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I believe they are all the same, but is there any case in which not all of them are correct?

Here are the examples, from an English textbook:

1. It is (quite) __ that he took the wrong path.

A.apparent B.evident C.stupid D.absurd

2. It is __ that two and two make four.

A.apparent B.evident C.obvious D.visible

3. It is __ (that) you have been cheated.

A.clear B.apparent C.regretful D.ignorant

The answers are B, C, and A.

I think A is also a correct answer to Q1, A and B are also correct answers to Q2, and B is also a correct answer to Q3.

It is not that easy when it comes to answering questions in an exam, because there is only one answer I can choose, and if I'm wrong, I lose points. So, is it really wrong to use the other words in these cases? Why?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

1.It is (quite) __ that he took the wrong path.

A.apparent B.evident C.stupid D.absurd

2.It is __ that two and two make four.

A.apparent B.evident C.obvious D.visible

3.It is __ (that) you have been cheated.

A.clear B.apparent C.regretful D.ignorant

And the answers are B C A.

I agree with these as being the correct answers, by far the best although the alternatives are reasonable and in some cases only ring slight bells of warning... It is however very hard to explain why, as it is a matter of idiom, or patterns we are used to. But here goes...

  1. apparent would mean it is (patently) clear - in this case the fundamental meaning that it appears in front of you rather than the less literal meaning in the sense of "appearances can be deceptive". That it is evident rather than apparent follows from the proposal being past and not something that is visible now (whether deceptive or not). stupid and absurd are not quite the correct/complete construction - it is stupid of him to have taken the wrong path; it is stupid to think that he took the wrong path; it is absurd to think that he would have taken the wrong path.

  2. apparent would mean there is room for doubt, and opportunity is being provided to argue or disprove; evident also means there is some evidence and a conclusion has been drawn, although self-evident, like obvious, could be used to indicate that no evidence is needed other than seeing (and counting what is as obvious as, indeed part of, the hand in front of your face).

  3. apparent would mean there is room for doubt and I would expect a but to follow; clear (or obvious) is much more certain and doesn't have the same degree of expectation that you will go on to further explore the truth of the matter. Then regretful should be regretable, and ignorant doesn't fit either with the third person or the (that) clause: He is ignorant about your being cheated, etc.

The only alternative other than the specified correct answer that is plausible is 3B - and that just doesn't sound finished.

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A look in a decent dictionary should answer this...

Apparent is direct - think of appear. You can see it is so. You cannot see David ~ "It is apparent that David is not here."

Evident is indirect - think of evidence. David did not sign in and nobody saw him ~ "Evidently David was not here."

Obvious is something that is clearly true. You cannot see David in the room ~ "David is obviously not in this room."

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I actually have a rough idea about their meanings. The only thing I'm asking is what's the difference of its usage, and I will give some examples in my question. –  zwangxian Mar 11 '13 at 6:16
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But the meanings, nicely and succinctly summarized here, give clear indications of how they are to be used. –  John M. Landsberg Mar 11 '13 at 8:43

Trickiest is apparent or apparently - these are used whether something appears to be the case on the surface (superficially) but in fact you are inclined to doubt it - that is you suspect that in truth it is not the case. In a sense such statements are weak assertions, but there is a negative strength due to the dubious overtones (you are expressing doubt).

Intermediate is evident or evidently - these imply that you have some evidence that something is the case and in fact you are inclined to believe it - that is you suspect that in truth the assertion holds. In a sense such statements are stronger assertions, but there is a negativity due to deliberately opening the statement up for contradiction by further evidence.

Stronger still is obvious or obviously - these imply that there is little room for doubt. Nonetheless the fact that something is thought obvious (even by a great many people) does not mean that it is actually true. In science (or linguistics), we often take the obvious and try to formally prove or disprove it. Sometimes we find that the obvious is false, or only a first approximation, and a new theory supplants the old. Or putting it another way, we start to believe theories that are very non-obvious or counter-intuitive (think relativity, quantum mechanics, round earth, earth going round the sun; words and sentences are concepts in linguistics that do not have an obvious definition that survives across languages).

To add another case, supposed or supposedly - imply that something is thought to be the case and leaves room for doubt (with the -s- pronounced /z/), but trickily supposed to can mean that something should be the case, is expected to be the case, or is meant to be the case (with the -s- pronounced /s/). Here we have two different connotations depending on whether we pronounce it with a voiced or unvoiced sibilant (/s/ or /z/).

E.g. it is not obvious why "into" should be regarded as one word and "out of" as two words; or when space,' ', hyphen, '-', semicolon, ';', or comma, ',' or fullstop, '.' should be used to separate words, phrases or clauses (this takes us into the realm of stylistic orthological convention rather than grammar - and represents written conventions leaking back into oral speech).

So "out of" is apparently two words in English but "into" is evidently one word; "come in" is apparently two words in English, but is supposedly one (einkommen) in German even though it is often split up (kommen ... ein).

"I came, I saw, I conquered!" is obviously one sentence, three words in Latin, but "I came! I saw! I conquered!" is apparently three sentences!

"She was supposed to have killed him!" has two different meanings depending on how you pronounce it.

Quote: "There are two ways of constructing a software design... One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies, and the other is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies." - C A R Hoare

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The word "obvious" should be reserved for things that are patently obvious, like:

You obviously have a nose.

Obvious works best when it is evident to the mind or logically apparent. The word comes from the Latin via, which means way.

You apparently have a nose.

By the looks of it, you do. Apparent works best when the thing literally appears in sight. That's the Latin meaning at least. In this case, I should not be too surprised about your nose being visible, and because of that, the second sentence carries sarcastic overtones (more so than the first).

You evidently have a nose.

If our language was logical, it would be good form to use evidently with some evidence. There is no reason to believe you should obviously have a nose. But, I have a paper here that says that you do have one. Apparently, your face is completely flat. But evidently, you have a nose.

However, that meaning of evidently is evidently obsolete, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Evident and apparent are close synonyms, without much differentiation in modern usage. A quick Google N-Gram comparison shows that evident, which used to be the most popular of the three, became the least popular in the 1930s.

All three are frequently suspect as "weasel words," meaningless and used when things are neither apparent, evident, or obvious.

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Thanks for your elaborated answer! Could you please also tell me how do you think of the three examples I listed? –  zwangxian Mar 11 '13 at 6:41
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I am sorry to say, the people who wrote that test do not speak English well. All of the options are plausible, except for 2.D and 3.D. –  denten Mar 11 '13 at 6:53
    
Alright then, it seems that I was overthinking it, which happens a lot to me. –  zwangxian Mar 11 '13 at 7:09
    
@denten, besides 2D and 3D, 1C also is marginal (ie would not be said by a native speaker). –  jwpat7 Mar 11 '13 at 7:55
    
Denten, I am puzzled by your comment that the test writers do not speak English well. There is a real differentiation between the words. The questions emphasize that although they are similar, there are legitimate reasons to choose one over another. Strangely enough, your primary answer suggests that you do understand this, yet your comment suggests otherwise. Yes, all of the options are "plausible," as you put it, but each one is slightly -- and not trivially -- different. (I won't add an answer myself, because the answers already given [including yours] have already made my point.) –  John M. Landsberg Mar 11 '13 at 8:41

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