Sentence Completions: Contrast vs. Continuation

Sentence Completions: Contrast vs. Continuation

As you may have figured out, sentence completions do not only test you on vocabulary. While knowledge of vocabulary is necessary for these questions, logical reasoning is just as important. You must be able to recognize the logical direction of a sentence. In the end, then, words like “despite,” “because,” and “surprisingly” become as important as words like “despotic,” “benumbed,” and “surreptitiously.”

Trigger words, as you know, are those words that tell us what logical direction a sentence is going. Will one clause support another? Will it contrast another? Will it provide the effect of a cause? Contrast, continuation, and cause and effect are three common types of logic that sentence completions can exhibit.


Continuation / Support

Certain trigger words or phrases indicate that a blank supports or continues an idea in the sentence.

Here are some words that will often signal continuation or support: additionally, also, and, furthermore, indeed, likewise, too. Also, the semicolon and the colon can function in the same way.

Example 1:

Some people believe that there is no such thing as true ——-: every action, they say, is motivated by some degree of self-interest.

A.    Greed

B.     Benevolence

C.     Perspicacity

D.    Avidity

E.     Sentience

In this example, the colon functions as a trigger word signaling continuation or support. Essentially, the clause following the colon defines the blank. In this example, the clause following the colon defines the blank negatively. If there is “no such thing” as ______, and, as a result, every action is “motivated by a degree of self-interest,” then our prediction must be the opposite of self-interest. Indeed, the answer is “benevolence.”

Example 2:

No other artist rewards the viewer with more sheer pleasure than Van Gogh; he is one of those blessed artists who combine profundity and _________.

A.    Education

B.     Wisdom

C.     Faith

D.    Fun

E.     Depth

Here, we have a more straightforward example of how punctuation can trigger the continuation of an idea. We have two independent clauses separated by a semicolon. Remember that a semicolon often triggers a continuation. The first clause, put simply, says that Van Gogh produces pleasures for the viewer. Thus, he must be ‘one of those blessed artists who combine profundity with pleasure.” It would be a safe bet to make ‘pleasure’ your prediction word. Look for the word that is closest to ‘pleasure” in meaning. ‘Fun’ happens to be our best choice even if you think the word’s simplicity is incongruous with the academic content of the sentence.



Certain trigger words also can indicate a contrast with an idea in the sentence. Trigger words signaling contrast can be explicit or implicit. Some explicit examples include although, but, despite, even though, in contrast, nevertheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand, rather than, still, while, yet. Some implicit examples, which are often harder to detect, include “ironically, paradoxically, surprisingly, illogically, unexpectedly.

First, let’s look at an example without the answer choices just so you can get a sense of how the triggers are used.

Example 1:

Even though the teacher continued to ——– her underachieving student, her initial anger had been —— by his sincere promise to apply himself in the future.

In this example, we have an explicit contrast phrase, “even though.” Consequently, we know that the teacher’s initial anger that characterizes the first blank must be diminished by his sincere promise to apply himself. We have two contrasting ideas: harsh, angry criticism and then a mollified attitude.  Thus, we might look for a harsh verb–one that means criticize or reprimand–for the first blank and a verb like ‘eased’ or ‘lessened’ for the second blank. The answer to this sentence is “berate…abated,” which satisfies our contrast.

Example 2:

Paradoxically, the more ________ the details this artist chooses, the better able she is to depict her fantastic, other-worldly landscapes.

A. Ethereal

B. Realistic

C. Fanciful

D. Extravagant

E. Sublime

Here, you should recognize the word ‘paradoxically’ as an implicit contrast trigger word. The word suggests that the situation being described has an unexpected outcome, one that contrary to our logical expectations. In the sentence, we might expect the artist to better depict her fantastic, other-world landscapes by using equally fantastic details. Without our contrast trigger word, we might choose ‘fanciful’ or perhaps ‘ethereal’ as a logical answer. The word ‘paradoxically,’ however, means that we should choose a word that contrasts our expectations; thus, the best choice should be ‘realistic,’ the best antonym of ‘fanciful.’


Cause and Effect

Cause and effect signal words are a bit like continuation/support words, but there is an important distinction. A cause and its effect are rarely synonymous in meaning, nor are they directly opposite in meaning. Make sure you keep this in mind when you encounter these cause and effect trigger words:  because, consequently, given, hence, if…then, in order to, therefore, thus.

Here’s a simple example.

Because John failed the test that he had been rigorously studying for, he felt ______.

Even with this oversimplified example, we can distinguish a cause and effect question from a contrast or continuation question. We cannot readily identify a word in the sentence that is either synonymous or antonymous with our blank. We have to use cause and effect reasoning to figure out a prediction. If John failed a test he had been studying for, he would probably feel very disappointed.

For practice, why don’t we change “because” to a contrast word, and see how that might change our prediction.

Although John failed the test that he had been rigorously studying for, he felt ______.

With just a change from ‘because’ to ‘although,’ we must radically change our approach to the problem. Now, an appropriate prediction might be “fine,” “happy,” “undeterred,” “undiscouraged.”

Remember, we cannot simply gloss over the trigger words in sentence completions. Whenever you practice, mentally take note of the trigger words in a sentence. It will help you avoid simple mistakes that may cost you big points on the exam.