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Using Three Words In A Sentence

PROCEDURE The words used are:--

(a) _Boy_, _ball_, _river_.
(b) _Work_, _money_, _men_.
(c) _Desert_, _rivers_, _lakes_.

Say: "_You know what a sentence is, of course. A sentence is made up of
some words which say something. Now, I am going to give you three words,
and you must make up a sentence that has all three words in it. The
three words are 'boy,' 'ball,' 'river.' Go ahead and make up a sentence
that has all three words in it._" The others are given in the same way.

Note that the subject is not shown the three words written down, and
that the reply is to be given orally.

If the subject does not understand what is wanted, the instruction may
be repeated, but it is not permissible to illustrate what a sentence is
by giving one. There must be no preliminary practice.

A curious misunderstanding which is sometimes encountered comes from
assuming that the sentence must be constructed entirely of the three
words given. If it appears that the subject is stumbling over this
difficulty, we explain: "_The three words must be put with some other
words so that all of them together will make a sentence._"

Nothing is said about hurrying, but if a sentence is not given within
one minute the rule is to count that part of the test a failure and to
proceed to the next trio of words.

Give only one trial for each part of the test.

Do not specially caution the child to avoid giving more than one
sentence, as this is implied in the formula used and should be

SCORING. The test is passed if _two of the three_ sentences are
satisfactory. In order to be satisfactory a sentence must fulfill the
following requirements: (1) It must either be a simple sentence, or, if
compound, must not contain more than two distinct ideas; and (2) it must
not express an absurdity.

Slight changes in one or more of the key words are disregarded, as
_river_ for _rivers_, etc.

The scoring is difficult enough to justify rather extensive

(a) _Boy, ball, river_

_Satisfactory._ An analysis of 128 satisfactory responses gave
the following classification:--

(1) Simple sentence containing a simple subject and a simple
predicate; as: "The boy threw his ball into the river." "The boy
lost his ball in the river." "The boy's ball fell into the
river." "The boy swam into the river after his ball," etc. This
group contains 76 per cent of the correct responses.

(2) A sentence with a simple subject and a compound predicate;
as: "A boy went to the river and took his ball with him." About
8 per cent of all were of this type.

(3) A complex sentence containing a relative clause (2 per cent
only); as: "The boy ran after his ball which was rolling toward
the river."

(4) A compound sentence containing two independent clauses
(about 14 per cent); as: "The boy had a ball and he lost it in
the river."

_Unsatisfactory._ The failures fall into four chief groups:--

(1) Sentences with three clauses (or else three separate

(2) Sentences containing an absurdity.

(3) Sentences which omit one of the key words.

(4) Silence, due ordinarily to inability to comprehend the task.

Group 1 includes 78 per cent of the failures; group 2, about
12 per cent; and group 3 and 4 about 5 per cent each. Samples of
group 1 are: "There was a boy, and he bought a ball, and it fell
into the river." "I saw a boy, and he had a ball, and he was

boy was swimming in the river and he was playing ball."

(b) _Work, money, men_


(1) Sentence with a simple subject and simple predicate
(including 75 per cent of 116 satisfactory responses); as: "Men
work for their money." "Men get money for their work," etc.

(2) A complex sentence with a relative clause (12 per cent of
correct answers); as: "Men who work earn much money." "It is
easy for men to earn money if they are willing to work," etc.

(3) A compound sentence with two independent, cooerdinate clauses
(13 per cent); as: "Men work and they earn money." "Some men
have money and they do not work."


(1) Three clauses; as: "I know a man and he has money, and he
works at the store."

(2) Sentences which are absurd or meaningless; as: "Men work
with their money."

(3) Omission of one of the words.

(4) Inability to respond.

(c) _Desert, rivers, lakes_


(1) Sentences with a simple subject and a simple predicate
(including 84 per cent of 126 correct answers); as: "There are
no rivers or lakes in the desert." "The desert has one river and
one lake," etc.

(2) A complex sentence with a relative clause (only 2 per cent);
as: "In the desert there was a river which flowed into a lake."

(3) A compound sentence with two independent, cooerdinate clauses
(11 per cent); as: "We went to the desert, and it had no rivers
or lakes."

