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What does that say?
She used to play in the string section of one of the main London orchestras.

What does that say?

'What does that say' challenges you on homographs.

As you will have been discovering, English has a rich range of words that look the same but can sound differently, and/or carry very different meanings, according to their context. How good are you at distinguishing between members of these pairs, or even larger groups?

In which of these sentences is the word 'sound' used as an Adjective?
Take home a shell from the beach, so you can hold it to your ear at home and still hear the sound of the sea.
Just give me one sound reason why we should abandon my plan.
If a fire or other emergency is detected within the building, we will sound three blasts on the siren.
The Board recommends that we wait until we sound out our customers, before we start changing the specifications of our products.
You may well wish to investigate this further with the aid of a good English-language dictionary.
You are probably most familiar with 'sound' as a noun (Answer 1) and verb (transitive as in Answer 3, else intransitive as in 'this letter sounds like the name of an insect'); among other duties, it can refer to 'sounding out' people to see what they think (as in 'un sondage' in French), which in turn refers to the deep narrow stretch of sea ~ e.g. Plymouth Sound ~ where sailors need to take regular readings ('soundings') and make sure they are not suddenly in too shallow water for safety.
The correct answer uses 'sound' as an adjective, as in 'safe and sound' (cf. the German 'gesund'); possibly suggesting that something that's healthy will 'sound' (verb!) healthy, for instance, if you tap it.
In which of these sentences does the word 'string' appear as a Verb?
She used to play in the string section of one of the main London orchestras.
One of the most tiresome things to clear up, the morning after a party, are the lengths of coloured sticky string that people had cheerfully pumped at each other only a few hours before.
There were a whole string of complaints about the rudeness of the staff.
It's not been all that long since I could barely string together two words in English.
'String' usually refers to something in the form of a curvable line made of something probably thicker than thread, but not as thick as a rope. This usage covers Answers 1 - 3 inclusive (the strings in whole families of instruments such as the violin; string-like party accessories; a series of events where one can 'join up the dots' and identify a pattern of behaviour that may need dealing with).
The version in Answer 4 continues this metaphor, but in the form of a verb.
Pick the ONE sentence, of these four, where the key common word is used as a Verb.
The children sat in a ring and watched the juggler.
That's a nuisance: Fred said he was going to ring me back this morning about the price of the repairs.
It's very good news that the police have broken the drugs ring in the city.
Few of us really need a four-ring cooker except, perhaps at Christmas or if we throw a lot of dinner parties.
'To ring' (Answer 2) means 'to call on the telephone'.
The 'ring' in Answer 1 is a physical shape, presumably more or less circular; the burners on top of a kitchen stove (Answer 4) are also 'rings', while we also refer to a 'ring' of criminals (presumably not so conspicuous or neatly shaped, but with a sense of them 'all being in it together').
In which of these sentences does the word 'spring' appear as a verb?
It seems as though one of the springs is broken inside this machine.
The moment had clearly come for him to spring into action.
British landscapes usually look so pretty in the spring.
The pure water they use in this process is drawn directly from a local spring.
... Meanwhile, 'spring' as a noun can mean, among other things:
(as in Answer 1) a piece of shaped metal under tension which will store or absorb energy, e.g. within the suspension system of a vehicle;
(Answer 3) The season between winter and summer;
(Answer 4) The source point at which water emerges naturally from the ground.
In which of these sentences is the word 'tap' used as an Adjective?
Every night they lay awake, scared in case a tap at the door meant the arrival of the Secret Police.
It may not always taste very good, but throughout Britain you are usually safe drinking tap water.
When the carpet is in position, tap down each corner firmly onto the retaining strip to prevent it from working loose.
We now leave the mixture in its flask for a few weeks, before we can tap off the brew and try drinking some.
'Tap' is used adjectivally in Answer 2, though it could alternatively be defined as an apposed noun.
Answer 1 refers to the noise made by someone's tapping action (a light, repeated knock, such as the sound of a blind person walking along a familiar street and tapping their white stick every so often to check where they are); similarly ~ perhaps with a small hammer ~ in Answer 3.
'Tapping off' a fluid, or 'tapping into' something (physically or metaphorically) means opening a tap to encourage the good stuff inside to flow out, e.g. molten metal from a furnace, or wisdom or advice from a person or group with previous valuable experience.
