Thursday, May 13, 2010

SAT Question

I did pretty well on the verbal section of the SAT, at least for someone who chose to pursue engineering. But this question kicked my ass:

Part of the following sentence is underlined; beneath the sentence are five ways of phrasing the underlined material. Select the option that produces the best sentence. If you think the original phrasing produces a better sentence than any of the alternatives, select choice A.

"The gong, believed to have originated in Western Asia, reached China in the sixth century, where it continues to be used for a wide range of purposes, including as a military signal, a rhythmic accompaniment for vocal performance, and a ritual instrument."

  • A. including as

  • B. which include

  • C. which includes

  • D. including

  • E. they include as

Here is the answer:

Choice (A) is correct. It avoids the errors of the other options by correctly using the preposition “as” to introduce the “wide range of purposes” for which the gong is used.

Only 21% of online respondents answered the question correctly, i.e. about the rate of random guessing.

The alternative to the underlined phase that immediately sprang to mind was "such as", meaning "for example". However, such a use is considered idiomatic, and is in any case not among the options.

Among the listed answers, (E) is obviously wrong, given the punctuation.

(C) is wrong because since "purposes" is plural, it requires the plural noun "include", not the singular "includes".

But that said, why is (B) wrong: ". . . used for a wide range of purposes, which include a military signal, . . . ."? Can't a "military signal" be a "purpose"?

For that matter, why is (D) wrong?

Frankly, (A) would have been my third choice. I suppose if we were to drop the "include", we would say, "purpose as a military signal". But the construction still feels uncomfortable.

Thoughts?

4 comments:

Erik said...

Before reading the whole post, I chose B.

But...to me, B and D both would need to have the "as", so "which include as a military signal" sounds more correct to me. Don't know why...maybe it falls back to the "to be used" phrase, that there is some implicit "to be used AS..." in the list items.

Re: which include a military signal...this sounds wrong with the "a". I would have re-written it to be "which include military signaling, rhythmic accompaniment for vocal performance..." etc. Same thing for (D)..."purposes, including military signaling, rhythmic accompaniment..." sounds more correct to me.

I wonder if the little sub phrases are complicating the construction...if it would be easier to recognize the "right way" if the sentence was more simple...?

"The gong continues to be used for a wide range of purposes, including as a military signal, a rhythmic accompaniment for vocal performance, and a ritual instrument." Sounds right to me.

(That sentence, the one on the SAT, the way it is written, sounds, like, totally, to me, a run-on sentence, with all those commas.)

Φ said...

I would have re-written it to be "which include military signaling, rhythmic accompaniment for vocal performance..." etc. Same thing for (D)..."purposes, including military signaling, rhythmic accompaniment..." sounds more correct to me.

Exactly. Now it is obvious that the phrase is subordinate to "purposes" rather than "used".

It seems that the sentence wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, by using the word "include" or "including", we are implying that the larger group in which the list is included -- and thus what the phrase is subordinate to -- is "a wide variety of purposes". But by using the word "as", we move the subordination to the word "used".

Sheila has a wordsmithing background. Hopefully she will drop by . . . .

Sheila Tone said...

Phi, I would have gotten it wrong, because I would have thought "a wide range (singular) ... which includes (singular)" was correct. And I didn't see why "d," with plain old "including" was wrong either.

Both C and D seem to be wrong because of lack of "...as." So if "C" had said "which includes as," it should be correct.

I guess we're supposed to read it like so: "where it continues to be used ..... as (list)." We wouldn't say "it continues to be used ... (list)."

So it's the "it continues to be used ..." part, rather than "wide range of purposes" that we need to match up with the next clause. We made the common mistake of focusing on the last part of the clause rather than the first.

But a reporter would never write a sentence with that many clauses anyway. :)

ironrailsironweights said...

I'd have chosen B.

Peter