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.' G
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.