In which of these sentences is the word 'plant' NOT a noun?
There is good news for local employment, as a corporation in the Far East is hoping to open a plant on the outskirts of our city next year.
'Each time we go to see my aunt,
We can't come home without a plant.'
Back in those arrogant days, any European nation felt it could (and probably should) go and plant its flag in some hitherto unclaimed part of Africa, and help themselves to its natural riches.
There is a reputable company in town where contractors can hire heavy plant such as earthmovers, cranes and tippers.
'Plant' is only a verb in Answer 3, in the sense of sticking an object into the ground (as with 'a plant' ~ as in Answer 2 ~ but here, the action is metaphorical).
Perhaps somewhat confusingly, 'plant' can also refer to a complete factory ('a car plant' ~ which sounds like something very science-fictional until you've understood it!), or any unspecified number of freestanding machines, e.g. boilers or bulldozers (Answer 4).
Which is the only sentence here in which 'press' is used as a Verb?
Despite the explosion of internet communication, the traditional press appears to be thriving, if you look at the news-stands and magazine shops.
I'd like to give these trousers a press before I wear them to the dinner on Saturday.
There was such a press of people that she barely managed to glimpse the royal car going by.
The council decided to press for further changes before approving the plans.
All these senses are more or less connected by the meaning (literal or figurative) of a machine or situation exerting concentrated pressure; but only in Answer 4 is the word in fact a verb.
In which of these sentences is the word 'back' used as an Adverb?
'I'd like you to think back to the first time you woke up, knowing you had just dreamed in English.'
At the back of the machine you should find a small hatch where the batteries should be inserted.
This project is unlikely to raise the necessary funds if people keep backing out of it every few weeks.
While we are preoccupied with Christmas, our plans for the New Year may need to go onto the back burner.
'Back' in Answer 1 is an adverb describing the direction, in time, that people are being encouraged to think.
In Answer 2 the word is a straightforward noun; its metaphorical meaning appears in the verb in Answer 3 ( = 'to move backwards; to withdraw'), but ~ perhaps confusingly ~ we can also 'back' something when we are supporting it (as in the 'I'm backing Britain' campaign, back [!] in the 1960s, to encourage people to buy British-made products and support the economy, such as the original Mini car).
'Back' in Answer 4 means the rearmost, e.g. the back seat in a bus or cinema. The metaphor here aims to suggest that the new-year plans do not require active attention in the imminent future ~ like putting a pan on to simmer gently at the back of the stove, while you are busier stirring something else nearer to you.
In which of the following sentences is the word 'close' pronounced differently from all the other examples?
Over their years working together, they became very close friends.
Her house is the last bungalow on the right at the bottom of the close.
When someone dies, their executors have to close down that person's bank account and memberships.
During the last few minutes of the game, the team came close to breaking point.
The verb 'close' (sounding as though it were spelt with a Z) is the odd one out.
'Close' can be an adverb, meaning much the same as 'near' (Answers 1 & 4), or a small, usually dead-end residential road (Answer 2), presumably because all the houses are nearby to each other ~ and also the far end of the street is shut (like 'closed') rather than leading onward elsewhere.
In which ONE of these sentences is the word 'face' a verb?
They ought to know by now, never to accept anything he says at face value.
I'm afraid Pat wasn't able to come with me this evening; you know he's had a bad time recently, and he can't face seeing too many people yet.
The firefighters had no choice but to go straight up the face of the burning building.
People in the Far East have a social preoccupation with making sure that nobody 'loses face', or has cause to feel embarrassed.
The obvious meaning of 'face' would be for the front of the head of a person or animal, or also a coin, clock or building (Answer 3) or even a cliff: anything that has an easily identifiable 'front side'. There is then the metaphorical verb usage of 'facing the wall', 'facing (perhaps, uncomfortable) facts' or simply of one turnable thing 'facing' another ('a seat facing the window', 'musicians should check they are facing the conductor').
The usage in Answer 4 is metaphorical and idiomatic, but 'face' is still a noun there; 'face value' in Answer 1 refers to the taking of things by appearances (e.g. a banknote with a 'face value' of £10 may be a forgery; a smart person with a smile may in fact turn out to be sad, or an assassin, or both). 'Face' here is either an adjective (meaning 'on the surface; as seen; by denotation rather than connotation') or perhaps an appositive noun (as in 'face cream'); but certainly not a verb.
Author:  Ian Miles

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