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TOEFL Listening: I couldn't agree more...
But first, let's see some examples of the type of question we will be looking at:
Why They're Confusing
These questions are confusing mainly because they introduce two or three elements to think of. In other words, the overall meaning of the statement is dependent on evaluating one thing in relation to another. The trickiest ones are the ones that use a negative such as not in the sentence. But don't worry, if you have a hard time with these questions, it means simply that you are normal--the human brain, no matter what language it is familiar with, is not wired to process negatives and double negatives quickly.
Let's look at a "progression" of statements to put these ideas into context. I will use the simulated TOEFL question about Carl, and how he feels today:
Statement: I feel very good today.
Meaning: I feel very good today.
Discussion: Easy, right? Right! This is a very normal sentence for us, for our brains, and for our language.
Okay, let's make this one a bit harder...
Statement: I feel better today than I felt yesterday.
Meaning: My mood today > My mood yesterday. Or, today is good; yesterday was not so good.
Discussion: Still easy, right? Right! We are comparing moods for two days--the mood for today is better than that of yesterday. So far, so good, right?
Statement: Today I could feel better.
Meaning: I could feel better today. Therefore, today my mood is not perfect, since there is still some room for improvement.
Discussion: Getting a little bit harder now, but if you understand the sentence "I could feel better" , then you're almost there! Remember your modals--could is often used to express the idea that you have the ability to do something, even if you haven't done it.
Statement: Today I could not feel better.
Meaning: Today I feel perfect.
Discussion:There is no more room for improvement. Having a better mood is not possible. Therefore, I can say that today my mood is perfect. Therefore, I could not feel better today.
The key here is to realize that when we hear something like "I could not feel better," or "I could not feel worse," we are saying that we are already at a limit--either the minimum or the maximum. So, if I say that I could not feel better, I'm feeling "perfect," (okay, that's not really possible in the real world, but we're talking about language here). And if I'm sick with the flu, I just lost my job, and my dog just bit me, I can say "I could not feel worse," meaning that I'm already at the limit. Remember, if you're all the way at the bottom, you can't get any lower. And if you're already at the top, you can't get any higher!
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