SAT II Literature : Context-Based Meaning of a Word: Prose

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT II Literature

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Example Questions

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Example Question #41 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

Passage adapted from Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

I thought I must be dreaming, for the three women threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me, and looked at me for some time, and then whispered together. I seemed somehow to know their faces, and to know it [sic] in connection with some dreamy fear. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they should kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down; lest some day it should meet my wife's eyes and cause her pain, but it is the truth [. . . ]. I lay in the bed with an agony of delightful anticipation. One advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood. It was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal.

In this passage, the word "voluptuous" most nearly means _________________.

Possible Answers:

bright

delightful

frightening

delightful

sensual

Correct answer:

sensual

Explanation:

The narrator has clearly been seduced by these women. The passage is full of imagery that appeals to the senses: "honey-sweet" breath, burning desire, licked lips, etc. Thus, "sensual" is an appropriate substitution for "voluptuous". 

Example Question #72 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word

Passage adapted from Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.


But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit.
The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!

In the final sentence of this passage, the word "veritable" most closely means __________________.

Possible Answers:

precarious

figurative

impenetrable

true

terrifying

Correct answer:

true

Explanation:

The narrator describes all the ways in which the castle is a prison - full of locked doors, and without an exit. Thus, he is literally a prisoner, unable to leave. The castle may also be terrifying and impenetrable, but in this moment the narrator is stating only that from his own perspective, it is a prison.

Example Question #42 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

Passage adapted from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

'If you will thank me,' he replied, 'let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.'

Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, 'you are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.'

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.

 

In the context of the bolded sentence above, which of the following most closely replicate the meaning of the word "material"?

Possible Answers:

Rapid

Slow

Dramatic

Physical

Soft

Correct answer:

Dramatic

Explanation:

The passage opens with Darcy repeating his affection for Elizabeth, and his proposal of marriage, after some time has passed since his first attempt. The gist of Elizabeth's reply is that she has changed her mind, and would, after all, like to marry him. Thus, her sentiments have dramatically changed.

Example Question #43 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

Passage adapted from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

'If you will thank me,' he replied, 'let it be for yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your family owe me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of you.'

Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, 'you are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.'

Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak; and immediately, though not very fluently, gave him to understand that her sentiments had undergone so material a change since the period to which he alluded, as to make her receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances. The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.

In this passage, the word "diffused" most nearly means __________________.

Possible Answers:

visible

spread

invisible

expanded

poured

Correct answer:

spread

Explanation:

Darcy's expression is a happy glow. It has spread all over his face, and totally changed his appearance. Though it is a visible quality, this option does not make grammatical sense in the sentence, and does not replicate the meaning of "diffused". Poured indicates a reference to liquid that is not present in the text. Thus, the best answer here is "spread."

Example Question #44 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

Passage adapted from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) 

"Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies, and so are signs ; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key. I never laughed at presentiments in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own. Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant, long-absent, wholly estranged relatives ; asserting, notwithstanding, their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin), whose workings baffle mortal comprehension. And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of nature with man."

In this context "presentiments" most nearly means _________________.

Possible Answers:

knowledge of the past 

a criticism 

a new idea

an abstract thought

a hunch

Correct answer:

a hunch

Explanation:

The answer is a hunch. The word "presentiment" implies an intuitive feeling about the future that the word "hunch" acts as a strong synonym for. While it is important to know the meaning of this word, the answer can be inferred from the text or etymologically broken down. Pre- and sentiment implies an idea or thought that occurred before something else, and thus a hunch would be the only fit for that category. 

Example Question #45 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

Passage adapted from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813)

"Elizabeth listened in silence, but was not convinced ; their behavior at the assembly had not been calculated to please in general ; and with more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister, and with a judgement too unassailed by any attention to herself, she was very little disposed to approve them. They were in fact very fine ladies ; not deficient in good humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it ; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank ; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England ; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade."

The word "unassailed" in this context most nearly means _______________.

Possible Answers:

ridculed

assaulted

unbeset

criticized

unkempt

Correct answer:

unbeset

Explanation:

The answer is "unbeset." The word comes from the phrase "and a judgement too unassailed by any attention to herself" suggesting that her judgment is in some way flawed, specifically because it has been allowed free reign by not having to call attention to its own characteristics. "Unbeset" works in this case because beset and assailed are strong synonyms and thus their negations are as well.

Example Question #46 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

Passage adapted from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847) 

"Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies, and so are signs ; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key. I never laughed at presentiments in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own. Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant, long-absent, wholly estranged relatives ; asserting, notwithstanding, their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin), whose workings baffle mortal comprehension. And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of nature with man."

In this context the word "sympathies" most nearly means ________________.

Possible Answers:

feelings of deep concern

feelings of anger

feelings of compassion

feelings of sadness

feelings of inexplicable affinity

Correct answer:

feelings of inexplicable affinity

Explanation:

The answer is "feelings of inexplicable affinity." One may be moved to respond with feelings of deep concern or feelings of compassion, but those are connotations of the word with which we use it today. Always remember that these passages usually come from authors who lived centuries ago, and be wary of different word usage. The definition can also be inferred from the text. The author compares sympathies to "the unity of the source to which each traces his origin" implying feelings of affinity, and ends the statement arguing that sympathies "baffle mortal comprehension" rendering them inexplicable. 

Example Question #47 : Context Based Meaning Of A Word: Prose

All that day the heat was terrible. The wind blew close to the ground; it rooted among the tussock grass, slithered along the road, so that the white pumice dust swirled in our faces, settled and sifted over us and was like a dry-skin itching for growth on our bodies. The  horses stumbled along, coughing and chuffing. The pack horse was sick -- with a big open sore rubbed under the belly. Now and again she stopped short, threw back her head, looked at us as though she were going to cry, and whinnied. Hundreds of larks shrilled; the sky was slate colour, and the sound of the larks reminded me of slate pencils scraping over its surface. There was nothing to be seen but wave after wave of tussock grass, patched with purple orchids and manuka bushes covered with thick spider webs. 

 

Jo rode ahead. He wore a blue galatea shirt, corduroy trousers and riding boots. A white handkerchief, spotted with red -- it looked as though his nose had been bleeding on it -- was knotted round his throat.Wisps of white hair straggled from under his wideawake -- his moustache and eyebrows were called white -- he slouched in the saddle, grunting. Not once that day had he sung "I don't care, for don't you see, My wife' mother was in front  of me!... ” It was the first day we had been without it for a month, and now there seemed something uncanny in his silence. Hin rode beside me, white as a clown; his black eyes glittered, and he kept shooting out his tongue and moistening his lips. He was dressed in a Jaeger vest, and a pair of blue duck trousers, fastened round the waist with a plaited leather belt. We had hardly spoken since dawn. At noon we had lunched off fly biscuits and apricots by the side of a swampy creek.  

(1912)

Based on context clues, a "wideawake" is a type of ___________________.

Possible Answers:

Riding boot

Hairstyle

Jacket

Hat

Bandana

Correct answer:

Hat

Explanation:

The context this word appears in: "wisps of white hair straggled from under his wideawake," tells us that it is something that contains hair. The only logical choice from the provided options is a "hat." A "bandana" can also be worn on the head, but we know from the passage that this character is wearing a bandana (not called a wideawake) tied around his neck. 

Passage adapted from Katherine Mansfield's "The Woman at the Store" (1912)

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