GRE Verbal Reasoning Problem: 17th c. Chinese Pleasure Garden

Kew Gardens: The Pagoda and Bridge, by Richard Wilson (1762)

Kew Gardens: The Pagoda and Bridge, by Richard Wilson (1762)

Each week “It’s not GREek!” will present you with question types you are likely to see on the GRE, as well as a brief explanation on how to arrive at the answer for each question. We’ll start by examining a few simple Verbal Reasoning questions and gradually move onto more complicated question types.


  1. Parts of seventeenth-century Chinese pleasure gardens were not necessarily intended to look —–; they were designed expressly to evoke the agreeable melancholy resulting from a sense of the —– of natural beauty and human glory.
    1. beautiful … immutability
    2. cheerful … transitoriness
    3. colorful … abstractness
    4. luxuriant … simplicity
    5. conventional … wildness

Explanation: This is a high-level difficulty question because some of the vocabulary seems to be similar in meaning and, initially, there appears to be multiple correct answers. To answer this question correctly you have to identify the key words and phrases. The phrase “not necessarily intended” indicates the answer choice for the first blank will be a word that is comparable or synonymous with what we would expect of a Chinese pleasure garden. Another key phrase to determining the correct answer is “agreeable melancholy.” Coupled with “not necessarily intended to look,” the term “agreeable melancholy” tells us we are looking for a word that would both describe what we would expect of a Chinese pleasure garden and is opposite in meaning to melancholy. Melancholy is the state of being sad; of the available answer choices, only “cheerful” is both something we might expect of a Chinese pleasure garden and a true antonym of melancholy. Though we have identified “cheerful” as the most correct word for blank 1, that is not enough to know with absolute certainty that (b) is the correct answer choice. After “agreeable melancholy,” the next most important clues to filling in blank 2 are “natural beauty” and “human glory.” Beauty and glory are most often good things; however, the second half of this sentence says parts of the Chinese pleasure garden were “designed expressly to evoke” melancholy. The correct word for blank 2 will be the word that best expresses the reasons we might feel melancholy when contemplating human beauty and glory. One reason you might be melancholy when contemplating beauty and glory is because of their transient, short-lived, or impermanent nature. Of the available answer choices, only “transitoriness” means short-lived or quickly fading. Thus the answer is (b).

You can never have enough vocabulary words; here are the definitions of all the answer choices:

Beautiful: having qualities that delight the senses, especially the sense of sight. Exciting intellectual or emotional admiration.

Immutability: Not subject or susceptible to change.

Cheerful: Being good in spirits; merry. Promoting a feeling of cheer; pleasant. Reflecting willingness or good humor.

Transitoriness: Existing or lasting only a short time; short-lived or temporary.

Colorful: Full of color; abounding in colors. Characterized by rich variety; vividly distinctive.

Abstractness: Considered apart from concrete existence. Not applied or practical; theoretical. Difficult to understand; abstruse. Thought of or stated without reference to a specific instance. Impersonal, as in attitude or views. Having an intellectual and affective artistic content that depends solely on intrinsic form rather than on narrative content or pictorial representation.

Luxuriant: Characterized by rich or profuse growth. Producing or yielding in abundance. Excessively florid or elaborate. Marked by or displaying luxury.

Simplicity: The property, condition, or quality of being simple or uncombined. Absence of luxury or showiness; plainness. Absence of affectation or pretense. Lack of sophistication or subtlety. Clarity of expression. Austerity in embellishment.

Conventional: Based on or in accordance with general agreement, use, or practice; customary. Conforming to established practice or accepted standards; traditional.

Wildness: Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated, or tamed. Uncivilized or barbarous. Disorderly; disarranged. Full of, marked by, or suggestive of strong, uncontrolled emotion. Furiously disturbed or turbulent.

You can find additional GRE example problems and solutions here.

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