(4) A compound, complex sentence (3 per cent of all); as: "There
was a desert, and near by there was a river that emptied into a


(1) Sentences with three clauses (40 per cent of all failures);
as: "A desert is dry, rivers are long, lakes are rough."

(2) Sentences containing an absurdity (12 per cent of the
failures): as: "a desert is dry, rivers are long, lakes are
filled with swimming boys." "The lake went through the desert
and the river." "There was a desert and rivers and lakes in the
forest." "The desert is full of rivers and lakes."

(3) Omission of one of the words (40 per cent of the failures).

(4) Inability to respond (8 per cent).

REMARKS. The test of constructing a sentence containing given words was
first used by Masselon and is known as "the Masselon experiment."
Meumann, who used it in a rather extended experiment, finds it a
good test of intelligence and a reliable index as to the richness,
definiteness, and maturity of the associative processes. As Meumann
shows, it is instructive to study the qualitative differences between
the responses of bright and dull children, apart from questions of
sentence structure. These differences are especially discernible
in (a) the logical qualities of the associations, and (b) the
definiteness of statement. As regards (a), bright children are much
more likely to use the given words as keystones in the construction of a
sentence which would be logically suggested by them. For example,
_donkey_, _blows_, suggest some such sentence as, "The donkey receives
blows because he is lazy." In like manner we have found that the words
_work_, _money_, _men_ usually suggest to the more intelligent children
a sentence like "Men work for their money" (or "because they need
money," etc.), while the dull child is more likely to give some such
sentence as "The men have work and they don't have much money." That is,
the sentence of the dull child, even though correct in structure and
free enough from outright absurdity to satisfy the standard of scoring
which we have set forth, is likely to express ideas which are more or
less nondescript, ideas not logically suggested by the set of words

The experiment is one of the many forms of the "completion test," or
"the combination method." As we have already noted, the power to combine
more or less separate and isolated elements into a logical whole is one
of the most essential features of intelligence. The ability to do so in
a given case depends, in the first place, upon the number and logical
quality of the associations which have previously been made with each of
the given elements separately, and in the second place, upon the
readiness with which these ideational stores yield up the particular
associations necessary for weaving the given words into some kind of
unity. The child must pass from what is given to what is not given but
merely suggested. This requires a certain amount of invention. Scattered
fragments must be conceived as the skeleton of a thought, and this
skeleton, or partial skeleton, must be assembled and made whole. The
task is analogous to that which confronts the palaeontologist, who is
able to reconstruct, with a high degree of certainty, the entire
skeleton of an extinct animal from the evidence furnished by three or
four fragments of bones. It is no wonder, therefore, that subjects whose
ideational stores are scanty, and whose associations are based upon
accidental rather than logical connections, find the test one of
peculiar difficulty. Invention thrives in a different soil.

Binet located this test in year X. Goddard and Kuhlmann assign it the
same location, though their actual statistics agree closely with our
own. Our procedure makes the test somewhat easier than that of Binet,
who gave only one trial and used the somewhat more difficult words
_Paris_, _river_, _fortune_. Others have generally followed the Binet
procedure, merely substituting for Paris the name of a city better known
to the subject. Binet's requirement of a written response also makes the
test harder.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to uniformity in the use of the test comes
from the difficulty of scoring, particularly in deciding whether the
sentence contains enough absurdity to disqualify it, and whether it
expresses three separate ideas or only two. It is hoped that the rather
large variety of sample responses which we have given will reduce these
difficulties to a minimum.

An additional word is necessary in regard to what constitutes an
absurdity in (b). A sentence like "There are some rivers and lakes in
the desert" is not an absurdity in certain parts of Western United
States. In Professor Ordahl's tests at Reno, Nevada, many children whose
intelligence was altogether above suspicion gave this reply. The
statement is, indeed, perfectly true for the semi-arid region in the
vicinity of Reno known as "the desert." On the other hand, such
sentences as "The desert is full of rivers and lakes," or "There are
forty rivers and lakes in the desert," can hardly be considered
satisfactory. Similar difficulties are presented by (c), though not so
frequently. "Men who work do not have money" expresses, unfortunately,
more truth than nonsense.

Next: Finding Rhymes

Previous: Repeating Four Digits Reversed

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