In the previous post on Comprehension question types, we covered the “3 details language effect” question, one of the more challenging types.

Language effect type of questions also come in other forms, but which generally requires you to explain the use of vivid/figurative language and how it is effective. This post will discuss some of these questions, showing you how to analyse and answer them.

Example 1

The old road teased like a mirage, disappearing beneath the bus, reappearing first on one side, then on the other.

(2015 ‘O’ level Paper 2 Section B)

The writer says that the old road ‘teased like a mirage’. In what two ways is this expression particularly effective? [2]

Like the previous question, this requires you to explain the idea of ‘a new page appearing’ and show how it describes the change in view effectively.

This question requires you to (1) explain the meanings of “teased” and “like a mirage” and (2) describe how it is effective (i.e. in portraying a vivid scene or conveying meaning accurately). “teased” means to make fun of and is associated with being playful. As it usually describes human behaviour, it is used here to personify the old road, implying how it ‘makes fun’ of its viewers. “mirage” means an illusion, and is used as a simile to compare the old road to something imaginary.

Consolidating these ideas, a suggested answer would be:

(i) The word ‘teased’ is effective because it personifies [language feature] the old road, as if it was making fun or playing with the viewers’ vision [meaning].

(ii) The phrase ‘like a mirage’ is effective because it likens [language feature] the old road to an illusion, with its reappearing and disappearing acts [meaning].

Example 2

As we turned a corner, a new page seemed to have appeared, and the tranquil view changed dramatically.

(2015 ‘O’ level Paper 2 Section B)

How is the expression ‘a new page seemed to have appeared’ effective in describing the change in view? [1]

Like the previous question, this requires you to explain the idea of ‘a new page appearing’ and show how it describes the change in view effectively.

If you know the expression “on the same page”, you can infer what ‘a new page appearing’ means. Saying that you and your friend are “not on the same page” means that both of you have different views.

Similarly, describing the view as if ‘a new page seemed to have appeared’ means that the change in scenery was very different.

(Hint: Notice what comes after the expression – ‘view changed dramatically’.)

It is effective in showing that there was a drastic change in the scenery, just like how a new page would have a starkly different outlook.

Example 3

Dust storms were raging over quarries which were so vast that the bulldozers and cranes poised around their rims looked no bigger than toy models. Convoys of trucks were everywhere: some crawled like ants up and down hillsides shaved to a raw red, while others trundled along river banks trashed with boulders and tree trunks.

(2015 ‘O’ level Paper 2 Section B)

How are the expressions ‘no bigger than toy models’ and ‘crawled like ants’ effective in describing the machinery in comparison to the quarries?

These two expressions describe the size of the machinery (bulldozers, cranes and trucks), them being smaller than “toy models” and “like ants”, emphasising how minute they are. If other descriptions like “very small” or “tiny” were used, they wouldn’t be as vivid or memorable as using metaphors like “toy models” and “ants”. On the flipside, it also highlights how massive the quarries are.

Hence, a suggested answer would be:

The expressions compare the machinery to “toy models” and “ants”, emphasising their smallness as compared to the vastness of the quarries.

Example 4

Hills like surf — pale green, dark green, blue-black — stretched as far as the eye could see and billowed out into a haze.

(2015 ‘O’ level Paper 2 Section B)

The hills are described to be ‘like surf’, comparing them to the sea. Give one reason why this comparison is effective.

Picture the waves of a sea (“surf”), then imagine a scene of the rolling hills. What images come to mind?

Have a look at these two pictures which bring “surf” and “hills” into close resemblance:

How to tackle the Language Effect Question image 1
How to tackle the Language Effect Question image 2


Isn’t it interesting of the writer to compare two objects we would not otherwise associate with each other? I think that’s the beauty of imagination. Why would the writer compare the hills to the waves of a sea? Study the images a little more closely and you will see that they resemble each other in their waviness, their rising and falling.

A suggested answer would thus be:

The comparison is effective because both the hills and the sea have a rise-and-fall pattern (or “are undulating”).


Taking what you’ve learnt in the above examples, try out this question for yourself.

…he was, apparently, an engineer from Denmark and was full of questions. He wanted to know all about Chinese computers and keyboards. He wanted to know what the Chinese man did for a living… He wanted to know about methods of road construction, systems of irrigation, types of farming…  

(2015 ‘O’ level Paper 2 Section B)

The expression ‘wanted to know’ is repeated several times in this excerpt. Why is this repetition effective?

Repetition is usually used to highlight/emphasise something — what is it in this context?

You have seen several examples of language effect questions which ask about the effectiveness of a vivid or figurative expression. In summary, there are generally two strategies:

(1) Think about the meaning of the expression and what it emphasises about the object being described, e.g. how trucks are compared to ants, and what it implies about the trucks.

(2) Think about an alternative expression that the writer could have used but did not — what does this expression reveal that another one cannot?

Admittedly, these questions are not easy and take much pondering, and imagination. Expose yourself to more of such texts (e.g. in short stories and novels) that are filled with vivid expressions and get your imagination going!

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