My brother just took his exam and there was this reading passage about deforestation of rain forests. The questions were pretty easy; however, there was this question:

Which of these is the closest in meaning to the word "regenerate" in paragraph 2?
A. repeat B. refine C. recover D. renew

And this question needed information from the following line from the passage:

[...] Some logged forests, if left alone, can regenerate in a few decades.

Apparently, the answer is either recover or renew. So what do you think is the most correct answer in this context?

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    I think renew is the better answer because regenerate carries the notion of new growth, as opposed to an ailing part 'getting better'. The argument for recover is probably that the forest as a whole might be said to be 'getting better', but that probably stretches regenerate past what is comfortable. Compare: when a lizard regrows its tail, we say the tail regenerates, not the lizard. Although regenerate is applied to the forest as a whole in your example, I think it's still understood to refer to new growth. – Lawrence Jun 23 '17 at 11:03
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    Thank you so much for your comprehensive input, Lawrence :) – Khang Nguyễn Jun 23 '17 at 11:08
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    @EdwinAshworth In pure dictionary terms you're right of course, but considering the context I still think recover is a better fit. "Meaning in context" is one of the tags on this. (-: – Jim Mack Jun 23 '17 at 11:22
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    Hey Edwin, I did do some research on these words. Apparently, according to Google, renew means "resume (an activity) after an interruption.", which has no relation to the context of the passage. However, my brother's teacher suggested "renew" as a better option so I was pretty confused. – Khang Nguyễn Jun 23 '17 at 11:24
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    @Jim Mack At least the examiners don't make the crass mistake of not accepting one of the answers when choosing one rather than the other is quite close to hairsplitting. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 23 '17 at 11:26

Renew means to make something old appear like new or start again some process that was happening in the past. For example, you could renew your subscription/contract or you could renew your old car.

But, speaking of forests, you can't renew trees which have already been cut down. You must wait for the forest to recover and leave the new trees grow up. IMO, recover has the closest meaning to regenerate because both mean something that happens without the need of human interaction.

  • Webster's NWCD gives the relevant sense: << renew verb ... intransitive 8. to become new or as new again; be renewed >> And RHK Webster's sense (10) << intransitive: be[come] restored to a former state. >> (no volitional agency stipulated). However, I would say that ' ... renew itself ...' would be more idiomatic than the middle voice usage here. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 23 '17 at 11:44

Regenerate and renew both imply the forest grows back to what it was before the incident described (in this case, logging). However, recover implies that the area gets back to a stable, more-or-less acceptable state, which may be different from the original; maybe a different type of tree grows there, or perhaps the balance of wildlife is different. Therefore, I see renew as the correct answer.

As an (inverted) example, if someone's hand is cut off, they may recover in that they can regain most of their previous abilities (e.g. they lose their dominant hand and learn to write with the remaining one). But there is no documented case, to my knowledge, of a hand being regenerated or renewed, which would mean they grow a new hand in place of the one that was lost.

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