Sentence Completions: Contrast

All good writers use transitions to link their ideas in a sentence, from sentence to sentence, or from paragraph to paragraph. The GRE wants you to know how to both use transitions effectively and spot them in writing. Certain sentence completions use transitions as trigger words, that is, 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? Here, we’ll look at certain words that trigger contrast in a sentence.

Contrast:. 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.

  1. Ethereal
  2. Realistic
  3. Fanciful
  4. Extravagant
  5. 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.’

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