:

The author describes one of the more persistent troubles hobos can find themselves in when they try to ride trains surreptitiously. The author's sentiments are clearly on the side of the man who got caught underneath, rather than the train crew that harmed him. The mention of the newspaper's report of a man falling asleep is done to show that people rarely respect hobos.

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