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Such a lovely idea

'Such a lovely idea' tests you on the subtleties of English vocabulary.

If you're working at this quite advanced level, you should be well aware of some of the subtleties of English, recognising them and using them yourself wherever a suitable situation arises. This Quiz offers you a range of practice in spotting and distinguishing such subtleties.

  1. Which of these is the strongest, most striking way of completing the sentence?
    'The designs for the new Community Centre have been hailed as ... '
    This sounds much more like an unusual building compared with the others, which (within limits) are probably fairly conventional.
  2. Which phrase completes this sentence most strongly and suitably?
    'The council's committee rejected the planning proposals since they felt the buildings would have been .... ... out-of-scale with their surroundings.'
    Answer 2 is almost certainly best here.
    Answer 1 suggests laughter: the style of the building might well have been in almost comic contrast to others already there, but this by nature doesn't seem a suitably serious form of criticism.
    Answer 3 fails because 'quite' is (unfortunately, and unhelpfully) ambiguous: do we mean 'rather/somewhat out of keeping', or 'completely'?
    Answer 4 is good because 'utterly', by original definition, suggests that nothing else could be any less compatible. But it lacks the emotive impact of 'monstrous', which suggests not only the huge size but also an aesthetic ugliness, or at best a lack of sensitivity (i.e. the plan, if built, would result in a vast ugly structure that would spoil the whole look and proportion of the area).
  3. Which is the most cogent and forceful adverb to improve this sentence?
    'The villagers found the proposals ... ... disturbing.'
    Answer 3 is much less mild than the others. The British have somehow acquired a reputation for being people who don't like to complain, but in the situation of Answer 3 it sounds as though the villagers would have specific objections which they might bother to raise. In the other cases the feeling is not strong or focused enough. The villagers might perhaps express their dismay ~ at least, to start with ~ in terms of being 'a little / slightly / somewhat / (etc) disturbed', but what they'd actually mean would be that it really did quite bother them. Meanwhile 'distinctly' is definitely the clearest option!
  4. Which of these adjectives provides the strongest conclusion to this sentence?
    'The news of this discovery was ... '
    Whatever the news or discovery were, clearly the actual 'content' came as a surprise; but 'astounding' is the strongest of these four terms.
  5. Which of these provides the most powerful ending to the sentence?
    'If you really put your foot down in this car, the engine will ... '
    Most, if not all, of these verbs are 'wild-animal metaphors'. Snarling and growling both suggest that the animal's mouth is partly closed, or at least certainly not wide open, giving a sense that not all the power is yet on display. The 'roar' in Answer 4 is a total and unhesitating noise!
    A 'purr' meanwhile may be a very good sign of power waiting to be unleashed; but if that's all the motor can manage at full throttle, this is either an underpowered car or it has an immensely sophisticated silencing system!
  6. A friend of yours has recently lent you a DVD, which you are now about to return with thanks. As it happens, you did not find it very interesting. Which of these is the WEAKEST way you could recommend it ~ i.e. you don't want to sound negative, but you can't honestly say anything very positive?
    'Thank you for lending me this DVD; it was ...
    The outer two Answers (1 & 4) are too strongly positive in these circumstances, and No.3 doesn't really work ('fairly' rather undermines the excitement, and 'gives the game away'.) So Answer 2 is probably safest.
  7. Your friend (from question 6, above ~ if they still are your friend, after your 'coolness' about a DVD that they'd personally recommended!), is hoping for a more specific and positive reaction from you :
    'What did you make of the acting?' they ask.
    This time you try to say something as positive, specific and effective as you can (even if you don't actually believe it!):
    'I thought the leading couple were ... '
    Most of the other Answers are really only about how genuine these people looked onscreen (e.g. in terms of their behaviour, 'period' faces/makeup/hair/costumes etc.); but 'convincing' suggests that we have identified with the deeper motives and actions as characters (e.g. that we felt a surprising sympathy for someone who at first glance might have seemed unlikeable, such as a drunk and/or murderer ... a 'beauty that lay deeper than the skin' in this essentially visual medium).
  8. Here's another example where a British speaker would be likely to understate how strongly s/he felt, in order to avoid offending anyone.
    You happen to have struck up a relationship with a third person ~ about whom the person you are speaking to right now has doubts, on the basis of previous experience. You want an honest opinion, but Person 2 is trying to warn you off Person 3 without being rude. Person 2 offers the softest possible of these 4 comments (and therefore, probably, the least helpful to you!); which one?
    'I wouldn't recommend you to spend too much time with him. From what I gather, people find him ...
    Answer 1 is just about the mildest way of trying to put across the idea that someone has (perhaps) mental problems and/or character flaws. The others are all more 'pointed'.
  9. Which is the strongest conclusion to this sentence?
    'She would have hesitated to say so in the company of her new friends, but privately and unmistakeably she had found the taste and smell of the unfamiliar food they had offered her ...
    These are all quite good strong words, but 'nauseating' carries a clearer and more powerful medical sense of the physical symptoms that the food provokes, i.e. nausea (a feeling of faintness, coupled with a rapidly increasing likelihood of actually being sick).
  10. Which is the least awkward, and therefore most convincing, conclusion to this sentence?
    'In the early days of the Channel Tunnel proposals, many politicians and members of the public were ...
    The top three Answers are each weakened by (presumably unintended) puns:
    'Deeply doubtful' (Answer 1) suggests that some people were scared at the thought of underground engineering, perhaps because they were claustrophobic.
    'Wholly' (in Answer 2) sounds like a pun on 'whole' (i.e. they felt there was no need for anyone to go digging a hole).
    'Bored' (Answer 3) suggests the other meaning of the verb, to do with the boring of holes.
    None of these is seriously helpful, even if it may have been true; which leaves Answer 4 as the best, even if less punchily expressed.

Author: Ian Miles

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