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The following question is from a test:

The epidemiologist was worried: despite _______ signs of danger, few countries or companies had taken the possibility of a pandemic seriously, and there was little interest in developing a vaccine.

  1. erroneous
  2. mounting
  3. token
  4. inconclusive
  5. residual

The correct answer is given as mounting, but how can that be possible when there is a conjunction "despite" that refers to the opposite of the decisive?

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1 Answer 1

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Let's divide your sentence into two parts, linked by despite. We'll turn the first part into a sentence by adding a predicate:

A. Mounting signs of danger [ existed ].

B. Few countries or companies had taken the possibility of a pandemic seriously, and there was little interest in developing a vaccine.

The overall structure of the sentence is B, even though A is true. Because A is true, we'd expect B not to be true. But B is true, despite A!


Let's try rephrasing mounting signs of danger as an independent and complete sentence:

Over time, there was more and more evidence that it was dangerous.

Based on this sentence, we'd expect the following reactions:

  1. Countries and companies should take the possibility of a pandemic seriously.
  2. There should be interest in developing a vaccine.

But we don't get either of those reactions. We get the opposite. So, we say that we got the opposite despite the mounting signs of danger.

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